You’ve probably had a headache before, but during pregnancy, they can be more intense and frequent.
Although you may be tempted by over-the-counter medications, most quick fixes are off-limits during pregnancy. We’ll let you know which pain reliver is safest and the lifestyle changes to try before taking medication.
Read on to learn how to relieve headaches when you’re pregnant.
What Do Early Pregnancy Headaches Feel Like?
If you’re at the beginning stages of your journey, you might be wondering what early pregnancy headaches feel like. Although you may get a typical tension headache, migraines are also common during the first weeks or months. In fact, a headache or migraine might be one of the first signs of pregnancy for some people. However, since there’s many possible causes, you won’t know without taking a pregnancy test.
A tension headache creates mild to moderate pain behind the eyes and might feel like having a tight band around your head. These are the most common type of headaches.
A migraine feels like a throbbing sensation, usually on one side. They may cause nausea and vomiting in severe cases.
Managing a headache or migraine in the first trimester may be particularly difficult because there’s many medications you should avoid.
Pregnancy Headaches: Second Trimester
Most commonly, people experience headaches in the first and third trimesters. However, some still suffer from them in the second trimester. During this stage, you can ask yourself if the pain is caused by muscle strain, poor posture, stress or hunger. If it persists or becomes severe, see your doctor, who can check for high blood pressure and other causes.
Pregnancy Headaches: Third Trimester
Headaches are most common in the first trimester when your hormones are changing rapidly. Unfortunately, though, you can still experience them in the third trimester. Since you’ve gained more weight and may be uncomfortable, your muscles may be strained and your posture may suffer, causing headaches. Since it could also be a sign of high blood pressure, make an appointment with your doctor if it’s severe or persists.
What Causes Headaches During Pregnancy?
There’s several possible causes of headaches in general, and some are related to pregnancy changes.
- Stress is one of the most common causes of tension headaches. Pregnancy is known to increase anxiety for some people, possibly leading to migraines.
- Eye Strain.If you feel pain behind your eyes, you might be experiencing a headache caused by eye strain. When your eye muscles get overused, they get tired, causing pain.
- If you’re not eating when you’re hungry, it could trigger a headache. During pregnancy, since you need additional calories, you might find your stomach growling if you haven’t adjusted your eating habits.
- Being dehydrated can cause head pain for anyone, but could be more likely during pregnancy if you’re experiencing morning sickness. Make sure to replenish with fluids if you’re vomiting.
- Low Blood Sugar. Gestational diabetes can cause low blood sugar, which may cause headaches. Even without the condition, if you’re not snacking between meals, your blood sugar may drop too much.
- Changing Hormones. Experts believe that estrogen plays a role in headaches, which could be one reason why they’re experienced more during pregnancy.
- Blood Volume. Since your blood volume increases while pregnant, it’s another possible reason for head pain.
- Fatigue or not getting enough sleep can also contribute to headaches.
- Nasal Congestion. Nasal congestion, like a runny nose, is common during pregnancy. This can cause sinus headaches.
- High Blood Pressure. One symptom of preeclampsia (characterized by high blood pressure) is headaches. This is another reason it’s important to get persisting pain checked by your doctor.
- Poor Posture. Without proper alignment, your upper back, neck and shoulders may become tense, leading to a headache. Poor posture can be more common in pregnancy as your body changes and you experience discomfort in some positions.
- A headache cause you might be overlooking during early pregnancy is withdrawal from a substance. Since pregnancy requires you to stop drinking, smoking, and cut back your caffeine, you might be having side effects, like migraines.
Knowing the cause of your pain might help you find the most appropriate remedies for pregnancy headaches. For example, let’s say you’re on the computer more frequently researching baby information. If you know the eye strain is causing your headaches, you can take steps to minimize it.
With that being said, you won’t always know the cause of headaches. You might need a doctor’s help if the pain persists.
