Many pregnant women suffer from migraines and headaches during their pregnancy. We’ve been there and can empathize. It isn’t any fun.
The increased hormone levels can even cause these headaches to be of greater intensity than those you had before becoming pregnant.
We’ve consulted our medical experts and wrote this comprehensive guide to answer all your questions about migraines and headaches during pregnancy. We share our tips for relieving and preventing pregnancy-related headaches so you can be free to enjoy this special time without suffering.
- Migraines and headaches during pregnancy can be triggered by increased estrogen levels, dehydration, and other factors like stress and sleep deprivation.
- Over-the-counter medications like Tylenol (acetaminophen) can help relieve symptoms, but consult your doctor before using any medication during pregnancy.
- Alternative remedies such as cold compresses, exercise, and rest can help alleviate headache symptoms without medication.
- If headaches are severe, persistent, or accompanied by high blood pressure, blurred vision, or other concerning symptoms, consult your doctor or head to the nearest emergency room.
What Causes Your Migraines And Headaches?
There are many different triggers for migraines, but estrogen is the primary culprit for pregnant women. It is even possible for a woman who has never experienced a migraine to start having them when she becomes pregnant. Elevated estrogen levels increase the probability of migraines.
Some lucky women notice their migraines disappear once they become pregnant, but others notice an extreme increase in intensity (1). There is significant evidence linking migraines to hormones.
Of course, there are other reasons you may suffer from one of these nasty headaches. Some triggers include:
- Sleep deprivation.
In addition to chocolate and caffeine, many believe processed food is a migraine trigger. Try to avoid processed food if possible, and eat a balanced diet throughout your pregnancy. Also, I always tell my patients to remember to eat. It may sound ridiculous, but pregnancy brain can make you forget a surprising number of things! Low blood sugar from not eating can also be a migraine trigger.
Editor's Note:Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
Dehydration can also be a big trigger for pregnancy-related migraines, especially in the first trimester when you are likely to suffer from morning sickness (nausea and vomiting). Be sure you are hydrating as best you can, and call your doctor if you cannot keep anything down.
It should come as little surprise that many pregnant women will be sleep deprived or under stress. It’s not an easy feat to adjust your life and body around the growing baby inside you.
It takes time to tackle your stressors and learn how to get that much-needed sleep.
How To Treat Your Headache
The good news is that while you may struggle to eliminate headaches and migraines from your life, there are ways to ease your symptoms.
1. Over-The-Counter Medication
There are over-the-counter medications you can take. It is important to thoroughly research any product before you decide to use it.
Check With Your Doctor
As with most medications during pregnancy, there is a possibility that your baby could be harmed if you take medicine to treat your headaches.
The FDA classifies drugs into five categories based on their likeliness of causing birth defects or other harm to fetuses. The safest group are those in category A. Unfortunately, there are none in this group to provide headache relief.
However, there are two options for drugs in category B (2).
- Tylenol (acetaminophen).
- Reglan (metoclopramide).
Most pain relievers with acetaminophen are acceptable.
It is also important to avoid the following over-the-counter medications throughout your entire pregnancy:
- Motrin (ibuprofen).
- Advil (ibuprofen).
- Aleve (naproxen).
There are no 100 percent risk-free medications to take. If you are seeking that 100 percent reassurance, there are still other options you can choose from.
2. Alternative Remedies
For many moms, safety is the number one concern. Everything you put into your body affects your unborn child.
You don’t have to feel like you hit a roadblock when it comes to medication. You can still relieve your symptoms in a drug-free manner.
- Cold compress: Apply a cold towel to your head. The cooling sensation will help relieve pressure. This is best for tension headaches.
- Warm compress: Place a warm washcloth on your head for sinus headaches. This will help get the mucus flowing and hopefully relieve pressure.
- Cold shower: Just like the cold compress, a cold shower can help relieve pressure and leave you feeling refreshed.
- Exercise: This is one of the best methods because it helps get your blood flowing and benefits your body in other positive ways.
- Dark and quiet room: Escape to a quiet room with dim lights. You may begin to experience relief just by disconnecting for a few minutes.
- Nap: Try taking a nap because it is very likely a lack of sleep could cause your headache.
