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Q&A: What should I do about foot cramps during pregnancy?

I remember those cramps! I still cringe sometimes if I accidentally point my toes in bed at night. Painful!

No one knows why moms-to-be get those awful cramps, but they are believed to be from a buildup of lactic and pyruvic acids, leading to an involunary muscle contraction. They are quite common in pregnancy. I heard a story of a woman who cried out at night about her foot cramp, and her sleepy husband was at the door with her suitcase before she could tell him it wasn’t labor!

So what can you do for prevention?

Practical suggestions include stretching your calves, especially right before bedtime. One way to do this is to stand facing the wall and, keeping your body straight and your feet on the floor, lean towards the wall. You should feel the stretch in the calf muscles. Maintain the position for a count of 10, and do this in sets of five at least twice a day. Keeping well hydrated also may help. Some moms say if they put a bolster at the foot of the bed it helps them remember not to stretch their toes. Un-tucking your blankets at the bottom of the bed may help in that same way.

As for supplements, magnesium is the only supplement demonstrated scientifically to prevent leg cramps. In one study, magnesium lactate and magnesium citrate 5 mmol in the morning and 10 mmol in the evening showed good results. Other studies have shown that calcium supplementation does not work. Magnesium at this dose is probably safe in pregnancy, but check with your doctor or midwife before taking any medication or supplement.

Once a calf cramp starts, stretch the cramped muscle by pulling back on your toes, or by getting up and doing the calf stretching exercise against the wall. And you may want to let your bed-partner know how to stretch the muscle, so he can be helpful in your time of need, and so he doesn’t spaz out like the dad in the story. Good luck to you!

Check out: 15 Magnesium-Rich Foods

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