Many women experience this painful problem during pregnancy

Science and Health

Most pregnant women experience symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, back pain, swelling, etc. and each woman feels differently when pregnant. One well-known problem during pregnancy, especially towards the end, is severe muscle cramps. It happens mainly at night during deep sleep when sharp pain originating in the calves of the legs pierces the body.

Nurit Shalonsky, midwife and certified lactation consultant, explains that these cramps are typical during the second and third trimesters, and indeed appear mainly at night. They probably occur due to slower blood circulation or the extra stress and strain in the muscles from carrying the pregnancy weight. 

Also, the fetus along with an expanded uterus is pressing on the nerves and blood vessels that pump blood to the legs. There’s also a theory that excess calcium or changes in how the body processes calcium during pregnancy cause these unpleasant cramps. 

The reasons for these painful twinges aren’t clear but studies have shown that magnesium deficiency might be a factor.

Dissolving cramps

In any case, the good news is that the cramping usually goes away after a few minutes and the pain subsides. But what can be done when it happens?

Pregnant woman (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)

Try to release the cramp by stretching the leg forward, with the toes flexed, or pointed, towards you while massaging and lightly tapping the muscle. You can place a hot compress or a hot water bottle on the tight muscles. 

Also, since the cramping usually occurs at night, it’s good to stretch the back leg muscles. A warm bath before bed can also help relax muscles and reduce cramps.

While awake, try to avoid staying in the same position for a long time. Standing or sitting for a long time may worsen the problem.

You should also avoid sitting with legs crossed, where the blood flow to the legs is interrupted, or any other position that creates pressure on one of the legs and interferes with normal blood flow to the organs. 

Try to do moderate physical activity adapted to pregnancy such as yoga, pilates or swimming, which can contribute to health, feeling good and reducing cramps at night.

Pay attention to your diet

Make sure to drink plenty of water. It’s healthy and especially important during pregnancy and will help lessen the intensity of a variety of unpleasant symptoms that can appear in the advanced weeks.

Some studies have shown that eating foods rich in magnesium helps reduce cramping. Recommended foods include avocados, beans, bananas, spinach leaves, watermelon, almonds and walnuts.

When should you see a doctor?

If the area is swollen, sensitive and red or the skin is warm to the touch. see a doctor for a thorough examination. It’s important to get checked when the pain persists or it’s difficult for you to walk.

This article was written in partnership with the JAMA parenting app.