The first trimester of pregnancy isn’t always the most enjoyable time for expecting moms. Some women deal with terrible nausea, others experience awful bloating, and some are bothered by aggravating headaches. If you fall into that last category, you should know that there are tons of safe and effective first trimester headache remedies that can bring you some relief.
Pregnancy headaches can be triggered by many different things, according to Dr. Angela Bianco, an OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist who specializes in high-risk pregnancies in the Mount Sinai Health system. вЂњItвЂ™s important for women to think about when headache occurs, and what precipitates it,вЂќ she tells Romper, in order to figure out the best way to fight it.
Sleep deprivation and stress are just two common causes of first trimester headaches, according to Dr. Bianco, and the dreaded morning sickness can be a trigger, too. вЂњFor some women pregnancy is a very stressful time in their lifeвЂ¦ It can be fraught with very high stress levels, and stress can precipitate or exacerbate headaches.” She adds, “Many patients have sporadic and intermittent nausea and vomiting with related relative dehydration, and that can also cause headaches.вЂќ
No matter what the cause is of your cranial discomfort, one of these five simple solutions could make a major difference for you.
Get More Sleep
If a lack of sleep is contributing to your headaches, you could consider taking melatonin, which Dr. Bianco says is safe to use in pregnancy. She says pregnancy hormones can throw off a woman’s circadian rhythms and disrupt their sleep cycle. Melatonin, the so-called “sleep hormone,” helps re-set those rhythms and let your body know that it’s time to nod off, according to Healthline.
Try A Bit Of Magnesium
Another option Dr. Bianco suggests is magnesium. вЂњMagnesium can be used to treat [a] headache and also help with sleep,” she says, because it works as a natural muscle relaxant. It can also prevent the uterus from contracting prematurely, according to BabyCenter. However, magnesium deficiency is rare, the site reports, so if you are curious about finding out if you’re running low, or if it’s safe for you specifically to take an additional supplement during pregnancy, have a chat with your doctor. You should also check the label of your prenatal vitamins (if you’re taking them) and make sure magnesium is not already included if you’re considering supplements.
For headaches linked to dehydration caused by vomiting, you’ll need to make sure you drink water frequently. As dietician Sara Haas, RDN, wrote for BabyCenter, “the Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women drink about 10 8-ounce cups of water or other beverages each day.” You’ll also want to talk to your doctor about getting your morning sickness under control вЂ” the Mayo Clinic noted that women can try natural nausea remedies like vitamin B-6 or ginger, or you may need a prescription medication.
If you can’t seem to kick the nausea, it’s important to replenish what your body is flushing out. Dr. Dawn Marcus, neurologist and author of 10 Simple Solutions to Migraines advised on Sharecare that you can “drink small amounts of cold, clear, and carbonated liquids between meals” and to replenish electrolytes with beverages like Gatorade and Pedialyte.
Consider Over-The-Counter Meds вЂ” Carefully
Some over-the-counter pain meds can be helpful вЂ” but you’ll need to be careful about what you’re taking, and when. вЂњGenerally speaking, occasional use of Tylenol is fine during pregnancy,вЂќ Dr. Bianco says. But she warned about the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. They can be used sparingly in the first trimester if you can’t get any headache relief otherwise, but are not to be used in the third trimester because they can potentially harm your developing baby. Have a chat with your doctor on approved medications for headaches, just to be on the safe side. Especially if you have any complications (like high blood pressure), they will likely have a preference of what you should or shouldn’t take.
Relax вЂ”В No, Really
Moms-to-be experiencing lots of stress should prioritize making time for self-care, according to Dr. Bianco. “We recommend sometimes speaking to a therapist or trying other relaxation techniques, meditation, listening to relaxing music, things like that.вЂќ Dr. Jelena Pavlovic, a neurologist for Montefiore Health System, agrees that slowing down can sometimes be a very effective remedy. вЂњTreatment doesnвЂ™t have to be taking a medication. Treatment can be, you know, вЂI feel a headache coming onвЂ¦ IвЂ™m going to take 20 minutes and you know, chillвЂ™ and do a little bit of bio feedback or do a little bit of relaxation, and then the headache subsides,” she tells Romper.
Enjoy Some Caffeine
One of simplest headache treatment may also be one of the most enjoyable. вЂњWe donвЂ™t want women having an excessive amount of caffeine, but for instance a cup of strong coffee at the time of headache onset can be curative,вЂќ says Dr. Bianco. A bit of caffeine as a pick-me-up when you’re headachy or tired is totally fine, no matter what trimester you’re in.
