Why they Happen and How to Prevent Them
Calf cramps are one in a long list of pregnancy nuisances. These charlie horses usually strike in the middle of the night, waking you from sleep in such terrible pain, it can feel as if your calf muscle is popping out. The reason this happens so often, or to so many women is because the calf muscles work much harder, all day, during pregnancy due to the additional weight and because of the biomechanics of so much of that weight hanging off the front of your body. Fortunately these leg cramps are preventable. First, stop wearing high heels, which puts additional stress on the calves. I am all for being fabulous, but brands and media who encourage heel wearing to pregnant women are ignorant or irresponsible. Secondly, you need to build calf strength so the cramps don’t get worse and more frequent as you gain more weight. The book MOMMY FABULOUS: Complete Pregnancy Fitness and Nutrition Guide, Designed to Deliver a Fabulous Postpartum Figure can show you how to do this safely and effectively during pregnancy. Finally the calves need to be stretched. The stretch pictured here is fantastic during pregnancy. Angle your feet outward at the hips to make room for your baby belly and lower yourself into a deep squat while keeping the heels on the floor. It is best performed at the corner of a heavy coffee table that you can hold onto for leverage. Only lower yourself as far as you can with the heels on the ground. Once the heels lift up, you shift bodyweight forward and take pressure off the calves and place it in the knees; it becomes ineffective. Practice holding the stretch until you can lower yourself into the pictured position below and can place all your bodyweight into your heels, as opposed to the balls of your feet. Being heavier than usual is beneficial because it applies more pressure, and therefore a more effective stretch than you would be capable of when not pregnant.
Coincidently, this is a great birthing position because it opens the pelvis more than any other position. (Giving birth in the missionary position is the hardest and most painful because the pelvis is most closed. It is often used because it is convenient for the person delivering the baby, even though it makes childbirth harder on the mother.) If you are interested in birthing this way, practice holding this stretch position for 2 minute intervals during your third trimester or you will never have the stamina for it during delivery.
Calf charlie horses usually occur at night because of the position you sleep in. Most people sleep with their toes pointed and the covers pulled over them. The already fatigued calf muscles are in an activated position when the toes are pointed. After a few hours of contraction, the calf muscles spasm. Instead, draw your toes upward into a flat-footed position to sleep. This position relaxes the calf muscles.
If you get a charlie horse calf spasm, forcefully drive your heel downward while pulling your toes upward to relax the calf muscle and it should subside pretty quickly. Pregnancy makes sleeping uncomfortable enough. Use these techniques and you can avoid one more disruption.
Most of the side effects of pregnancy can be treated, minimized or completely avoided. MOMMY FABULOUS: Complete Pregnancy Fitness and Nutrition Guide, Designed to Deliver a Fabulous Postpartum Figure was written to share specific techniques, foods and exercises that allow women to get through their pregnancies avoiding back pain, chiroprators, night-time aching hips, morning sickness, heartburn, stretch marks, gestational diabetes…the list goes on and on. Take an active role in your own health and pregnancy. I can show you how to do it!
Danielle Federico, M.P.H.
author of MOMMY FABULOUS