Experiencing headaches during pregnancy is one of the most common discomforts and complaints. Headaches may occur at anytime during your pregnancy but they tend to be most common during the first and third trimesters.
What causes headaches during pregnancy?
An increase in headaches during the first trimester is believed to be caused by the surge of hormones along with an increase in the blood volume circulating throughout your body. These headaches tend to be tension headaches and may be further aggravated because of stress, poor posture or changes in your vision. Other causes of headaches during pregnancy may involve one or more of the following:
- Lack of sleep
- Low blood sugar
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Stress (too many changes)
Women who have a tendency for migraine headaches may discover that they experience fewer migraines during pregnancy, however some women may encounter the same amount or even more. If you are pregnant, it is important to talk to your doctor about any medications that you may be taking for headaches.
Headaches during the third trimester tend to be related more to posture and tension from carrying extra weight. Headaches during the third trimester may also be caused by a condition called preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy.
What can you do to treat headaches during pregnancy?
The best way to deal with headaches is to avoid them altogether. Avoiding tension headaches is easiest when you practice good health tips:
- Keep good posture (especially during the third trimester)
- Get plenty of rest and relaxation
- Eat well-balanced meals
If you are not able to prevent a headache from starting, there are still things that you can do to help them go away. During pregnancy, you want to try and relieve your headache by natural means if possible. Pain relief medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen are not recommended during pregnancy, however acetaminophen (Tylenol) is considered safe when only taken occasionally.
Before you take medication, try and relieve your headache with one or more of the following interventions:
- If you have a sinus headache, apply a warm compress around your eyes and nose.
- If you have a tension headache, apply a cold compress or ice pack at the base of your neck.
- Maintain your blood sugar by eating smaller more frequent meals. This may also help prevent future headaches.
- Get a massage. This can be helpful whether it is from your spouse, a friend or a professional. Massaging your shoulders and neck is an effective way to try and relieve the pain. You can also have someone massage peppermint oil into your temples.
- Rest in a dark room. This may be more helpful if you use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing.
- Take 1 to 4 (450 mg) tablets of calcium, one to four times a day depending on the pain. Calcium tends to quiet your nerves and ease the pain.
- Use natural herbs such as hops, skullcap and catnip in tea or take them as capsules for potential relief.
You may also reduce the likelihood of migraine headaches by avoiding common triggers of migraine headaches. Potential triggers include:
- Aged cheese
- Citrus fruits
- Breads with fresh yeast
- Preserved meats
- Sour cream
When should you contact your physician?
Unfortunately, headaches are a normal part of pregnancy; however you should be able to experience some relief. Contact your physician if:
- You do not experience any relief from the interventions above
- Your headaches get worse or more persistent
- You experience headaches that are different than normal
- Your headaches are accompanied by: blurry vision, sudden weight gain, pain in the upper right abdomen, and swelling in the hands and face
Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.