Pregnancy is a wonderful time in our lives as women, I don’t think anyone will disagree with that. Chances are, we all see eye to eye on the statement that there are difficulties posed by carrying a baby, too.
As miraculous as the whole process is from day one to delivery, there are many trials and discomforts to sail through before our ship finally comes into port. The vexation I will discuss is cramps and restless leg syndrome, and I bet there are heads nodding right now in unison, that this discomfort is a common one.
We can attest to the fact that sometimes they’re an affliction each unto it’s own - and at other times we can suffer with both concurrently. Either way, they can be a tough hardship for those who have to deal with them.
We are going to take a look at what causes cramps and restless legs, and see if we can offer a few tidbits of sound advice that may provide you with relief.
7 What Are Leg Cramps?
Research has shown that the leg cramps that typically plague pregnant women are at their worst in the second, and particularly, third trimesters of the gestational period. Dull aches, the hardening of muscles, and intermittent, but painful contractions in the leg are part of what you will experience with cramping.
Muscular jumpiness along with the cramping is another common complaint. Most often occurring at night, or anytime that you’re trying to get a few moments rest, leg cramps are powerful enough to wake you from a deep sleep - or prevent you from enjoying one.
Most women who have legs cramps while pregnant describe them as a “charley horse” type of cramp, the sort of muscle spasm felt when jogging or running a distance; the sensation that presents itself when all of a sudden your leg feels as though it will buckle under you.
These tight knots as a rule affect the calf and foot, but some pregnant women are bothered by cramping in the thigh area in addition to the lower leg.
6 Why Do They Happen?
The science of why cramping in the leg happens to pregnant women has not yet been nailed down to a definitive cause, but there are theories and suspicions that indeed make sense.
Hormones that fluctuate and go haywire during pregnancy get blamed for a lot of the unpleasantness that materializes over the nine months of baby building, and leg cramps are no exception.
Estrogen is responsible for spider veins, skin tags and the engorging of blood vessels, all lovely parts of pregnancy, and it‘s this hormone that researchers feel may have a part in the shooting pain we feel as our leg muscles spasm. Chances are that the extra pressure on the vessels of the legs, caused by a rise in estrogen, is partly responsible for the pain.
Lack of folic acid is also thought to be one of the culprits behind cramping of the legs and restless leg syndrome. The hows and whys of what this supplement does for leg cramping is not fully known, but what is clearly evident is that this important supplement reduces the risk of neural tube defects in your developing baby, and aids in the growth of the placenta. Both good reasons to be sure to take folic acid daily.
If our bodies are lacking in fluids (think long distance runners who experience cramping in a race), we can suffer from muscle contractions and pain. To boot, deficiency in certain nutrients like magnesium and potassium might be responsible for those annoying leg spasms.
5 What Can Be Done to Relieve Leg Cramps?
There are some measures you can take so that you can avoid or attempt to lessen the pain of the leg cramps. The advice for the problem is all part of good pregnancy habits to begin with, so putting the measures in place should not be a hardship.
Remember your vitamins and minerals, take them daily, but just to be sure speak with your doctor first to get the amount of units per day that he recommends for you specifically, based on your health history, weight, and dietary habits.
Nutrition is a vital part of every pregnancy so be certain to eat as healthily as you can. Plenty of fiber, fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy products all count towards a safe pregnancy journey.
Fluids are ultra important, too and are thought to be crucial in the quest for a leg cramp free pregnancy. Plenty of water each day is a must - your urine should be light yellow, not dark, signifying that fluids are running through the body and all systems are go.
Good footwear is something that may not be on the top of your list when you are out shopping for maternity wear, but in fact, you should be on the look-out for shoes that permit circulation and room for your feet (which will swell now and then).
Check on a pregnancy forum (like ours, here at BabyGaga). Many times, a solution can be learned from someone who has had the same experiences.
In addition, don’t sit in the same position for long lengths of time. This can cut off blood flow which may lead to cramping. Before bed, try to stretch your calf muscles gently, and maybe opt for a relaxing, warm bath that will set the stage for a good night’s rest.