You should also know that some people are more likely to experience headaches during pregnancy. A 2009 study showed that women aged 40 and over were 2.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with migraines compared to younger mothers. Also, if you were suffering from headaches before pregnancy, it might be likely to continue or become more severe.
9 Remedies for Pregnancy Headaches
If you’re looking for how to relieve headaches when pregnant, try these remedies before over-the-counter drugs.
Learn and Avoid Triggers
Go through the “Causes” section above and see if you can spot a few possible triggers. Then brainstorm ideas to avoid that trigger. For example, if you know you have low blood pressure, keep snacks with you. If you could be dehydrated, make it a habit to drink more water, especially if you get sick. If the added stress could be a cause, find ways to relax. You might need to try a few lifestyle changes to find the trigger. Sometimes, you won’t know the trigger and you’ll need a doctor’s advice.
It’s understandable that you may be more stressed out—your life is changing! To manage stress, you can try any activity you find relaxing. Proven ways to control your anxiety levels include mindfulness and meditation.
Have small meals throughout the day—or snacks between meals—to ensure your blood sugar doesn’t drop, which can trigger a headache.
Especially if you have morning sickness and are losing fluids, try your best to stay hydrated. If possible, carry a water bottle when you leave the home. Uncaffeinated teas and broths also count towards your hydration levels.
If you’re not sleeping well these days, you’re not alone: 2 out of 3 pregnant women have insomnia or another sleep problem by the end of their journey. Unfortunately, this lack of shut-eye can cause headaches. If it’s the culprit for you, read Sleeping During Pregnancy: Your Ultimate Guide. Also, consider that you need more rest during pregnancy, so give yourself time to take naps when necessary.
Sit in a Dark Room
Although not a long-term solution, if your headache is caused or worsened by light, you can blunt the pain by sitting in a dark, quiet room.
Cold therapy may also work to relieve headaches. One study showed that a cold pack was effective for 71% of headache sufferers, 80% of those being migraine headaches. You can buy a reusable frozen gel pack to place on your forehead to reduce pain.
Research shows that regular exercise can help reduce how frequent and intense your headaches are. Since physical activity releases endorphins, it’s a natural way to kill pain. Read: 11 Easy and Super Fun Pregnancy Exercise Ideas That You’ll Actually Do.
Many medications are off-limits during pregnancy with the most risk typically being in the first trimester. Doctors advise against common pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin and some migraine medications. If you need to take something, most doctors will recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol). In fact, it’s considered the pain medication of choice during pregnancy by most healthcare providers. MotherToBaby advises that the maximum dose is 4000mg in one day (pay attention to acetaminophen present in other medication too).
When Should I See a Doctor?
Everyone may experience a headache or migraine from time to time, and even more so during pregnancy. Since it’s an expected side effect, in most cases, you can use remedies for pregnancy headaches. Sometimes though, your headaches don’t go away or are severe enough to need a doctor’s help.
You should see a doctor for pregnancy headaches if you’re experiencing:
- Persisting headaches that can’t be treated
- Severe pain
- Blurred or any changes to vision
- High blood pressure
Your doctor will likely run a few tests, like checking your blood pressure, to see if they can spot the cause. In some cases, where acetaminophen isn’t helping, you might be prescribed a pregnancy-safe migraine medication.
If you’re in severe pain, you might be tempted to “tough it out,” but it’s important to get help. One study linked migraines with a 15-fold increase in the risk of a stroke during pregnancy. They also appeared to increase the risk of blood clots and heart disease.
Summary: How to Relieve Headaches When Pregnant
Headaches are commonly experienced during early pregnancy but could persist throughout your journey. To relieve the pain, it’s best to try natural remedies first. If those don’t work, be mindful of over-the-counter drugs. Acetaminophen is usually the safest option. If your headaches become severe or don’t stop, contact your doctor.
P.S. Hear Your Baby’s Heartbeat from Home! Use the Fetal Doppler to Detect A Beat Starting at 12 Weeks!