Leg Cramps and Shortness of Breath in Third Trimester: What You Should Know

Being pregnant can be really magical, but also uncomfortable and unpleasant. Between the heartburn, back aches, fatigue, and the inability to get comfortable no matter the position, you wouldn’t think it could get much worse.

Wrong. Leg cramps and persistent shortness of breath are two more on a long list of pregnancy side effects. They’re both more common in the second and third trimester, as your baby becomes more obviously present. Here’s a look at what causes leg cramping and shortness of breath and what to do about it. 

What causes leg cramps?

Leg cramps are sharp muscle contractions in the calf or foot, most often occuring in the middle of the night. Exactly why pregnant women experience these involuntary leg pains is uncertain, although it might have something to do with the rapid increase in weight your leg muscles aren’t used to carrying. Leg cramps are common among pregnant women and usually are nothing to worry about.

What can I do about leg cramps?

If your leg cramps are persistent and really getting in the way of a good night’s sleep, try increasing your activity level. A few stretches at night may help release some of the stored up tension. Your belly may be getting in the way of touching your toes, but there are a few other stretches that’ll hit just the right spot.

Alternatively, start a regular exercise routine — even a 30 minute walk most days of the week can make a difference for a lot of pregnancy-related issues, not to mention making labor a little easier. Remember to always talk to your doctor before you start a new workout. 

A few studies suggest magnesium may also be helpful, so try increasing the magnesium in your diet. Taking mineral supplements of calcium and magnesium may alleviate leg cramps too, but, again, talk to your obstetrician before starting.

Make sure to stay hydrated; drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Additionally, choose your footwear for support and comfort, rather than style, so your leg muscles don’t work any harder than they have to during the day. If nothing is working for prevention, enlist your partner’s help for a midnight massage, and try applying a heating pad to sore areas.

What causes of shortness of breath?

While your pregnant, your body is pumping about 50% more blood than normal. This means you need more oxygen, which your body supplies by taking in more air. Changing hormones in the first trimester will stimulate your brain to prompt your lungs to do just that to make sure your developing baby is getting plenty of oxygen, too.

You may be feeling like you’re not getting enough air, but in reality, you’re taking in the same amount as you were before, it just isn’t enough for your changing body or baby. Later in pregnancy, this shortness of breath may be partly because of the weight gain, and partly because as your baby gets bigger, they’re putting extra pressure your diaphragm and your lungs, making it difficult to draw a deep breath. 

What can I do about shortness of breath?

To prevent shortness of breath, keep yourself as upright as possible. Use good posture while sitting or standing to keep your chest up and straight. Instead of sleeping prone, stack up a few pillows to keep your chest longer and breathing easier. Don’t push yourself too hard if it’s becoming a persistent problem — slow down and work with what you’ve got. 

When should I worry?

Blood clots are always a cause for concern, but particularly during pregnancy. Be alert for persistent pains in your legs, accompanied by a feeling of distension. Possible warning signs are suddenly labored breathing or accompanied by chest pain. Lung conditions can be much more serious during pregnancy, too, so be aware of any other indicators of preexisting lung diseases. In any of these situations, seek emergency medical care.

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