pregnant woman sitting on the bed and rubbing her ankle

Leg Cramps in Pregnancy Are Common—Here’s How to Find Relief

By Marisa Iallonardo
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
March 28, 2024

You’re sleeping soundly, when suddenly you’re woken by a sharp muscle spasm in your calf. A leg cramp like this—also called a charley horse—is common during pregnancy. Up to 55% of people may experience these leg cramps during pregnancy.

“They tend to be increasingly common as the pregnancy gets further along,” says Nicole Nolan, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at UNM Health in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Everyone is different, though, and some people may experience leg cramps in early pregnancy, she notes.

Why Do Leg Cramps Happen in Pregnancy?

The reason why leg cramps may happen more during pregnancy isn’t well understood, says Katie Rustici, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Intermountain Health in Denver. There’s likely a component of it that’s related to electrolyte deficiency, but more study is needed, she notes.

Leg cramps are also much more likely to happen at night. “It can be really disruptive to sleep, especially if it happens multiple times a night,” Rustici says.

How to Ease Painful Leg Cramps

You can do some things to help relieve leg pain and prevent cramps in the first place:

  • Stretch. Stretch your cramping calf muscle. “Stretching is the best approach to treatment and prevention,” Rustici says.
  • Massage your legs. Like stretching, massage can also be helpful in easing tight leg muscles.
  • Get up and walk around. Rather than staying in bed with your discomfort, move around. “It’s actually better to get up and walk around a little bit. Try to get the blood circulating in those muscles again,” Rustici says.
  • Hydrate. As Nolan explains, “Any kind of dehydration can worsen electrolyte abnormalities and make you more likely to have cramps.” She recommends drinking plenty of water, or drinks with electrolytes, like Gatorade or coconut water.
  • Other remedies. Other tactics, such as using a heating pad, exercising, trying compression socks, or considering supplements like magnesium or calcium, can also be helpful, Rustici says. Always talk to your provider before taking any supplements.

When to Call Your Provider

Leg cramps during pregnancy, while often intense and painful, tend to go away quickly on their own. If your leg cramps are disrupting your sleep to the point where it’s affecting your daily life, though, be sure to talk to your provider.

Also, reach out if the pain isn’t going away, or if it’s associated with any redness or swelling. This could be a sign of a dangerous blood clot, and pregnant people are more prone to clots. It’s worth getting checked out.