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Headaches and Migraines in Pregnancy: What are Your Options?

Katlyn Joy |18, November 2014


While pregnant, headaches can be an annoyance; migraines can negatively impact your daily life severely. It can be difficult to know what is safe to do, and how to cope.

Headaches and Migraines in Pregnancy

Some women report getting headaches in the initial weeks of pregnancy, but for women who suffer from regular migraines, pregnancy may be a time of improved symptoms. While many women who suffer from migraines often feel better during pregnancy, the early weeks may be an exception. The hormone estrogen seems to play a role in migraines, which explains why PMS, pregnancy and menopause all seem to change migraine patterns.

The folks at the Migraine Trust explain that whether or not you experience auras with migraines will give you a better prediction of how migraines will be affected by pregnancy. For those who don't experience auras, studies have shown that 60 to 70 percent of women will have relief from migraines starting in the fourth month of pregnancy. If you do suffer from migraines with auras prior to pregnancy, you're more likely to continue with migraines.

Some women experience migraines for the first time while pregnant, and if you belong in that category, it's also likely that you will have auras with the migraines.

Natural Remedies for Headaches

If you are experiencing headaches in pregnancy, it's important to tell your physician. A very serious pregnancy complication, pre-clampsia, causes headaches so it's crucial to rule this out as a cause. If you are having headaches, your doctor may advise you it's fine to take acetaminophen or Tylenol.

Here are some non-medication methods to deal with headaches in pregnancy:

  • Get regular sleep.
    It's probably not enough to just get the right hours, but maintain a stable sleep schedule as well.
  • Keep a headache diary.
    Note what you ate, did, felt prior to having a headache in order to identify possible triggers.
  • Get regular exercise.
    This can help boost endorphins, which help you feel well.
  • Limit your stress load.
    Sure, that is easier said than done. However, limit your stresses by limiting your schedule, your workload, your contact with stressful people or situations.
  • Eat smaller and more frequent meals.
    This will keep your blood sugar levels balanced.
  • Stay hydrated.
    Many times, we get headaches simply because we aren't drinking enough water.
  • Rest and relax.
    Apply a cold compress, lie down in a dark room, and practice slow, even breathing.

What to Do for Migraines while Pregnant

For migraine patients who become pregnant, discussing your current medication schedule with your doctor is vital as most meds are known to cause birth defects or potentially cause pregnancy complications.

Some preventative medications may help, such as certain antidepressants like amitriptyline or fluoxetine, or beta blockers like propranolol or atenolol. These are considered relatively safe in pregnancy.

Another possible treatment is a non-drug method of migraine relief called Cefaly. This is a headband that is worn to give electrical stimulation to a nerve associated with migraines. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It is to be used for 20 minutes a day.

A new study has brought more hope for migraine patients, and was published in the November 5 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Researchers looked at peripheral nerve block injections for migraines and found that these may be both effective and safe for pregnant women. The study was conducted over a 5-year period, but it did only involve a small sample of 13 women.

Other alternative possible helps for headaches and migraines in pregnancy would be yoga, acupressure, meditation, massage or biofeedback. These when administered by trained professionals, are safe for pregnant women to try, and may provide some pain relief.

For those suffering from headaches or migraines, it's imperative to work with your health care provider in developing a plan to combat the problem. Structure your life as much as possible to help you deal with your extra pain while pregnant. Get your spouse to help with more household chores, or simplify your typical schedule. Rest when possible if pain strikes, without guilt. Pay attention to anything that seems connected to the onset of headaches or migraines, as you may have new triggers in pregnancy.

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