4 How Is Restless Legs Syndrome Different From Leg Cramping?
Whereas cramping results from the sudden contraction of muscles, restless leg syndrome (RLS) is described as an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, accompanied by uncomfortable, irritating sensations. Cramping can last until the knotting sensation in the leg is relieved, but restless leg syndrome sufferers can often find a fix by getting up and walking around.
While at rest, the legs can feel itchy and jumpy, and studies state that some moms-to-be unfortunately get these bothersome symptoms in their arms as well.
Worse in the evening, or often evident only in the nighttime hours, a woman who suffers from restless legs before pregnancy will find the affliction to be exacerbated after conception. Another unfavorable piece of news is that sometimes RLS which begins in pregnancy never leaves.
Leg cramping is most common in the second and third trimesters when weight gain can put extra pressure on the legs, causing the muscle aches. RLS, on the other hand, has nothing to do with weight gain as evidence shows that women of any weight are subject to it, pregnant or not. This being said, symptoms can worsen in the last months of pregnancy.
3 What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
It has been proven that many women suffering from RLS benefit from extra iron supplementation, which goes without saying that low iron can be a factor. Do not take extra iron on your own, check with your doctor first, in order to avoid problems that may arise if your iron intake accidentally becomes too high.
Standard testing that your doctor will do throughout the nine months of carrying a baby may show a low red blood cell count, alerting your health care provider to the fact that your iron is lacking. Maybe supplementation will be taken care of before restless legs appear in your night life.
Sleep deprivation (you know, from the endless bathroom breaks all night long) is another culprit in the RLS bag of tricks. Not an easy problem to fix, we know, since getting comfortable for a night of slumber in the last weeks of pregnancy is a chore, to say the very least.
Regrettably, if you have a family member with restless legs, you have more chance of acquiring the same condition. In the same vein, if you had legs that were itchy, jumpy, and irritated in a previous pregnancy, you have a pretty good chance of being stuck with the problem again.
2 What Can Be Done to Relieve Restless Leg Syndrome?
A large contributing factor to RLS is sleep deprivation, so therefore, alleviating the symptoms will stem partially from getting a better night’s sleep.
Avoid caffeine late in the day (cutting down on caffeine when growing a baby is a good idea anyway). According to RLS.org , activities that keep you alert during the day (they suggest computer games or knitting) can ease restless legs at night.
They also recommend that you nap during the day, when at all possible, to try and take the edge off the grip of sleep deprivation by making up for it as you can. Sure, not sleeping at night and taking a nap during the day is not the ideal situation, but if that’s all you’ve got working for you, then it’s best to give it a try.
We shouldn’t need to mention this one, but if you haven’t stopped smoking or drinking because you’re pregnant, you need to do it now. It’s a fact that not only is it harmful to baby (and to you), it contributes to RLS.
Low impact exercise, such as walking or swimming, is suggested too. Exercise has many benefits, like expanding lung capacity and increasing cardiovascular health, and building stamina for delivery day. We’re thinking a yoga class could do double duty as well. It stretches ligaments and helps with flexibility, and may prove to be a great relaxation tool.
As with leg cramps, don’t sit in positions that cut off circulation, such as crossing your legs, and for both conditions you could try taking a warm bath at night which may be the key to relief. After the bath, massage a nice lotion into your skin. The massage motion will assist in relaxing your legs. Invest in a hot water bottle as a bedtime partner to try and ease the irritating sensations and help control the leg movements.
1 When to See the Doctor
With any problem that occurs during any of the three trimesters of pregnancy, it’s always best to speak with your healthcare provider before the situation gets out of hand. Leg cramping and restlessness in the legs are no exception.
Don’t wait until the symptoms are severe, because then you have the psychological effect of the problem to deal with, along with the physical. If you’re finding that aches, jumpiness or irritating sensations are becoming a part of your nightly regimen, speak with your doctor or midwife soon.
We will add a few words of caution as well, if you experience redness, warmth, tenderness or swelling of any degree in your legs, see your doctor without delay. These conditions could signify that a more serious problem is possible.