8 Ways You Can Prevent Migraines And Headaches
Your headaches could be related to bodily tension. If this is the case, there are ways to help lower the chances of suffering.
1. Good Posture
It isn’t easy to figure out an effective way to position your body with that growing belly. Your center of gravity changes when you’re pregnant, and you may unknowingly be shifting your weight to accommodate your new center of gravity. Sometimes the most comfortable position is not the most appropriate. Be sure to maintain good posture so you don’t strain your back, neck, and head.
2. Get Enough To Eat
Your body requires many more nutrients and calories these days. A lack of sufficient nutrients can lead to headaches. Try eating many smaller portioned meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar up.
3. Plenty Of Rest And Relaxation
Pregnancy is the time to rack up all those hours of relaxation, so take advantage of it. Even a few minutes of relaxation a day can help recharge your body and relieve stress — which can reduce your susceptibility to headaches.
4. Stay Hydrated
Keep pumping your body full of those liquids. Drinking sufficient amounts of water can help you stop a headache right in its tracks.
5. Keep A Headache Diary
Headaches are usually triggered by specific things. When you get a headache, make a list of what you ate over the previous few hours and what you were doing when the headache began.
If you keep a headache diary, you might be able to identify triggers and eliminate them.
Pregnancy massage can help you relax, and it can relieve tension. Tension is a major contributor to headaches. Massage also has added benefits because it can help relieve ligament pain and restore posture.
7. Prenatal Yoga
A prenatal yoga class can be a great way to exercise and relieve stress. Combining the two can help lower your chances of suffering from headaches and help keep you relaxed.
8. Slowly Eliminate Caffeine
Many mothers decide to eliminate caffeine like coffee and tea from their diet once they learn they are pregnant. This is a wise choice, but you should do it slowly. If you eliminate caffeine all at once, you could suffer from withdrawal headaches.
When To Worry
Pregnant women tend to worry about anything and everything. This is a journey of changes, and you aren’t sure which to accept with open arms and which to question. This is exceptionally difficult, considering pregnancy alone comes with its own set of symptoms and side effects.
While most headaches during pregnancy aren’t a cause for concern, there are other cases where they could be. Be on the lookout for these combinations of symptoms because they may indicate a problem.
Headache And High Blood Pressure
If you know you have been experiencing higher-than-normal blood pressure, you should take major headaches seriously. A headache associated with high blood pressure is a strong indicator of preeclampsia. This can put both you and your unborn baby at risk (3).
Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy and can be carefully controlled by your physician. Some tests can be conducted to confirm whether or not you have this complication.
Other symptoms of preeclampsia include blurred vision, blind spots, or dizziness. Any combination of these with headaches can be concerning.
If your headache is severe and nothing seems to make it go away, it may be time to consult your doctor. Headaches should not last longer than a couple of hours. If the severity is maintained throughout this period, it is time to let your doctor intervene.
Never Be Afraid To Consult Your Doctor
If you have a very severe headache or one that comes on very quickly, it is best to consult your doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry. One phone call can give you that peace of mind.
Remember, headaches are a normal part of pregnancy, so try not to become alarmed every time you develop one.
When Will Your Headaches End?
Your headaches are caused by other factors, typically pregnancy-related symptoms.
You don’t have control over your hormones, but you can try to decrease stress and fatigue. If you can maintain these, you can help rid yourself of headaches.
The good news is that the hormone estrogen is probably the culprit for headaches. Once you reach your second trimester, your headaches should improve as your body adjusts to the higher estrogen levels (4).
Once you deliver that bundle of joy, your hormone levels will begin to go back to normal, and you should see a significant decrease in your headaches.
The Bottom Line
Headaches are a normal part of pregnancy, so you should not become alarmed if you begin to suffer from them. The changes in your hormone levels make you very susceptible to developing them.
Many over-the-counter medications are not safe to take for relief, but those with acetaminophen are generally recommended. Be sure to consult your doctor before beginning use.
If you would prefer not to take medications, there are many alternative ways for you to seek relief. There are even several ways to help you prevent recurring headaches.
If your headaches or migraines have a quick onset or are very severe for an extended period, it is time to consult your doctor. Most headache occurrences are normal, but they can sometimes be a symptom of other underlying issues.