Cramping your style?
How to tackle night-time cramps during pregnancy
There’s nothing subtle when pregnancy cramps attack. “The spasms tend to strike at night and usually affect the lower limbs, so when you’re pregnant, it’s not always easy to leap out of bed and get into a position that gives relief,” says midwife Tina Perridge.
Cramps most often begin in the second trimester, at around 18 to 20 weeks, and continue until birth. The uncomfortable sensation as the muscle contracts is usually associated with a build-up of lactic acid during exercise, but no-one knows why they’re so common during pregnancy.
“There are all sorts of theories about causes, but no hard evidence,” says Tina. One theory is that your uterus becomes heavier as your baby grows, which means that your legs are working harder to carry you. Another possible cause is that the uterus lying on the major vein that returns blood to the heart slows that process, leading to heavy, sluggish limbs that are more prone to cramps.
“The problem seems to be linked to a degree to dehydration and a change in mineral levels,” Tina adds. “Your body will prioritise the development of your baby during the second and third trimesters, and this can lead to a lack of calcium, magnesium or potassium, which could be triggers for a cramp.”
Drinking plenty of water is an easy fix, and there are simple steps that you take to top up those essential minerals, too. “Guarding against deficiencies through a varied diet is the best way,” says Tina. “Bananas are particularly rich in magnesium and potassium, and many pregnant women find their cramps disappear if they eat plenty of them. Leafy green vegies are another good source of magnesium, while potassium is found in potatoes, sweet potatoes and milk. Increase your calcium levels with plenty of cheese, leafy vegetables, nuts and fish.”
A lack of exercise may also contribute to cramps. Walking can help guard against it, as the gentle stretching of your calf muscles prevents the build-up of lactic acid and helps the blood be pumped out of your legs and back to your heart,” says Tina. “Pregnancy yoga can also help, as stretching improves blood flow around the
body. Also try some simple stretches
... a lack of calcium, magnesium or potassium ... could be triggers for a cramp.
before bed, such as moving your ankles up and down and from side to side.”
If you’re gripped with cramps, Tina says, “Stand on a flat surface, ideally a cold floor. With your muscles cramping, your foot won’t want to flatten down and you might have to push it down with your hand, but the pain will start to recede as soon as your sole touches the floor. If your bump is too big for you to manage this, delegate the job to your partner or, if you can’t get out of bed, get them to push against your foot instead.”