Pregnancy Headaches: Causes And Prevention

05/06/2015 15:57 | Updated 02 July 2015

Headaches during pregnancy

For some lucky women who are prone to headaches or migraines anyway, pregnancy actually reduces the frequency of their attacks, but for many, headaches are a very common and unwelcome symptom, particularly in the first trimester.

Unfortunately, you can't reach for a bottle of strong painkillers, but there are other ways to ease the pain.

What are they?

Whether a dull, nagging ache, or a full-blown skull-splitter, we've all experienced a headache at one time or another. But during pregnancy, headaches can come very frequently and with a much fuller force than you might have experienced before.

The major reason for them is all that lovely progesterone coursing through your veins. The job of this pregnancy hormone is to relax your uterus and joints, to cope with pregnancy and in preparation for birth, but of course it also relaxes other parts of your body, including all your blood vessels. Consequently, it can feel like your blood is pounding round your head like an express train.

There are other reasons why you might get headaches when you are pregnant, including fatigue, hunger, dehydration and stress. They might also be down to a change in your blood pressure.

Caffeine certainly won't help (although actually, some women may experience headaches because they've cut it right back), and neither will smoking or drinking alcohol – but obviously, all these things should be being largely avoided anyway.

Some women find that pregnancy (again, particularly in the early stages) gives them nasal congestion, and blocked sinuses might be contributing to your headaches too. Alternatively, if you have found that being pregnant has altered your sight a little, you could be straining to read or look at your computer screen, which in turn could be causing pain.

What can I do?

As you may know by now, many medications are considered out of bounds for pregnant women because of the risks they may pose to the pregnancy or to the baby itself.

If you have a box of ibuprofen nestling in the medicine cabinet, which you'd usually reach for to ease a tension headache, you need to leave it be, because ibuprofen might increase the risk of miscarriage during the first trimester and it's thought it might increase the risk of premature labour during the third. Certainly, stronger painkillers should not be taken, unless under the advice of a GP. The good news is paracetamol is considered safe, and it can go a long way to easing a bad headache - even if it just takes the edge off. There are also other things you can try.

Try to take note of when you are getting headaches if they are coming frequently. Do they come between meals? If so, you might not be snacking enough - don't underestimate the amount of fuel your body needs during this time. Eat small amounts of food frequently - every hour if you have to, and you might notice the headaches don't get a chance to settle in.

Similarly, make sure you are drinking enough water. How much have you been peeing since you got pregnant? You need to keep your hydration levels topped up.

If you think it might be stress or tiredness causing your headaches, you really do need to try to take time out and rest. You can not function properly with a splitting headache, so even if you're at work, ask if you can take 10 minutes to sit somewhere quietly and close your eyes.

If sinus congestion is the cause, unfortunately it's not advisable to take over the counter decongestants. Instead, try relieving the bunged-up feeling by breathing in some steam infused with just a drop or two of eucalyptus oil.

A cool flannel, or even a wrapped up bag of frozen peas might help with a horrible headache without the need for painkiller. Admittedly, it's not very convenient for when you're in the office, but at home keep a flannel in the fridge to use when the need arises.

Some women find that they experience migraines for the first time when pregnant. Migraines are very intense headaches, sometimes accompanied by blurred vision and flashing lights. If you think you are suffering from migraines go and see your GP who will offer you advice. If you are already a migraine sufferer, and you are taking medication for your attacks, you should receive advice from your GP about whether you continue to take your medicine, or you need to switch to something more suitable.

In all hope, your pregnancy headaches might subside during the second trimester and, as with so many symptoms of pregnancy, they'll be gone for good shortly after your bundle of joy arrives.

What else could it be?

During the third trimester, if you start suffering from headaches which are accompanied by blurred vision, vomiting or nausea and/or a sudden swelling of your face, hands or feet, seek medical advice as soon as you can, because you might have developed pre-eclampsia which will need treating as swiftly as possible.

Pregnancy worries and words of comfort
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