Stop the sleepless nights: Relieving leg cramps during pregnancy

Regular bouts of cramping tend to interrupt your much-needed sleep.
Written by
Kaitlyn Wilson
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Last updated on
June 3, 2024
min read
Stop the Sleepless Nights: Relieving Legs Cramps in Pregnancy | Kin Fertility
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Chances are you haven't heard the term Charley horse but, you've probably experienced one. This is actually the name for a muscle spasm or cramp and it's a common event for many pregnant women.

Cramps also seem to strike at the most inconvenient times, particularly at night and are often uncomfortable and downright painful at times.

And, while being frustrating, regular bouts of cramping can interrupt your much-needed sleep, which is important when your body is undertaking the huge task of growing a person.

So, what are the options available for treating leg cramps in pregnancy? The good news is there are a few ways to relieve the pain and hopefully enjoy some solid sleep.

What happens when you get a leg cramp?

We're all familiar with that sudden, intense tightening and leg pain that takes you by surprise, but what causes this to occur?

Muscle spasms are the main culprit when it comes to causing this sensation. Typically, our bodies are made up of fibres that contract and relax in a coordinated fashion.

But sometimes, for various reasons, these fibres decide to contract all at once and refuse to let go. This sudden and prolonged contraction causes the affected muscles to form a tight, knotted feeling [1].

When it comes to legs, this is most common in the calf muscles, but they can occur anywhere in the body.

The most common cause of leg cramps in pregnancy are [2]:

  • Muscle fatigue: When your muscles become fatigued, they're more prone to contracting and causing those dreaded pangs of pain.
  • Dehydration: Not consuming enough fluids affects your electrolyte balance, leading to muscle imbalances and an increased risk of cramping, so it's important to keep your muscles hydrated.
  • Electrolyte imbalances: An imbalance of essential minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, can cause your body to seize up. These minerals play a vital role in muscle function and contraction.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as diuretics, statins, and medications used to treat high blood pressure, can increase your cramping risk.
  • Underlying medical conditions: In some cases, these can be symptoms of a medical condition, such as peripheral artery disease or diabetes.

What causes leg cramps during pregnancy?

Being pregnant is a real pain in the legs. This is because cramping in your pins and calf muscles is more common among mums-to-be.

Why? Well, from hormones to heavy lifting, you might be experiencing cramping in your pins during pregnancy for several reasons.

Here are the most common causes of pregnancy leg cramps [3]:

Hormonal fluctuations

Hormonal changes, particularly increased progesterone levels, can lead to muscle fatigue and irritability, making you more prone to cramping.

Poor circulation

As your uterus expands, it puts pressure on the blood vessels that return blood from your legs to your heart. This compression disrupts regular blood flow, triggering cramps.

Mineral and vitamin deficiency

Remember those essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium? Well, they play a vital role in muscle function.

During pregnancy, your body undergoes significant changes in mineral levels, which can throw off the delicate balance. Insufficient intake or absorption of these minerals can increase the likelihood of cramping.

Insufficient levels of vitamin B

This is one of the most important prenatal vitamins. It doesn't just support healthy foetal development, but it also supports nerve function and muscle contractions.

Baby on board

The added weight of a growing baby puts pressure on your leg muscles. This compression can irritate the nerves and cause muscle spasms.

At what stage of pregnancy do you get leg cramps?

Leg cramps usually start to become bothersome in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

During this time, hormonal changes and increased blood volume contribute to muscle irritability, making cramps more likely. As pregnancy progresses into the third trimester, the growing baby's extra weight and size can also put additional pressure on the leg muscles, leading to more frequent cramping.

That being said, it's important to remember that every pregnancy is unique, and the timing and frequency of cramping can vary from person to person.

Some pregnant women also may experience more cramping earlier in their pregnancy, while others may not experience it until later stages [4].

How do you get rid of leg cramps while pregnant?

There are several strategies for preventing leg cramps or relieving cramping during pregnancy. Here's what you might like to try [5]:


Gentle stretching exercises can provide relief during a leg cramp. Flex your foot upward, pointing your toes towards your body. This helps you relax and relieves the cramp.

You can also try standing close to a wall, leaning forward, and placing your hands on the wall for support while keeping your heels on the ground.


Massaging the affected area relaxes the muscle and provides relief. Applying warm oil or lotion can enhance the soothing effect of the massage.

Cold or heat therapy

You can use a warm compress on the affected area or a cold pack wrapped in a thin cloth. Experiment with both heat and cold to see which brings you more relief.

Stay hydrated

Aim to drink plenty of water and consider including hydrating beverages like coconut water or electrolyte-rich drinks.

Keep an eye on your urine to ensure you don't become dehydrated, which should be simple, given how much pregnant people pee. If your urine is a light yellow, this is a sign to up your water intake.

Gentle exercise

Regular, low-impact exercises like walking or swimming help improve circulation and prevent leg cramps. Avoid high-impact activities that may strain your muscles.

Proper nutrition

Magnesium and calcium deficiency can cause painful cramps. A balanced diet of essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium can help prevent leg cramps.

Try adding bananas, spinach, yoghurt, almonds, and more magnesium-rich foods like whole grains and dried fruits to your daily diet.

Supportive footwear

Wear shoes that are supportive and comfortable, especially shoes with proper arch support or a firm heel counter, to reduce the risk of cramping.

How can I prevent leg cramps at night during pregnancy?

If painful leg cramps keep you up at night, you can do a few things to prevent cramps and get a better night's sleep. A magnesium supplement is one of the easiest ways to ease leg cramps; bonus, they are also a powerful sleep aid.

Some other ways to stop leg cramps at night during pregnancy include:

  • Stretching before bed — pull your toes hard towards the front of your ankle with force, applying firm pressure and rubbing the cramped muscle
  • Take a short walk in the evening
  • Apply a heat pack to the affected area for relief
  • Take a warm bath or a hot shower before bed
  • Wear supportive footwear during the day
  • Move around and stay active throughout the day
  • Massage the calf muscle before bed; ice massage or hot massage is particularly effective

When to talk to a medical professional about pregnancy leg cramps?

While you can expect leg cramps to pop up during pregnancy, there are some instances where it's important to consult a medical professional.

Here are some situations when it's recommended to talk to your doctor about muscle cramps:

  • Frequency and severity: If you're experiencing frequent, intense pain or significant discomfort, chat with your doctor.
  • Prolonged duration: If your cramping last for an extended period or doesn't go away with home remedies, it's a good idea to seek medical advice.
  • Swelling or redness: Swelling, redness, warmth, or tenderness can indicate deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a blood clot, typically in the legs and requires immediate medical attention.
  • Difficulty walking or standing: If you have difficulty walking, standing, or performing daily activities, consult your healthcare provider.
  • Presence of other symptoms: If you experience cramps and other concerning symptoms such as fever, severe pain, muscle weakness, or changes in sensation, it's crucial to seek medical attention promptly.
  • Medical history: If you have a history of blood clotting disorders, circulation problems, or any other medical conditions that could increase the risk of leg cramps or complications, you should speak to your doctor.

If you have any concerns about your leg cramps during pregnancy, it's always better to consult your healthcare provider for professional evaluation and guidance.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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