Pregnancy can bring all sorts of new aches and pains as your body changes to make room for your little peanut. But one of these can be a real headache: that’s a migraine while pregnant.
A migraine is a really severe headache that’s usually felt as throbbing on one side of the head.
It can also come with feelings of nausea and extreme sensitivity to light or sound.
Usually, it will pass, and it won’t harm your baby. But sometimes migraines during pregnancy can be a sign of other problems such as preeclampsia.
Here, we’re sharing all you need to know about pregnancy migraines: Causes, treatments, and when to head to the doctor’s office.
In this article 📝
- Is it normal to have migraines while pregnant?
- What causes migraines during pregnancy?
- Do migraines during pregnancy affect your baby?
- What can I do for a migraine while pregnant?
- What can I take for a migraine while pregnant?
- When should I worry about migraines during pregnancy?
Is it normal to have migraines while pregnant?
Every mama-to-be experiences a different normal during pregnancy.
But headaches—even severe headaches, including migraines—can be quite common when you’re pregnant.
They’re particularly common in early pregnancy, but usually become less frequent (and less severe) as your pregnancy develops.
Interestingly, if you’re someone who usually suffers from migraines, you may notice that you get less of them during pregnancy. And that’s totally normal too.
What causes migraines during pregnancy?
Doctors are still not sure exactly what causes migraines during pregnancy—or migraines at any other time, for that matter.
But they do know that women tend to get them more often than men (about one in every five women experiences them, compared to one in 15 men).
These headaches seem to involve your blood flow, the nerves in your brain, and the chemical known as serotonin, an important neurotransmitter.
And it appears that genes play a role too, as you’re more likely to suffer from migraines if someone else in your family does.
But why do pregnant women get more migraines?
Well, it’s down to the hormone estrogen—best known for maintaining the health of your ovaries, vagina, and uterus.
When you’re pregnant, menstruating, or going through menopause, the hormone fluctuates.
And it’s this fluctuation that’s thought to trigger more headaches and migraines.
Do migraines during pregnancy affect your baby?
If you’re nursing a painful head right now, here’s some good news: the migraines that are causing you such a headache won’t affect your baby. There’s no evidence at all to suggest that.
But—and this is important—it’s possible that some migraine medications can affect your little one.
Ergotamine, for example, has been associated with birth differences. Your doctor won’t prescribe this to you for a migraine if you’re expecting a baby.
So, how to get rid of a migraine when pregnant? Here are some things you can try:
What can I do for a migraine while pregnant?
- Avoid known triggers. There are many possible triggers for migraines and these vary from person to person. Commonly, it could be a lack of sleep, stress, skipped meals, or else specific foods, including coffee or chocolate. Unfortunately, it could even just be the weather. A headache diary can help you keep track of—and ultimately avoid (if possible!)—the things that most often trigger your migraines.
- Drink plenty. Dehydration can be a common cause of headaches, including migraines. Keeping up the fluids can help. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests drinking eight to 12 cups of water a day when you’re pregnant.
- Eat regularly. Try sticking to a regular meal schedule. We know this can be tricky when you’re busy, but it will help you get enough energy and vitamins to keep those annoying headaches at bay.
- Rest and relax. If you have a lot of tasks on your hands, this might feel easier said than done. But making sure you stop, put your feet up, and get enough sleep is so important for your health and wellbeing. You could also try activities such as pregnancy yoga or meditation classes to help you relax. And don’t hesitate to ask your family and friends for support if you need it.
- Find remedies that work for you. Head massages, ice packs, sitting in a dark room, and white noise may all help.
What can I take for a migraine while pregnant?
And now for the meds. As we saw above, many conventional migraine medicines aren’t recommended while you’re pregnant, including ergotamine.
Unfortunately, ibuprofen and other so-called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) aren’t advisable for use during pregnancy either. So, what’s safe?
- Acetaminophen is really your best bet. This general painkiller (often sold as Panadol or Tylenol) is considered safe during pregnancy. Many pregnant women use it without any harmful side effects. But doctors advise that you should only use it when necessary.
- Sumatriptan is a dedicated medication for migraines and cluster headaches. Studies haven’t found evidence that sumatriptan, or other triptans, can negatively affect you or your baby while pregnant. But do tell your doctor if you’re planning to take sumatriptan.
Talk to your doctor about what they recommend taking for migraines during pregnancy. They’ll be able to find the solution that’s best for you.
When should I worry about migraines during pregnancy?
Sometimes, a migraine can be a sign of something more serious.
Most importantly for mamas-to-be, it can be a symptom of preeclampsia, a complication of pregnancy that causes your blood pressure to be very high. It’s rare, but it can be serious if it’s not treated early on.
Your healthcare provider should pick up any signs of preeclampsia during your antenatal tests. But do tell them if you experience any of the following signs alongside your migraine:
- Swelling of the feet and ankles, or face and hands
- Vision problems, such as blurriness or seeing flashing lights
- Pain below your ribs
Preeclampsia happens in between two and eight percent of pregnancies.
If you know the signs, it can help you work out if you just have a simple migraine, or if you need to seek further medical advice.
Have a chat with your doctor if you’re at all worried about your headaches, or anything else. That’s what they’re there for!
Take care of yourself, mama.
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