Pregnancy headaches may make you miserable at times, but there are so many ways to fight them. And as Pavlovic notes, headache prevention may be the best remedy of all. вЂњIt starts with sleep, hydration, taking care of yourself.вЂќ
While run-of-the-mill headaches are one thing, full-blown migraines can be quite another. There’s actually some good news for pregnant women who suffer from migraines, however. Pavlovic says women who deal with migraines typically get a major break from them during pregnancy. вЂњAbout 50 to 80 percent, depending on what study you read, of women experience a reduction in their migraine attacks during pregnancy,” she says. And for once, your hormones are actually to thank. “Fluctuations in estrogen are known to be a potent trigger of migraines,вЂќ Pavlovic says, but your estrogen levels remain stable when you’re pregnant and even into breastfeeding.
Dr. Angela Bianco, OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist in high-risk pregnancies, Mount Sinai Health system
Dr. Jelena Pavlovic, neurologist, Montefiore Health System
Editor’s note: This post has been updated from its original version
In this Article
- Try a Cold Pack
- Use a Heating Pad or Hot Compress
- Ease Pressure on Your Scalp or Head
- Dim the Lights
- Try Not to Chew
- Get Some Caffeine
- Practice Relaxation
- Try Massage
- Take Some Ginger
- Use Meds in Moderation
- When to Call Your Doctor
Headaches happen. The good news is there are several simple things you can do to ease the pain without a trip to the doctor. Try these tips and get to feeling better fast.
Try a Cold Pack
If you have a migraine, place a cold pack on your forehead. Ice cubes wrapped in a towel, a bag of frozen vegetables, or even a cold shower may ease the pain. Keep the compress on your head for 15 minutes, and then take a break for 15 minutes.
Use a Heating Pad or Hot Compress
If you have a tension headache, place a heating pad on your neck or the back of your head. If you have a sinus headache, hold a warm cloth to the area that hurts. A warm shower might also do the trick.
Ease Pressure on Your Scalp or Head
If your ponytail is too tight, it could cause a headache. These “external compression headaches” can also be brought on by wearing a hat, headband, or even swimming goggles that are too tight.
Dim the Lights
Bright or flickering light, even from your computer screen, can cause migraine headaches. If youвЂ™re prone to them, cover your windows with blackout curtains during the day. Wear sunglasses outdoors. You might also add anti-glare screens to your computer and use daylight-spectrum fluorescent bulbs in your light fixtures.
Try Not to Chew
Chewing gum can hurt not just your jaw but your head. The same is true for chewing your fingernails, lips, the inside of your cheeks, or handy objects like pens. Avoid crunchy and sticky foods, and make sure you take small bites. If you grind your teeth at night, ask your dentist about a mouth guard. This may curb your early-morning headaches.
Drink plenty of liquids. Dehydration can cause a headache or make one worse.
Get Some Caffeine
Have some tea, coffee, or something with a little caffeine in it. If you get it early enough after the pain starts, it could ease your headache pain. It can also help over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen work better. Just donвЂ™t drink too much because caffeine withdrawal can cause its own type of headache.
Whether itвЂ™s stretches, yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation, learning how to chill out when youвЂ™re in the middle of a headache can help with the pain. You might talk to your doctor about physical therapy if you have muscle spasms in your neck.
You can do it yourself. A few minutes massaging your forehead, neck, and temples can help ease a tension headache, which may result from stress. Or apply gentle, rotating pressure to the painful area.
Take Some Ginger
A small recent study found that taking ginger, in addition to regular over-the-counter pain meds, eased pain for people in the ER with migraines. Another found that it worked almost as well as prescription migraine meds. You can try a supplement or brew some tea.
Use Meds in Moderation
Pharmacy shelves are stocked with pain relievers for all kinds of headaches. To get the most benefit with the least risk, follow the directions on the label and these guidelines:
- Choose liquid over pills. Your body absorbs it faster.
- Avoid ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) if you have heart failure or kidney failure.
- Do not give aspirin to a child under age 18.
- Take painkillers as soon as you start to hurt. YouвЂ™ll probably beat it with a smaller dose than if you wait.
- If you get sick to your stomach when you get a headache, ask your doctor what might help.
- Ask your doctor what to take to avoid a rebound headache, which is pain that sets in after a few days of pain relievers.
