How to Prevent Leg Cramps During Pregnancy

At the start of all of my pregnancy yoga classes I begin by checking in with my students and see what is going on with each of them that week.  This is a great way for women to share and support each other and sometimes the list of pregnancy ailments can be quite long.  One of the issues that commonly comes up more than most is leg cramps during pregnancy while sleeping and particularly during the second and third trimesters.  
For those of you reading this who are currently pregnant or have been in the past, you may well relate to the unpleasant shock of being woken from a deep sleep to have a searing, painful calf muscle pain during pregnancy.  There really is nothing quite like the joy of leg cramps during pregnancy, but fortunately while they certainly are unpleasant they are generally not harmful in almost all cases!
When you get a cramp avoid pointing the toes as this contracts the calf muscle further and will make it worse, but instead try massaging the calf and flexing the foot.  
A stretch that can be helpful is to pull the toes quite strongly towards the shin as this helps to stretch and release the calf muscle which is cramping and is the same stretch you will see being given to footballers on the pitch.  Not the easiest stretch to self-administer when there is a big belly in the way and my husband did learn quite quickly that a scream and sharp elbow in the ribs in the middle of the night didn’t mean that I was going into early labour.  I do suggest my students prep their partners what such an elbow and scream means before going to bed and to make sure they understand what assistance is required. 
I also recommend that if women have been experiencing a lot of cramps that they do some of the calf stretches that we do in our pregnancy yoga class before going to bed as a preventative measure and this does seem to help many of my students. Also once the calf is cramping these stretches can certainly help and can be done either on all fours, in down dog or standing with the hands on the wall. (see pictures below)  Even just getting out of bed and standing on the floor  and walking around can help lengthen and release the back of the leg.

Calf stretch on all fours

Down Dog

Standing calf stretch - can be done with hands on wall for support

Although there are a few theories floating around , no one seems entirely sure what causes calf cramps .  Theories include:-
From my own experience I am increasingly seeing a number of my pregnant students report back that they  are finding massaging magnesium oil into their legs helpful for both leg cramps and restless legs.   This isn’t based on any research but as I teach over 50 pregnant women a week I do see a lot of them and I get to observe patterns in what they find helpful.  Magnesium oil wasn’t really anything that people spoke about when I was last pregnant 11 years ago but over the past few years I am increasingly hearing positive feedback from my students about it.  It is said to have many other benefits pregnancy beyond easing leg cramps so again I think a great topic for another blog!
A FINAL NOTE  - although calf cramps in pregnancy are very common and rarely harmful or serious enough to require medical care, if your cramps cause severe discomfort and are accompanied with swollen legs, redness, tenderness and skin changes you should see your doctor or midwife as a precaution.  
About the author….
Jennie Phenix is a yoga teacher, yoga therapist, mum of 2 and has been specialising in pregnancy yoga, postnatal yoga and hypnobirthing since 2005.  She teaches regular weekly classes and workshops in South Bucks, UK where she lives with her family.
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