Many women experience headaches in pregnancy — in fact, almost one-third of women will have them frequently! While this common symptom is often harmless, headaches can still be uncomfortable and, at times, may require more attention to make sure something concerning isn’t going on.
Migraines are a specific type of headache that are often severe and can be associated with light sensitivity, nausea, or visual changes. The good news is that many migraine sufferers have fewer migraines when they are pregnant. Some studies have shown that 60-80 percent of women have decreased migraines or no migraines at all during pregnancy. Treatments for migraines include avoiding triggers, Tylenol, and occasionally narcotics or muscle relaxants (it is ideal to avoid these last two in pregnancy, if possible).
Early in pregnancy, headaches may be the result of fluctuating hormone levels or changes in blood and fluid volumes. As pregnancy progresses, headaches can also be the result of postural changes or tension as your weight shifts more and you are carrying even more fluid.
If you are noticing headaches more often, try to gather some information for your obstetric provider. Do you notice them if you haven’t had your morning cup of coffee? Is it worse when you haven’t eaten or slept or after you’ve had a high-salt meal? Does stress seem to trigger them? This can help your doctor or midwife figure out what could be causing your headache.
Oftentimes small changes can help prevent and treat headaches. Staying hydrated, muscle stretching, eating a healthy diet, and keeping a good posture can help alleviate some headaches. Some pregnant women also find relief with massage, baths, hot compresses, or Tylenol.
Later in pregnancy, headaches could signal a condition called preeclampsia. If you have a headache that doesn’t get better with Tylenol, you should let your provider know so they can rule this out. Other symptoms of preeclampsia include floaters in your vision, pain on your right side where your liver is, nausea/vomiting, or a feeling that something is just not right.
There are some headaches that require immediate attention. If you have what feels like the worst headache of your life, have lost vision in one eye, are having trouble speaking or feel that one side of your face or body is weak or drooping, then you definitely need to seek immediate medical care.
Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, December 2018
- Headaches are very common in pregnancy.
- Try to figure out what triggers your headache, and avoid it if possible.
- Headaches can also be a sign of preeclampsia, especially later in pregnancy.