And be sure to talk to your doctor about what headache symptoms you should not treat at home.
When to Call Your Doctor
Get medical care right away for:
- A headache that follows a head injury
- A headache along with dizziness, speech problems, confusion, or other neurological symptoms
- A severe headache that comes on suddenly
- A headache that gets worse even after you take pain medications
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: “Have a Headache at Work? 13 Quick Fixes.”
National Headache Foundation: “Hot and Cold Packs/Showers,вЂќВ “Bruxism.”
National Health Service (UK): “Sinus headache,вЂќ “10 Headache Triggers.”
Blau, JN. Headache, published online May 2004.
The International Headache Classification ICHD-2: “External Compression Headache.”
Mount Sinai Hospital: “Managing Your Migraines”
American Headache Society: “Dental Appliances and Headache,вЂќ “Types of Headaches,” “Sinus Headache or Migraine?” “Acute Therapy: Why Not Over-The-Counter or Other Nonspecific Options?вЂќ “Ten Things That You and Your Patients with Migraine Should Know.”
The Migraine Trust: “Medication for Migraine.”
Lawrence C. Newman, MD, President, American Headache Society and Director, Headache Institute, Mount Sinai Roosevelt Hospital, New York City.
American Academy of Neurology: “Migraine Headache.”
American Migraine Foundation: “Headache Hygiene – What is it?”
American College of Physicians: “Managing Migraine.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Chronic Daily Headache.”
Mayo Clinic: вЂњAcupuncture,вЂќ вЂњMigraine,вЂќ вЂњMigraines: Simple steps to head off the pain,вЂќ вЂњRebound headaches,вЂќ вЂњTension headache.вЂќ
Cleveland Clinic: вЂњSelf-Care Treatments for Headaches: Procedure Details,вЂќ “Headache Treatment Overview,” “Self-Care Treatment for Headaches,” “When to Call the Doctor About Your Headache Symptoms,” “Headache Treatment Overview.”
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: вЂњAcupuncture: In Depth,вЂќ вЂњButterbur,вЂќ вЂњFeverfew.вЂќ
Cephalalgia: вЂњDouble-blind placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) addition in migraine acute treatment.вЂќ
Phytotherapy Research: вЂњComparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of the common migraine.вЂќ
FamilyDoctor.org: “Hydration: Why it is so important.”
HealthyChildren: “Choosing Over-the-Counter Medicines for Your Child.”
If pregnancy has you feeling as if the room’s spinning, you’re not the only one. Dizziness is one of the most common symptoms for pregnant women and usually takes effect in the first trimester. Blame these spins on surging hormones that wreak havoc on the shape and size of your blood vessels. While less common, second trimester dizziness may also be caused by a growing uterus putting pressure on your blood vessels. Whatever may be at the root of the problem, there are some simple steps you can take to feel more grounded. As with any new pregnancy symptom though, be sure to alert your doctor or midwife if your discomfort persists.
Tips for reducing dizziness
- Eat frequently, aiming for five small meals each day. Keep plenty of healthful snacks on hand such as nuts, fruits and whole grains. Avoid long stretches between meals.
- Move slowly, especially when getting up from a sitting or lying down position.
- Keep your blood circulating by elevating your feet when sitting, avoiding standing for long periods of time and wearing comfortable clothing that doesn’t pinch or restrict.
- Stay off your back during sleep and exercise beginning in the second trimester. Your growing uterus puts pressure on a major vein called the vena cava. Pressing on this vein not only causes lightheadedness, but it may also restrict blood flow to your little one.
When to seek medical help
While dizziness is a common and often harmless pregnancy symptom, it may also be a sign of a more serious condition. Alert your doctor right away if you notice any of the following in addition to dizziness:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Blurred vision
Have you been suffering from lightheadedness during your pregnancy? How have you found relief? Share any helpful tips you have with other moms-to-be in the comments below.
Migraines are intense headaches that can occur as a symptom of pregnancy. These are different from stress or tension headaches. It is also normal to experience your first migraine during pregnancy. Some studies have found a slight correlation between migraines and hormones. This makes questions about how to treat migraines naturally while expecting common.
Symptoms of migraines during pregnancy
A migraine usually starts out as a dull ache and then eventually becomes a throbbing, constant, and pulsating pain in the temples, in front of the head, or base of the head. Migraines are sometimes accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light, vomiting, dizziness, and “auras,” which are spots or lines that can occur across one’s vision. The pain can sometimes make it difficult to focus, and symptoms can be debilitating.
