Coping with the distress of managing cramps and swelling from pregnancy leg pain, countless women endure agonizing leg cramps, swollen feet, and swollen ankles during this precious time. This heartfelt article uncovers the underlying causes of these all-too-common symptoms and compassionately provides guidance on how to avert them from manifesting in the first place.
Even though nausea in the morning, exhaustion, and back pain are common complaints during pregnancy, problems with the legs and feet are just as common, especially during the third trimester. Some of these aches and pains may be avoided by relaxing and putting your feet up (both literally and figuratively). In some women, the aching in their legs and even swollen veins go away after the delivery of their baby. In other circumstances, some people may require additional treatment even after pregnancy to deal with the changes that pregnancy can cause to your legs. These changes can occur because pregnancy can cause your legs to stretch.
So, what factors contribute to discomfort in the ankles, feet, and legs during pregnancy, and what can be done to alleviate it? Here is the knowledge you need to give yourself a leg up, including tried and true methods for prevention and relief.
Cramps in the Legs During Pregnancy
Some pregnant people can’t escape leg cramps. These painful muscle contractions, also known as charley horses, typically occur in the calf and frequently occur at night when the legs and feet are tired. According to Enid Leikin, M.D., an OB-GYN, these conditions are most likely caused by a lack of calcium and an excess of phosphorus, both of which can be found in processed meats and diet sodas. It’s also possible that the pressure on the nerves was caused by an expanding uterus, along with poor circulation and dehydration.
Despite being annoying and painful, these cramps are typically not harmful to your baby and tend to pass quickly. However, they can make your pregnancy more uncomfortable. But you should consult your physician if they continue, if your leg begins to swell, or if it feels warm. It’s possible that this is a sign of a blood clot, which is extremely uncommon but requires treatment right away.
How to Get Rid of Those Painful Leg Cramps
Leg pains are a common complaint among pregnant women, and one solution recommended by Dr. Leikin is to take calcium supplements or consume more dairy products. Because people who get pregnancy leg cramps may have a potassium deficiency, eating potassium-rich foods like bananas or dried apricots can help alleviate the discomfort. You can also improve your circulation by going for a walk in the evening for 15 to 20 minutes (with the approval of your physician, of course). You should also avoid standing or sitting in the same position for an extended period of time because this can cause fluid to accumulate, giving the sensation that pressure is building up in your legs.
If you find yourself in the midst of a leg cramp, you can alleviate the pain by placing your calf on a hot-water bottle and resting your foot in a flexed position to stretch the calf. The best solution is to walk, but if it’s the middle of the night and you don’t feel like getting out of bed, try grasping your foot with both hands and gently pressing your thumbs into the arch, pushing toward your toes (ask your partner to help if you can’t reach beyond your expanding belly!). If this doesn’t relieve the pain, walking is the best solution.
The cramping in your calf muscles can also be relieved by stretching them gently. To accomplish this, extend your straight leg while flexing your foot (heel down, toes up). It’s natural to want to point your toes when you’re in pain, but doing so will almost always make things worse.
Legs that are Swollen During Pregnancy
When pregnant, a person’s hormone levels are higher than normal, which can cause them to retain water, resulting in swelling and bloating (also known as edema). According to an orthopedist working at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City named David S. Levine, M.D., your body requires this additional fluid to transport nutrients and oxygen to your unborn child.
The swelling of your feet, ankles, and calves is typically the most noticeable sign of fluid retention during pregnancy. This is caused by the growing pressure your uterus exerts on the veins that carry blood back from your lower body. This restricts the flow of blood to some degree, causing fluid to remain in the legs and feet. According to Dr. Levine, the blood vessels in your foot and ankle are also the smallest, which is why your body has difficulty accommodating the additional fluid pouring in there.
Some of the most common causes of swollen feet and ankles in pregnancy are fatigue, physical activity, consuming foods high in sodium and caffeine, eating salty foods, and standing or walking for extended periods of time.
If you notice swelling in your face and hands in addition to blurred vision, severe or constant headaches, and weight gain of more than one pound per day, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Edema in pregnancy isn’t typically a cause for alarm; however, you should see a physician if you have any of these symptoms. These symptoms may point to preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening medical condition that is characterized by high blood pressure.
How to Reduce the Swelling in Your Legs
If you want to reduce the swelling in your legs, try not to sit or stand for longer than an hour at a time. Walking improves blood circulation, which reduces puffiness and contributes to overall health. The practice of elevating your legs can also be beneficial; to increase blood flow to your heart and lungs, do so for 12 to 20 minutes while holding your legs six to 12 inches above your heart.
When you lie on your right side or flat on your back, the full weight of your uterus will be placed on the vena cava. To prevent this, avoid lying in these positions. According to Rini Ratan, MD, assistant director of labor and delivery at Columbia-Presbyterian Eastside in New York City, the position that exerts the least amount of pressure is lying on one’s left side.
In addition to this, be sure to drink a lot of water, as this will actually assist in preventing the body from holding onto fluids. Caffeine should be consumed in smaller amounts, salt should be limited in the diet, and comfortable footwear, including slippers, should be worn as much as possible.
During pregnancy, people can also develop a condition called varicose veins in some cases. Your veins may protrude through weak skin spots and become visible due to a confluence of factors, including hormones, gravity, and elevated blood pressure and volume. Varicose veins might look like this:
- Bulging veins.
- A feeling of heaviness in your legs.
- Legs that are swollen and give you pain.
- Itching in the region of your veins
Most of the time, varicose veins are not harmful, despite the fact that dealing with them can be extremely frustrating. However, you should check with your doctor to ensure that you are not at an increased risk of developing a blood clot, and you should make it a point to inform your doctor if the severity of your pain or other symptoms worsens.
In terms of what you can anticipate from your new vein companions, it is possible that varicose veins will go away on their own after pregnancy in some people, while others will find that they continue to be a problem. However, varicose veins can be treated, so if you notice that they are becoming more bothersome after your child’s birth, you should consult your physician about the available options.
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