How to Survive When Your Head is Killing You During Pregnancy

Have you noticed an increase in your migraines and headaches since you became pregnant? Are you worried they may be the result of some other underlying problem?

Many pregnant women will suffer from migraines and headaches during their pregnancy. The increased hormone levels can even cause these headaches to be of greater intensity than the ones you had before becoming pregnant.

Migraines and headaches are an extremely normal part of pregnancy that typically are not a cause for concern. There are safe ways to relieve your pain and many options you can choose from to help prevent future headaches.

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 never to experience a migraine until she becomes pregnant. The 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 (source). 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:

  • Chocolate.
  • Stress.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Caffeine.

It should come as little surprise that many pregnant women will be sleep deprived or under some 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 time to learn how you can comfortably get that much-needed sleep.

True migraine headaches, in my experience, tend to improve in pregnancy but other types of headaches, such as muscle-contraction or tension headaches, increase in frequency when a woman is pregnant.
Headshot of Christine, Traxler, MD, BS

Editor's Note:

Christine Traxler, MD, BS

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

To be on the safe side, it is recommended you receive confirmation from your doctor before beginning use.

As with most medications during pregnancy, there is a possibility that fetal damage could occur 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 is those in category A — unfortunately there are none in this group to provide headache relief.

There are two options for drugs in category B however (source).

  • 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:

  • Aspirin.
  • 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.
  • Aromatherapy: The release of peppermint, lavender, lemon, or orange oils can help loosen tense muscles when inhaled.

8 Ways You Can Prevent Migraines And Headaches

Your headaches very well could be related to bodily tension. If this is the case, there are ways to help lower the chances of suffering from another one of those dreaded headaches (source).

1. Good Posture

It is challenging to figure out an effective way to position your body with that growing belly. 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.

Related Reading: What is the Best Belly Band for Pregnancy?

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.

Pregnant woman sleeping with a pregnancy pillow

4. Stay Hydrated

Keep pumping your body full of those liquids. Drinking sufficient amounts of water can help you prevent a headache right in its tracks.

5. Keep A Headache Diary

Specific things usually trigger headaches. When you get a headache, make a list of the things you ate over the previous hours and what you were doing when a headache began.

If you keep a headache diary, you might be able to identify those triggers and eliminate them.

6. Massage

A massage can help you relax and it can relieve tension. Tension is a major contributor to headaches. The massage has added benefits too, 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. The combination of the two can help lower your chances of suffering from headaches and help keep you relaxed.

Pregnant woman stretching on a yoga mat

8. Slowly Eliminate Caffeine

Many mothers decide to eliminate caffeine from their diet once they find out that they are pregnant. This is a wise choice, but it is recommended you do it slowly. If you eliminate caffeine all at once, you could suffer from withdrawal headaches.

When To Worry

As an expecting mom, anything and everything worries you. This is a journey of changes and you aren’t sure which ones to accept with open arms and which ones 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 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 (source).

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.

Persistent Headache

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 onsets 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.

Please Note

Headaches accompanied by significant onset swelling, blurred vision, weakness, numbness, slurred speech, or upper abdominal pain, should be immediately discussed with your doctor.

When Will Your Headaches End?

Your headaches are arising because of other factors causing them, which are 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 reduce because your body has adjusted to the higher estrogen levels (source).

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 are against medications, there are many alternative ways for you to seek relief. There are even a number of ways to help you prevent the recurrence of your 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.

Feel free to leave your opinions regarding this topic in the comment section below. If you enjoyed this article and thought it was helpful, please give it a share!

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