Migraines often go away or become less serious during pregnancy, for as many as three-quarters of female migraineurs. Unfortunately for those still afflicted during pregnancy, many medicines used to treat migraines and other serious headaches are ones which can affect the uterus and cross the placenta to affect the developing baby, so most should be avoided during pregnancy. Migraine-specific medications have a theoretical risk of inducing early labor.
IS YOUR PREGNANCY BECOMING A HEADACHE?
PREGNANCY HEADACHE CAUSES
- Hormonal Changes: The Body, Especially In The First Trimester, Is In A State Of Hormonal Overdrive And Headaches Are A Natural Consequence Of That. Women Generally Tend To Feel Wonderful In Their Second Trimester When Hormones Settle Down And Headaches Too Disappear.
- Lack Of Sleep: Insomnia Is An Underrated Aspect Of Pregnancy That Impacts A Good Number Of Women. Lack Of Sleep Adds To Stress And Leads To Headaches.
- Dehydration: One Feels Frequently Thirsty During Pregnancy And It Is Important To Keep Oneself Hydrated To Avoid Headaches.
- Foods: Pregnancy Makes Women Doubly Sensitive To Taste And Odors. Certain Foods (Sweets, Sour Items) Can Cause Headaches. Similarly, Certain Smells (Strong Perfumes, Lipstick Scents) Can Trigger A Headache.
- Sinus Congestion: This Is A Common Problem During Pregnancy And Can Cause A Headache.
- Stress: Tension Headaches Are Common In Pregnancy When There Is A Natural Anxiety About A Lot Of Things.
Although caffeine is known as a migraine trigger for some, it is also a common ingredient in combination medications such as “extra strength” and “migraine strength” OTC products, such as Excedrin, combining aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine.
HOW TO AVOID PREGNANCY HEADACHES
- Eat On Time: It Is Important Not To Skip Meals As This Results In Low Blood Sugar Leading To Headaches
- Avoid Using Strong Scents: Your Sense Of Smell Is Very Strong During Pregnancy And It’S Best To Avoid Shampoos, Body Lotions, Creams, Lipsticks, Perfumes, Etc. That Can Trigger A Headache.
- Cutting Back On Caffeine: Too Much Coffee Is Not The Best Thing During Pregnancy But Do Not Cut Back On It Drastically And Too Soon. It Can Lead To Withdrawal Symptoms.
- Take A Break: Nothing Like Fresh Air To Cheer You Up. Avoid Closed, Stuffy Places. Open The Window If You Can’T Go Out.
Pregnant women experiencing headaches should test the affect of a small amount of caffeine on her headaches. Although it’s a headache trigger in some patients, caffeine is also found in many extra strength over the counter pain medications in combination with acetaminophen and aspirin. Although they should be monitored by a physician, over the counter pain medication are generally safe to use during pregnancy. Acetaminophen has been used by pregnant women for decades and has never been associated with any birth defects or pregnancy complications.
Food and activities that had no undesirable health effect before pregnancy, could now produce symptoms including headaches. Coffee intake is a good place to start examining eating habits, as caffeine is a known migraine trigger in some while providing relief to others.
SHOULD YOU TAKE MEDICATION?
Headache is a common puerperal complaint. Causes of postpartum head pain include benign primary headache disorders such as migraine and tension type headache as well as less common secondary headache disorders such as post-dural puncture headache. For the nursing mother with migraines, OTC medications should be tried first. Topiramate is still discouraged, with venlafaxine (Effexor) thought to be a safe alternative.
TREATING HEADACHES DURING PREGNANCY
In about 75% of cases migraines decrease or disappear during pregnancy. The remaining quarter of women who continue to experienceheadaches during pregnancy must contend with the fact that many of the medicines that are effective against migraines will affect the uterus and penetrate the placenta to affect the unborn child.
Some migraine medications run the risk of inducing an early labor, although one study found no adverse affects from taking sumatriptan during the first three months of pregnancy. Preventative medicines should not be taken until the last trimester. Amitriptyline and imipramine have excellent safety records when administered late in pregnancies but should not be taken for the last two weeks before delivery. Topiramate has been known to increase occurrences of cleft palate in newborns and should not be used during pregnancy.
The best approach for dealing with headaches or migraines during pregnancy is to stress non drug based treatmentsincluding preventative methods. In particular, close attention should be paid to diet for foods that trigger headaches. Some patients find that foods that cause headaches during pregnancy are ones that had no affect before pregnancy.
For more information regarding headaches & migraines that affect women, see:
- Headaches During Pregnancy
- Menstrual Migraines
- A Mom’s Guide To Handling Headaches
- Migraines & Menopause