profile picture of David E. Zepeda
David E. Zepeda

Leg Cramps During Pregnancy

Leg cramps keeping you up at night? Here's how to handle leg cramps during pregnancy — and how to know they're not a sign of something more serious.

What are leg cramps during pregnancy?

Youch! Leg cramps happen when your muscles suddenly tighten — and they hurt!

What are the signs of leg cramps?

Pain or a “jumpy” sensation in your legs.

Are there any tests for leg cramps during pregnancy?

No, but they could be a sign of another condition — especially if you get them often, they’re severe or if you also have redness, swelling, warmth or tenderness in your leg — so your doc might test you for other things.

How common are leg cramps during pregnancy?

You're not alone — leg cramps (otherwise known as charley horses) are actually quite common during pregnancy. Leg cramps tend to be even more common (and painful!) in the third trimester, because your legs have all that extra weight to carry around late in pregnancy.

How did I get leg cramps?

Leg cramps may signal one of two things: a lack of nutrients or dehydration. When your body doesn't have enough water or sodium, your muscles can contract; this is what you feel as a cramp.

How will my leg cramps affect my baby?

They shouldn’t, but if you’re not getting enough fluids or nutrients, that could negatively affect baby. Dehydration in particular can cause contractions, which can lead to preterm labor.

What’s the best way to treat leg cramps during pregnancy?

Taking acetaminophen might help ease the pain temporarily, but your best bet is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

What can I do to prevent leg cramps during pregnancy?

To prevent cramps caused by dehydration, be sure you're drinking between 8 and 12 glasses of water a day. If water's not quite your thing, you can include milk, juice (avoid juice packed with sugar), sparkling water and decaf tea and coffee in the mix too.

The other problem may be your diet. Drops in potassium, calcium or magnesium can all lead to muscle spasms. Now that you're pregnant, you should have 4,700 mg of potassium, 1,000 to 1,300 mg of calcium and 350 to 360 mg of magnesium per day.

In addition to eating and drinking right, there are some things you can do to limit those sharp pains in your calves. Stretching will keep your muscles more elastic and less likely to contract. Walking around and getting that blood flowing might help too.

What do other pregnant moms do when they have leg cramps?

“The leg cramps have been the worst part of my second trimester so far! Almost every night, they wake me up, and I’ve definitely had a few knots, usually in my thighs. I started drinking more water and milk, and they’ve gotten a lot better. I stretch every night and morning now too.”

“I used to get leg cramps once in a while pre-pregnancy, but now I’m in my early  third trimester and just a few weeks ago started getting them once or twice a week. Sometimes it’s so bad it feels like the tightest knot ever and lasts a few days. I read that increasing calcium in your diet helps.”

“I had [leg cramps] early on, but then made sure I was getting my vitamins and calcium, and that seemed to help. I’ve also heard that magnesium helps.” -

Are there any other resources for leg cramps?

American Pregnancy Association

Plus, more from The Bump:

Ways to Deal With Pregnancy’s Aches and Pains

Pregnant with sore hips and pelvis?

Tailbone Pain During Pregnancy

PHOTO: Getty Images