Early pregnancy headaches may be one of the first changes you notice.
Along with the excitement of a positive pregnancy test comes a pounding head. Usually, you might take the first painkiller you find. But during early pregnancy, you know that not all over-the-counter medications are safe. So what are you supposed to do?
In this guide, we’re discussing early pregnancy headaches. You’ll learn what causes them and 10 remedies to stop the pain
Early Pregnancy Headache Symptoms
Early pregnancy headaches feel like a normal headache. Here are a few common characteristics:
- Aches or pressure inside your head
- Can be felt in your forehead, both sides of your temples, and back of neck
- Can last anywhere from 30 minutes to hours or days
- Pain can be mild or severe
Migraines are similar to headaches in that both cause head pain. However, migraines are more severe and cause additional reactions like:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Vision problems
- Sensitivity to light
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Muscle aches
- *Migraines are usually felt on only one side of the head
Early pregnancy headaches are usually normal. However, you should seek medical attention if:
- Your headache is severe
- Your headache doesn’t go away
- You’re dizzy
- Your vision is blurred
What Causes Early Pregnancy Headaches?
Why are early pregnancy headaches so common? The cause is unclear but is likely a combination of a few factors.
During the first trimester, your hormones are changing and fluctuating. Headaches could be a side effect as your body adjusts.
Your blood volume significantly increases in the first weeks of pregnancy and continues to increase throughout your journey. This is believed to be one of the major causes of early pregnancy headaches.
Congestion is another pregnancy side effect. Pregnancy rhinitis can lead to a runny or stuffy nose. Unfortunately, this congestion can also lead to sinus headaches.
In the first weeks of pregnancy, you may be giving up or cutting back on your caffeine intake. Although this is a good idea, remember that caffeine is a drug and with that, there can be withdrawals. Going from 5 cups of coffee or sodas a day to none can lead to withdrawal headaches.
Dehydration from Vomiting
Morning sickness is common in the first trimester and can trigger early pregnancy headaches. If you vomit and don’t replace those fluids, you can become dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to headaches.
Lastly, a first trimester headache could also be caused by stress. Research shows there’s a link between stress intensity and the frequency of headaches. In the first trimester, excitement may be combined with nerves about having a new baby. You may be stressed about the change, getting ready for the baby, and giving birth in 9 months. All of that can open the door for early pregnancy headaches.
10 Remedies for Early Pregnancy Headaches
Early pregnancy headaches can be tough to manage. That’s because, in the first trimester, you need to be extra careful with which medications you’re taking. As the baby develops during the first weeks, she has a higher chance of birth defects. It’s critical to choose the right remedies for a first trimester headache.
If your early pregnancy headache is a sinus headache (caused by congestion), use a warm compress. Run a cloth under warm water, ring it out, and place it around your nose and eyes. You can also warm up a heating pad in the microwave instead. The heat can relieve congestion, lessening your headache pain.
Cold compresses can be useful for tension headaches. Run a cloth under cold water, ring it out, and place it around your nose and eye area. You can also use an ice pack or bag of frozen peas. The cold can help relieve the pain and aches your tension is causing.
Massaging your temples can help relieve aches, but see if your partner or family member can lend a hand. Massaging the neck and shoulders can release tension, easing pain. You can also try booking regular sessions with a massage therapist. Research shows that massage can be a nonpharmacological intervention for reducing the frequency of chronic tension headaches.
During the first trimester, you need to be extra careful about the medications you’re taking since your baby is developing. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is often the best choice recommended by doctors during pregnancy. A large study found that acetaminophen was linked to fewer birth defects than anti-inflammatory drugs, like Advil. With that being said, you should only take medication as needed and directed.
Go Into a Dark Room
When you have a headache, it can be made worse by light. Try to stay in a dark or dimly lit room and avoid the sunny outdoors. If you can, draw the blinds or go into the basement. If you’re working on the computer when a headache strikes, take a break to prevent the screen light from worsening your pain. You can also decrease the brightness on your computer and other devices.
If you’ve had frequent headaches before pregnancy, you may be familiar with your triggers. Often certain allergens or foods can stir up headaches and avoiding them is ideal. For example, many people’s headaches are triggered by strong cheeses or foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG). Other common foods include chocolate, coffee, and other products containing caffeine. Read about other migraine triggers here.
Each time you get a headache, record what you ate and drank beforehand. After a few headaches, see if you notice any possible triggers.
Avoid Secondhand Smoke
Smoke is a common trigger for headaches. During pregnancy, you shouldn’t be smoking anyway, but even secondhand smoke can cause a reaction. When you see someone light up, try to move away, go outside, or into a different room.
If you think your early pregnancy headaches are caused by your morning sickness, pay extra attention to your hydration. Carry a water bottle around with you throughout the day. Consider other ways to get fluids, like drinking herbal tea or broths.
Get Enough Sleep
Not getting enough sleep can also be a cause of early pregnancy headaches. Try to ensure you’re getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night. When you can, give into your early pregnancy fatigue and take a nap.
Ask yourself if stress could be playing a role in your early pregnancy headaches. If so, brainstorm ways to relax. Destressing is easier said than done, but below are a few suggestions.
- Notice tension & breathe. Set an alarm every few hours to check in with yourself. Are you feeling stressed? Do you notice any area of your body is tense? If so, take 5 long, slow, deep breaths before returning to your day.
- Make meditation a practice. Meditation can improve how we deal with stress. If you can, try to make meditation a daily practice. Start off with short sessions and work your way toward longer ones. Experiment with different guided meditations on YouTube to see which work best. Not sure where to start? Try this short 5 minute meditation for pregnancy.
- Fun activity. Make time each day—whether for 5 minutes or an hour—to do something fun that you enjoy. Ensure you fit it into your schedule by making it a practice. For example, from 7-7:30 each night, work on a craft or read. This will give your mind something to look forward to when it’s spiraling.
- Grow your support system. There’s no way around it—pregnancy is an exciting but challenging time. Find people who can relate to this struggle by meeting new mom friends. Read: Social Support During Pregnancy: Why It’s Critical & 10 Ways To Get It
- Whether you’re stressed or have a clinical anxiety disorder, therapy is a good idea. A mental health professional can teach you strategies to cope with your new stresses.
Read: Anxiety During Pregnancy: How to Keep Calm
Summary: Early Pregnancy Headaches
Early pregnancy headaches may be the first change you notice after a positive test. They’re common, but can be annoying and painful. Although they can persist throughout your pregnancy, they often let up after the first months. First trimester headaches can be caused by a few factors, including elevated blood volume, changing hormones, and stress. While you can’t control all factors, there’s some things you can do to minimize the likelihood and severity of headaches. Using compresses, massage, and acetaminophen along with lifestyle changes can go a long way in reducing pain. If your headache is severe, doesn’t go away, or is accompanied by other symptoms, you should talk to your doctor.
Do You Have a Fetal Doppler Yet?
Fetal dopplers are small devices that work similar to an ultrasound. A probe finds your baby and amplifies her heartbeat through speakers. Many parents say the experience is reassuring and bonding.