Being pregnant can be a headache at times – literally. Pregnancy headaches can be relentless.
The demands on your body as you grow a baby and the radical way it’s changing to create new life can bring some unpleasant ailments.
Headaches during pregnancy are one of the not-so-joyous things many expectant mamas deal with.
It can be frustrating that these headaches are surfacing at a time when you’re trying to avoid medications.
Fortunately, there are safe remedies to help alleviate nasty pregnancy headaches.
What causes headaches during pregnancy?
Hormonal fluctuations – the same thing that causes those early pregnancy emotions – can trigger headaches during the first trimester. During the last trimester, you might experience headaches due to stress and tension. The adorable (and heavy) baby bump can put a strain on your body.
Here are a five causes of pregnancy related headaches and remedies to help you find relief safely for you and your baby:
#1: Pregnancy headaches triggered by hormones
Once you conceive, your progesterone levels rise to support the pregnancy. Progesterone relaxes the uterus and your blood vessels, including those in your head and neck. This, coupled with increased blood flow, can cause pounding pregnancy headaches.
The following remedies might offer relief:
- A cool compress, such as a bag of frozen peas, where you feel the pain or on the back of your neck
- Aromatherapy – be sure to ask a trained health practitioner to choose a safe scent
- A gentle head, neck and shoulder rub
- Deep and focused breathing, similar to breathing used during yoga and exercise
#2: Headaches caused by caffeine withdrawal
If you’re a heavy coffee or tea drinker, you might experience painful withdrawal headaches. Caffeine can be very addictive, so when you stop abruptly, the headaches can be quite severe.
While it’s considered safe to have some caffeine during pregnancy, many women choose to cut down or eliminate it completely. If your headaches appear the first day you reduce or eliminate caffeine, withdrawal might be the culprit.
You might find relief with the following:
- Reduce your caffeine intake slowly, dropping to one cup per day, then stop
- If a headache pops up, try a piece of high quality dark chocolate
#3: Pregnancy headaches due to dehydration or blood sugar
Morning sickness, food aversions and an increase in blood volume can make it difficult to stay hydrated and maintain steady blood sugar levels. Pregnancy headaches, worsening nausea and dizziness can be the result of inadequate or infrequent food and fluid intake.
Morning sickness can make it very challenging for some. If you’re plagued with it, finding ways to manage it might reduce headaches.
Other things that can help include:
- Small, frequent sips of water, or even better, a quality electrolyte
- Frequent small meals or snacks
- Low carbohydrate eating with plenty of protein, healthy fats and veggies can help keep your blood sugar steady
- Eat fruit with high water content, like melons or grapes
#4: Headaches caused by sinus pressure and congestion
An increase in sinus pressure is a common, but lesser known, pregnancy ailment. Many women, pregnant or not, also suffer from allergies.
In the absence of severe pain or fever, sinus headaches might be relieved by:
- Alternating hot and cool compresses where you feel the pain
- Staying adequately hydrated to keep mucous flowing
- Avoiding allergens when possible
- Use steam or a humidifier to help relieve congestion
If you have a fever, mucous is green or yellow, or you are concerned reach out to your healthcare provider. A sinus infection might be to blame and medication could be necessary.
#5: Headaches from pregnancy-related fatigue and muscle aches
If you’ve ever been sleep deprived, you know that yucky feeling headache which accompanies the fatigue. It can be easy to forget what a monumental task pregnancy is, but you are making a human and that’s no small feat. The energy it takes to grow a human can leave you fatigued and achy.
It can be easier said than done, but make sure you are getting plenty of rest. You might also find relief with the following:
- Regular exercise, such as yoga (be sure to check with your provider if you have an activity restrictions due to pregnancy complications)
- Eat a whole foods diet to get energy from proper nutrition
- Catch extra rest whenever you can, naps are a pregnant mama’s best friend
- Listen to your body, rest as needed and adjust your activity level if necessary
- A warm bath to relax and soothe achy muscles
- A prenatal massage.
How can I get rid of a headache while pregnant?
Even when you’re uncertain of the cause of your pregnancy headaches, you might still find relief with the following:
- Regular chiropractic or osteopathic care
- Maintain good posture to help with the strain of carrying a baby bump
- Reflexology, homeopathy and herbal remedies can be helpful. Be sure to work with a qualified caregiver to make choices safe for pregnancy
- Practice relaxation and visualizations
- Spending time in calm, quiet and dim places to give your senses a break
- If the pregnancy headaches are too much and you want to take pain killers, get informed first. See our article about pain relief medication during pregnancy.
When should I be worried about headaches during pregnancy?
It’s understandable that you’re worried about headaches during pregnancy. There are multiple causes of pregnancy headaches. As unpleasant as they can be, they’re rarely a cause for concern.
For a few women, pregnancy headaches are a symptom of an underlying health concern.
If you experience any of the following, you should seek medical advice:
- A sinus headache accompanied by green or yellow mucous
- Sudden onset of severe pain
- Blurred or sudden vision changes
- Sudden weight gain or swelling
- Severe dizziness or loss of consciousness
Severe headaches or migraines and visual disturbances are symptoms of preeclampsia. This is a serious condition for mother and baby that occurs in around 5-8% of pregnancies. Studies have found that women with a history of migranes may be more at risk of preeclampsia and other hypertensive conditions.
With good hydration, rest and relaxation, and a few remedies, you’ll hopefully be able to take the edge off headaches during pregnancy, and cope better physically, emotionally and mentally.
If you continue to struggle with more frequent and intense headaches, contact your midwife or doctor for advice and/or treatment.