Some pregnant women get a lot of headaches. They are most common at the beginning of pregnancy and usually improve or stop in the last 6 months.
They won’t harm your baby, but they may be uncomfortable for you.
Headache can sometimes be a symptom of pre-eclampsia, an indication that affects some pregnant women, usually from about 20 weeks of pregnancy or shortly after the baby is born. Pre-eclampsia can lead to serious complications if not monitored and treated.
Coping with headaches in pregnancy
Paracetamol is the first choice for painkillers if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. It is taken by many pregnant and breast-feeding women, with no harmful effects on the mother or child.
However, if you are taking paracetamol during pregnancy or breast-feeding for safety reasons, take it as soon as possible.
Your pharmacist, obstetrician or general practitioner can advise you how much paracetamol you can take and for how long.
Read more about the use of paracetamol during pregnancy.
There are some painkillers you should avoid during pregnancy – such as those containing codeine and non-steroidal anti – inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen-unless prescribed by your doctor.
You can also change your lifestyle to prevent and control headaches. Try:
Drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration
Ensure sufficient sleep-read tiredness and sleep during pregnancy for more information
Rest and relax – for example, you can try a pregnancy yoga class
Read more about health problems during pregnancy.
What does a pregnancy headache feel like?
Almost all women have headaches, but having headaches during pregnancy is not fun. Coping with headaches is especially difficult in the first trimester, when you need to avoid many medications. Whether you have a headache from tension or a complete migraine, there are a few things you need to know.
What causes headaches during pregnancy?
The exact cause of headaches is not always clear. Changes in hormone levels and blood volume may play a role in the first trimester. A dull, general headache can be accompanied by stress, severe fatigue (tiredness) and tired eyes.
Sinus headache may be more likely due to the stuffy nose and runny nose that often occur during early pregnancy. Hunger and low blood sugar levels can also cause headaches. Women who suddenly stop their morning coffee and soda can get headaches from caffeine withdrawal. Those who experience nausea and vomiting even during early pregnancy may become dehydrated. This can also cause headaches.
Migraine headache is a common form of headache during pregnancy. This painful, throbbing headache is often felt on one side of the head and is the result of the expansion of blood vessels in the brain.
The misery is sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. A small percentage of women with migraines also have an aura with migraines. They see flashes of light or feel a tingling sensation in their arms and legs.
How can I get rid of a headache while pregnant?
Most women get headaches at some point in their lives. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that one in five women in the last three months had severe acute headaches or migraines.
Moreover, migraines are more common in women than in men – about 18% of women compared them to 6.5% of men.
Because headaches and migraines are so common, it is probably no surprise that many women are affected during pregnancy.
For most pregnant women, headaches or migraines are not a cause for concern from time to time, and most standard treatments are safe. However, severe headaches at important moments during or after pregnancy may indicate a serious medical emergency.
Common types of headache and treatment options
Primary or acute headaches occur occasionally and usually disappear after a few hours. Stress head pain is the most common form and is characterised by muscle tension and local pain in the head and neck area.
Primary headache in pregnant women can usually be treated at home. Rest, neck or main skin massage, hot or cold packs, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as tylenol, aspirin or ibuprofen may help relieve pain. However, if you have frequent or severe headaches, please contact your doctor to determine the cause.
Migraine is usually episodic (frequent and long-term) and usually causes additional neurological symptoms, such as:
● Blurred vision or tunnel vision
● Sensitivity to light
● Nausea and vomiting
Studies have shown that hormonal changes can cause migraine, even just before your menstruation or as a result of the use of oral contraceptives.
Interestingly, some women with migraines notice that the frequency or intensity of their symptoms decreases during pregnancy.
However, research does not suggest that pregnancy causes the onset of migraine. If you have had your first migraine headache during pregnancy, this is probably an accident.
Treatment during pregnancy is very similar to standard treatment. Anti-inflammatory medicines are generally safe and effective during pregnancy when used in limited quantities.
Midrin is a commonly prescribed headache medicine that contains paracetamol, along with a mild sedative. Midrin also has vasoconstrictive properties, which means it narrows blood vessels, reducing blood flow and pain.
Sumatriptan, commonly known as Imitrex, is another medicine that reduces blood flow to the brain. It is best to stop migraine headache as soon as it is symptomatic.
Most of the nausea medicines prescribed to women with migraines can be used safely during pregnancy. However, I recommend that you discuss with your obstetrician the medicines you use for the relief of migraine during your first pregnancy visit to be sure.
Certain medicines called ergotamines have more vasoconstrictive effects and may adversely affect foetal growth. They can also stimulate the activity of the uterus. For this reason, they should certainly not be used during pregnancy.
Severe migraines may require hospitalisation so that you can get fluids, painkillers or sickness medication by infusion if you cannot keep the medication low.