Getting migraines during pregnancy? It’s common. But it’s important to know what’s just a bad headache and what’s more serious. Here’s what to do.
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?
- When should I worry about a migraine during pregnancy?
- What do migraines mean 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.
How long do pregnancy migraines last?
We wish we could give you a definite answer here, but there are different types, intensities, and lengths of migraine during pregnancy.
But, generally speaking, a migraine while pregnant could last anywhere from a few hours to a few days ‒ although the latter is on the more extreme side.
If you do have a migraine for more than 12 hours or you have recurring pregnancy migraines, it’s worth checking in with your doctor, just in case.
What are the different types of pregnancy migraine?
Not all migraines during pregnancy are necessarily the same ‒ there are different types, and it can help if you visit a doctor to know what signs and symptoms to look out for, so they can best understand how to help.
Ocular migraine in pregnancy
Ocular (or retinal) migraines in pregnancy are migraines that can affect your sight temporarily.
They can cause temporary blindness (often only lasting a few minutes), tunnel vision, flashing lights in your eyes, or otherwise impair your vision.
While ocular migraines in pregnancy (or at any other time in your life) can be scary, they are temporary.
Aura migraines in pregnancy
Similar to an ocular migraine, aura migraines also affect your vision, but the ‘aura’ is often a precursor to a migraine.
At this point, there is a chance that you can stop an aura migraine from becoming a full-blown migraine.
So if you start to get a fuzzy head and see blurry ‘auras’ around your eyes, it’s worth drinking some water and trying our Peanut moms’ other top tips on how to treat your pregnancy migraine.
Chronic migraines in pregnancy
Chronic migraines are migraines that you get at least 8 days a month, for more than 3 months.
But if you’re getting migraines for more than a few days in the same month during pregnancy, it’s worth having a chat with your doctor ‒ they’ll likely have things they can offer to help, so there’s no reason to suffer in silence.
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—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.
What can I do for a migraine while pregnant?
Want to know how to get rid of a migraine when pregnant?
Here are some things you can try for pregnancy migraine relief or ways to avoid a migraine during pregnancy:
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, skipping meals, or eating specific foods, like 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.
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.
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 well-being.
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.
Here are a few of our Peanut mamas’ favorite hints and tips on getting rid of pregnancy migraines:
- “I found the only thing to make me feel less like I was going to collapse was the Kool-Aid patches and a dark room. Mine eased by the second trimester.” ‒ Brittany
- “Pickle juice!! Prescription meds didn’t help at all, but when I upped my salt, or drank pickle juice daily, they practically disappeared.” ‒ Taleah
- “I took the migraine patches ‒ it’s like a cooling patch that you stick on your forehead - migraine safe. I found this to give me instant relief!” ‒ Kathryn
- “Magnesium daily for prevention and I used to take an extra when they did crop up. Cool and soothe sheets too on the back of my neck and forehead were a savior.” ‒ Sarah
- “My OB-GYN suggested that caffeine can help for headaches.” ‒ Teala
- “I was getting extremely tired and migraines wouldn’t go away turned out to be iron levels plummeted due to the pregnancy. I’ve been taking iron tablets prescribed by doctor and the difference is indescribable.” ‒ Elizabeth
- “Peppermint oil! Yes, peppermint oil it’s natural and it works… Rub on your temples and forehead and relax they just magically go away this stuff literally works like magic.” ‒ Ebony
- “My doctor advised me to lay on my left side in a dark and quiet room. So far, it’s been helping.” ‒ Dezzy
Can I take migraine medicine while pregnant?
And now for the meds.
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 for a pregnancy migraine.
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 a migraine 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!
What do migraines mean during pregnancy?
If you’re in the throes of a pregnancy migraine, you might be wondering if it has any significance to your baby’s development or maybe even their sex.
Well, according to the classic pregnancy old wives’ tales, apparently, getting migraines or headaches during pregnancy means you’re expecting a bouncing baby boy.
We’re sorry to say that there are no medical studies to support this claim.
Getting migraines during pregnancy is more likely to mean that your hormones are fluctuating (totally normal for pregnancy), you’re dehydrated, or something else is triggering your migraines.
Having migraines at any time is no fun.
And having migraines during pregnancy is… nasty.
We hope you find relief and that the pain passes.
Take care of yourself, mama.