12 Tips to Prevent Foot and Leg Cramps During Pregnancy

Foot and leg cramps during pregnancy can be prevented with good nutrition and proper daily exercise. Learn more in the following article.
12 Tips to Prevent Foot and Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Are foot and leg cramps affecting your pregnancy? If so, don’t worry! This annoying symptom is one of the most frequent at this stage, especially in the last trimester when several factors that favor their appearance are combined.

The good news is that they can be prevented and alleviated with some simple steps during pregnancy. Below, we’ll tell you about them. Keep reading!

Why are foot and leg cramps common during pregnancy?

Muscle cramps occur when the muscle contracts and stiffens suddenly. This generates intense pain in the affected area, which can last from a few seconds to 10 minutes. The muscle even remains more sensitive to touch for up to 24 hours after the event.

This uncomfortable symptom is quite common during pregnancy and mainly affects the lower limbs (groin, calves, soles, and toes).

It’s estimated that 45% of pregnant women suffer from cramps from the second trimester of pregnancy and that the discomfort becomes more severe as the days go by. They appear more frequently during the night and disturb the already compromised sleep of the mother-to-be.

A pregnant woman massaging her foot.
Cramps and discomfort in the lower limbs are very common in pregnant women, especially towards the end of pregnancy. Don’t be alarmed if they appear, but don’t leave them untreated because they’ll affect your well-being.

Why do cramps occur during pregnancy?

The exact cause of cramps in the legs and feet during pregnancy is still unclear, however, they’re usually related to the following aspects:

  • Nerve compression due to the weight of the uterus.
  • Alteration of circulation in the lower limbs, specifically due to the slowing of venous return.
  • Dehydration.
  • Low levels of calcium, potassium, and high levels of phosphorus in the blood.
  • Hormonal action.
  • Change in the axis of the spine secondary to the growth of the uterus. This structure compresses the nerves of the lower extremities.

All these factors favor the appearance of annoying cramps, but in addition, the fatigue of the last trimester, sleep problems, and muscle overload are added.

Some tips to prevent them

To prevent foot and leg cramps during pregnancy, take into account the following tips:

  1. Avoid spending too much time in the same position, whether standing, sitting, or being cross-legged.
  2. Before going to bed, do some leg stretching exercises. It’s also a good idea to massage your lower limbs lightly if they feel tired.
  3. Practice regular low-impact physical activity, such as yoga, pilates, and swimming. These are all good options for keeping your muscles active during pregnancy.
  4. Walk at least 15 minutes a day to promote venous return and activate your lower limb muscles.
  5. Do circulatory exercises, such as wiggling your feet in circles and then wiggling your toes back and forth for 5 minutes.
  6. Maintain good hydration, with a consumption of at least 1.5 to 2 liters of water per day.
  7. Eat a balanced and healthy diet. A diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
  8. Include in your diet foods rich in potassium, such as bananas, nuts, figs, legumes, fish (trout and halibut), and lean beef.
  9. Choose a prenatal vitamin that contains calcium, potassium, and magnesium in adequate doses. For this, you should follow your doctor’s advice.
  10. Wear loose-fitting clothes during pregnancy. Avoid pants that are tight around the legs and calves.
  11. Choose appropriate footwear that’s comfortable, has a firm heel cup, and isn’t too tight. Avoid high heels for long periods of time.
  12. Relax every day. Seek out activities that promote your well-being and reduce anxiety. Stress indirectly generates muscle contractions.
A man massaging his pregnant partner's feet.
Foot massages help relax tense muscles, relieve discomfort, and promote natural drainage of fluids retained in this lower body area.

What to do when you have foot and leg cramps

When this annoying and painful symptom appears, follow these steps to treat it:

  • Stretch the affected leg and gently flex the ankle and toes toward the shins. Repeat this several times.
  • If the cramp occurs in the calf area, flex the affected leg backward and place the foot on tiptoe in order to stretch this muscle.
  • Place a hot pack over the contracted muscle, then when the cramp passes, apply cold to the area.
  • Gently massage the affected muscle, you can also try to massage the surrounding muscles.
  • When the pain of the cramp passes, walk around a bit. This prevents its recurrence.

About foot and leg cramps during pregnancy, we can say…

Even if cramps are just an annoyance, you shouldn’t fail to tend to them and relieve them. If they become very frequent, painful, and long-lasting, or are accompanied by other symptoms (such as swelling or bruising in the legs), it’s best to go for an evaluation with a specialist.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.