Headaches in Pregnancy and How to Treat Them
Are you struggling with pregnancy-related headaches? You’re not alone. Recent studies suggest around 39% of women experience headaches during or following pregnancy. Whether you’re suffering from small headaches or full-blown migraines, head pain can seriously impact your daily life. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to alleviate headaches and make your pregnancy a little more enjoyable. To help you get started, we’ve put together a handy (and shareable!) guide below.
Why does pregnancy cause headaches?
As you’re probably well aware, the body goes through all sorts of significant changes during pregnancy. During your first trimester, progesterone and estrogen levels are likely to increase and cause headaches – a phenomenon that many encounter as part of their menstrual cycle. As pregnancy progresses into the second and third trimesters, hormones will settle down, and headaches may improve. Other causes of headaches during pregnancy include:
- Eye strain: Did you know that your eye muscles relax during pregnancy? If you’re an avid reader or use screens for much of the day, pregnancy could increase the likelihood of eye strain.
- Lack of sleep: If your pregnancy affects your ability to nod off, you may experience headaches during the day.
- Caffeine withdrawal: It’s generally recommended to lay off the caffeine during pregnancy to keep your baby safe and healthy. If you’re a coffee lover, withdrawal can lead to pounding headaches.
- Feeling stressed or anxious: Pregnancy can cause a rollercoaster of emotions that can manifest as physical symptoms.
- Changes in posture: Your center of gravity will shift as your baby grows, causing back and neck strain that can lead to tension headaches.
- Increased blood volume: As your body produces more blood to support your growing child, your blood vessels may dilate, leading to headaches.
Of course, your headaches may be related to something other than pregnancy, like an ear infection, flu, tooth issues, or sinusitis. As such, it’s worth discussing your symptoms with a medical practitioner.
What are the different kinds of headaches?
Headaches can vary in severity and symptoms, with some headache types causing more trouble than others. The most common forms of pregnancy-related headaches include:
- Migraine: As anyone who suffers from chronic migraines will tell you, these debilitating episodes are much more than “just a headache”. Migraines tend to start as a piercing pain in the head that may radiate outward over several hours. Migraines may also cause a host of other unpleasant symptoms, including visual disturbances, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.
- Tension headaches: Tension headaches are the most common type of pregnancy headache and cause mild to moderate head pain. Tension headaches are not usually associated with additional symptoms and are often described as causing a tight feeling around the head.
- Cluster headaches: Cluster headaches are relatively rare and cause severe shooting pains around the eyes and sides of the head. You may also experience watery eyes, swelling, and nasal congestion.
Should I worry about pregnancy headaches?
For the most part, pregnancy-related headaches are nothing to worry about. However, if you start experiencing frequent, debilitating headaches after the 20th week of your pregnancy, you must seek medical attention. Such headaches could represent a sign of pre-eclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure and can affect the brain, liver, and kidneys. If left untreated, pre-eclampsia can cause serious medical issues for both mother and baby.
You should also seek immediate attention if your headache is sudden and severe, associated with a recent head injury, or accompanied by neck stiffness, extreme drowsiness, or weakness of the arms and legs. These symptoms could signal a medical emergency like a stroke.
How can I treat pregnancy headaches?
Fortunately, the vast majority of pregnancy-related headaches respond well to home treatments and lifestyle changes. If you’re looking for quick and effective relief from tension headaches, it’s worth trying one or more of the following tricks:
- Stay hydrated: Dehydration is one of the most common causes of tension headaches, so remember to sip plenty of fluids throughout the day.
- Get plenty of sleep: If you’re struggling to catch up on sleep, why not try out a pregnancy pillow?
- Meditate: Deep breathing and meditation can reduce the stress and tension associated with headaches.
- Use a hot or cold compress: Applying heat or cold temperatures to your forehead can quickly soothe headaches.
- Eat regularly: While pregnancy may mess with your appetite, it’s important to eat enough each day to keep your baby healthy and stave off symptoms like head pain.
- Avoid triggers: Some foods or odors can trigger headaches during pregnancy, with common culprits including chocolate, cheese, peanuts, sour cream, and preserved meats. As such, it’s worth keeping a food diary to identify any patterns.
- Incorporate exercise into your daily routine: Moderate forms of exercise, such as walking or yoga, can help to reduce the severity of headaches.
- Take regular screen breaks: Stepping away from your laptop for five minutes every hour or so can reduce eye strain and alleviate stress.
- Take a warm bath: You deserve it!
Can I take medication?
It’s advised to avoid over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen throughout pregnancy. While it may be tempting to reach for medications, NSAIDs increase the risk of congenital abnormalities in babies. If headaches are affecting your everyday life, it’s worth contacting your doctor for treatment and advice. You shouldn’t have to suffer in silence!
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