Headaches In Early Pregnancy – What Causes Them?

Headaches In Early Pregnancy - What Causes Them?

Most women have headaches at some point but headaches in early pregnancy aren’t fun.

Headaches are among the most common complaints pregnant women have.

Headaches In Early Pregnancy – What Causes Them?

Managing life with a headache while also experiencing other early pregnancy symptoms is a pain – literally.

Whether your headache is the common garden variety or a migraine there are some things you should know about headaches in early pregnancy.

What Causes Headaches In Early Pregnancy?

In the first trimester your body is undergoing massive changes.

Hormone levels shift and surge. Your blood volume also increases. As a result of these changes, it is more likely you’ll experience frequent headaches.

In addition, there are other factors that can aggravate headaches in early pregnancy, such as:

  • Tiredness
  • Low blood sugar
  • Dehydration
  • Withdrawal from caffeine
  • Stress
  • Poor posture.
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Are Headaches Common In Early Pregnancy?

Headaches can happen to anyone during early pregnancy. 

Some women don’t experience any headaches.  Most women, though, will notice they have more frequent headaches during the first trimester.

Headaches can begin as early as 4 weeks pregnancy. This is when the hormone levels really start to shift.

You might be waiting for your expected period and not realise you’re pregnant.

If you’re already prone to having headaches, pregnancy can make this worse.

You might notice your headache appears in a certain area of your head. Or it might travel about, appearing in different places.

Most headaches will be either dull and general, or sharp and throbbing.

Unless it’s a migraine, a headache won’t cause other symptoms.

Migraine headaches are caused by reactions in the brain’s blood vessels. They can cause headache pain, nausea, as well as sensitivity to light, sound and smell.

Are Headaches Normal In Early Pregnancy?

It’s pretty normal to have headaches in early pregnancy. It isn’t much of a consolation, though, when you’re the one experiencing the pain.

Your headache might be the result of hormone surges or increased blood volume.

On the other hand, it could be due to something you’ve changed recently, since becoming pregnant.

For example:

  • Giving up or cutting back on caffeine
  • Eating less due to pregnancy sickness, which causes your blood sugar to drop
  • Taking up excessive exercise
  • Not enough or too much sleep
  • Feeling stressed and tense
  • Not drinking enough, due to increased need to urinate.

Most of these changes can be managed in a way that avoids giving you a headache.

In particular, you might like to try the following tips: 

  • Step down your caffeine intake rather than go cold turkey.
  • If you’re struggling to eat, try to have small and frequent meals that contain plenty of healthy fat and protein. This will keep your blood sugars stable.
  • Increase exercise gradually – especially if you’re not used to it.
  • Aim to have 8 hours sleep each night. Early pregnancy tiredness is debilitating and a micro nap might help you get through the afternoon.
  • Reduce stress in your life. Take up meditation or yoga, or have a massage.
  • Keep your water intake up during the day and avoid drinking too much at night. Having electrolytes helps to keep you hydrated as well. You can read more here.

Bad Headaches In Early Pregnancy?

If you’re one of the millions of women who experience migraines, you might be happy to know pregnancy tends to ease migraine symptoms.

Low estrogen is thought to play a role in migraine headaches. In pregnancy, your estrogen levels rise.

However, there are still other triggers for migraines that aren’t hormone related; Many of them are foods, including:

  • Caffeine (coffee, soda drinks)
  • Chocolate
  • Aged cheese and meats
  • Alcohol
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Citrus fruits
  • Spicy foods
  • Foods and drinks containing aspartame (an artificial sweetener).

Avoiding known triggers can reduce the chances you’ll suffer from a migraine during pregnancy.

Bad headaches in early pregnancy aren’t usually a cause for alarm. Headaches in the second and third trimester should be investigated immediately, however, as they can be a sign of preeclampsia.

If you’re concerned about your headache and you’re in your first trimester, always seek medical advice.

How To Relieve Headaches In Early Pregnancy

If headaches are causing you problems, make sure you following the tips above to avoid triggering them in the first place.

No matter what you do, however, headaches in early pregnancy might still happen.

If they do, you might like to try the following remedies to relieve your headache:

  • Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the back of your neck
  • For sinus headaches, apply a warm compress over your eyes and nose
  • Have a massage, or do some yoga to stretch out your shoulder and neck muscles
  • Rest in a darkened room
  • Have a warm bath
  • Cold, or very warm water on the head can help; try one or the other to find out which works for you
  • Try acupuncture or acupressure
  • Sniff peppermint or lavender oil, but don’t ingest it or use it on your skin
  • Body work therapy, such as osteopathy, to improve your posture and alignment.

Pain Medication For Headaches In Early Pregnancy

Unfortunately, you might simply be prone to headaches in early pregnancy and the above prevention and relief methods won’t work.

Always seek advice from your care provider if you’re experiencing headaches that are ongoing and you can’t relieve them naturally.

Also, be sure not to take medications for headaches unless they are recommended by your care provider.

Medications containing aspirn and ibuprofen aren’t recommended for most pregnant women. Acetaminophen, or paracetamol, is most likely to be recommended.

If your headaches are persistent, become worse, or are different from normal, seek medical attention.

This is particularly important if you’re experiencing other symptoms, such as blurry vision, pain in your abdomen, swelling or balance problems, or you have trouble speaking.

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Sam McCulloch Dip CBEd CONTRIBUTOR

Sam McCulloch enjoyed talking so much about birth she decided to become a birth educator and doula, supporting parents in making informed choices about their birth experience. In her spare time she writes novels. She is mother to three beautiful little humans.


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