Are migraines dangerous during pregnancy?
The only danger is when your headache may be a sign of something else. You should ALWAYS call your health care provider when:
- Your headache is accompanied by a fever
- Your headache persists for more than a few hours or returns frequently
- You are experiencing blurred vision
It is ALWAYS important to let your health care provider know when you are experiencing any headaches and the details about them.
Migraine triggers during pregnancy
Triggers are different for everyone so keeping a headache diary may help pinpoint your triggers so you can avoid those things. Log when the headache happened, what “triggered” it, and how long it lasted. Common triggers include but are not limited to:
Natural Remedies for pregnancy migraines:
- Dark Room — Often, a migraine can make you sensitive to bright lights. Find a dark room, and turn off any electronics.
- Nap — Lying down to take a short nap can help alleviate migraines. Many people report that an hour nap is often enough to stop the pain.
- Cold Pack — While lying down, place a cold pack or damp towel on your head. The cold should constrict blood vessels in your head and help alleviate the pain.
- Relaxation Techniques — Talk to your doctor about relaxation exercises that are safe during pregnancy. Relaxing the muscles around your back, neck, and head can release the pressure causing the migraine.
- Take care of yourself — Sometimes, migraines can be set off by dehydration, tiredness, not eating well, or lack of sleep. Try to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle, which can help mitigate the symptoms of migraines.
How to Treat Migraines when naturally doesn’t work
Sometimes, a migraine might continue to plague you, even after you have tried the above remedies. If the pain persists, you can take Tylenol; however, it is important to avoid Aspirin and Ibuprofen. These are not safe to take during pregnancy. If the migraines become a constant nuisance, you may want to talk to your doctor about alternative medications that are safe to take during pregnancy. You can learn more about which medications are safe during pregnancy here.
If you currently take pain medication for migraines, it is best to discuss with your doctor whether it is safe to continue using. It is best to avoid using any herbal remedies to alleviate migraines during pregnancy, as many have not been tested, and some have been shown to lead to complications.
Want to Know More?
- Role of Vitamin B in Pregnancy
- Pregnancy and Headaches
Compiled using information from the following sources:
American-Australian yoga teacher, writer, mama, traveler. Part of the DoYou Editorial Team.
Pregnancy is an incredibly special time in a woman’s life.
Creating life and carrying a soul inside your body for nine months gives new meaning to the word amazing. This almost makes you forget how uncomfortable it can be during pregnancy, not to mention the list of common pregnancy complaints is long and not particularly distinguished.
Pregnancy and Your Body
From pigmented skin and back-ne, to cramps and constant trips to the loo, growing a life takes its toll on your body. Did I mention the morning all-day sickness, second trimester headaches, and the emotional rollercoaster you’re on?
You know, crying of joy one minute to yelling at your husband the next for drinking the last Blue Machine Naked Juice in the fridge (not citing personal examples here at all).
And if those symptoms weren’t enough, many women suffer from heartburn, reflux, sciatic nerve pain, swollen legs, and major fatigue.
So it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, pregnancy is a time to be gentle on yourself, appreciate how amazing you are, and present in your body without judgment. It is a time to nourish yourself and your baby—and what better way to do this than with yoga?
Yoga helps create space for the baby, comfort the mama, relieve tension in the upper back, alleviate anxiety around labour, decrease fluid retention, and build strength in the legs to prepare for the physical side of labour.
What Not to Do While Pregnant
- Hot or Bikram yoga
- Major backbends
- Lower spinal or deep twists
- Too much ab work
- Belly down postures (Cobra, Locust, Bow, etc.)
- Lying on your back for a long time
- Overstretch – Your body, clever little thing it is, is producing a hormone that softens tissues and ligaments in the pelvic floor (trust me you’ll be grateful for this when b-day rolls around!), which increases your risk of pulling a muscle if you stretch further than usual.
- Breath retention (kumbhaka)
What to Do While Pregnant
- Get the all-clear from your doc or midwife
- Be present in your body and with your baby
- Be gentle and kind to yourself
- Listen to, and love, your body
- Check all judgment at the door
Here are eight of my favourite eight yoga poses to ease pregnancy pains whilst expecting. I hope you like them as much as I did. Please consult your doc or midwife before starting or continuing your yoga practice, and if at any stage you are uncomfortable, discontinue immediately.
1. Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
This pose increases blood circulation in the lower abdomen, stretches the groin, and increases external rotation in the hips. It’s also my favourite way to calm down and relax my anxious mind.
Make sure to modify this posture for pregnancy by placing a bolster or two under your back and head to create an incline (so you are not flat on your back), and a block between feet to broaden your pelvis.
2. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Balasana can fight off nausea, relieve anxiety, and quiet the mind. Modify for pregnancy by placing a bolster under the torso for support.
3. Cat/Cow Pose (Marjaryasana Bitilasana)
As the baby grows, more pressure is put on the spine, so moving on hands and knees relieves that pressure. Table Top position also encourages the baby into proper position for delivery and can provide relief during contractions in labour.
4. Garland or Squat Pose (Malasana)
Hanging out in a squat like this really opens the hips and pelvis, which is ideal for prenatal practice. It is also known to stimulate digestion and is a great stretch through the legs and back. Modify for pregnancy by leaning against a wall or squatting on blankets. Only suitable until about 30 weeks.
5. Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana)
This is an amazing prep pose for childbirth. It opens the hips and groin and creates space in the pelvis. It also strengthens and tones the many muscles in the legs. We often have a tendency to internally collapse the knee, so line it up with your second toe to prevent injury.
Plus with a name like Goddess, how can we not include it in a prenatal practice?
6. Extended Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
I found Trikonasana incredibly helpful for relieving backache and creating length through the side body. It is also known for its ability to reduce stiffness in the neck, tone the pelvic floor, and relieve indigestion. Take a shorter stance than usual and microbend the front knee.
7. Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Another lovely side body stretch to create space for the baby, Extended Side Angle is also a wonderful prep pose for childbirth as it strengthens the quads and increases stamina.
Modify your typical expression by resting your front elbow on your front knee rather than reaching for the floor. This will help stabilize your body as bub grows and throws off your center of gravity.
8. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
When you melt into Savasana, do so on your side, with a bolster placed between your legs as lying flat on your back is not recommended.
Did yoga help YOU during your pregnancy? Do you have other yoga tips and poses you’d like to add? Share with us in the comments below!
American-Australian yoga teacher, writer, mama, traveler. Part of the DoYou Editorial Team.
Headaches are a pain in the neck.
Especially during pregnancy! They are also a pain in the head, scalp, and/or sinus. For some reason pregnant women seem to suffer most from headaches during the 1st and 3rd trimesters. If you are one of those unlucky ones, don’t worry I have 18 tried-and-true, natural remedies you can try.
Headaches can be caused by.
The surge of pregnancy hormones, increase in blood volume, low blood sugar, stress, tension, lack of sleep, constipation, dehydration, not enough protein intake, food allergy-sensitivity or dietary insufficiency (especially in calcium, iron, and/or magnesium). They can also be caused by body, ligament and posture changes that naturally occur throughout pregnancy.
What can you do when you have a headache?
Lie down with a cool cloth to your forehead.
Get a neck, shoulder and foot massage.
Get plenty of sleep, take naps if you need to. Go to bed earlier.
Make sure to drink 2 – 3 quarts of filtered water a day.
Eat mini-meals throughout the day. Make sure you are getting some protein at every meal.
Playing relaxing music and practicing your breathing techniques. Practice slow, deep, abdominal breathing. Inhale and exhale to a slow count of 4.
Warm bath with Epsom salts may help. 1 – 2 cups should do it. (No warmer than 100 degrees.) Soak for a good 15 minutes and relax. Listen to some chill music too.
If you have a sinus headache, apply a warm compress around your eyes and nose or do a steam bath. You can try using a net pot to clean out your sinuses.
Go see a chiropractor.
Reduce stress by practicing meditation or guides visualizations.
Eat some protein or foods rich in iron.
You may need more calcium and magnesium. You should be taking 500-800 mg. of magnesium glycinate a day and 1000- 1500 mg. of calcium a day. (Always talk with your healthcare provider before adding more supplements.)
Drink a warm glass of milk with cinnamon and honey.
Eat a handful of almonds.
Make a rice sock. Supplies: 1 large (new) sock. 1-2 pounds of rice (any kind; the amount will vary based on the size of your sock) A needle and thread or a ribbon. Fill the sock with rice then sew the top tightly closed or tie it closed. Place in the microwave for 1 – 2 minutes until hot but not too hot that it will burn you. Place it around your neck. Bonus: Add a few drops of essential oil to the rice to create an aromatherapy sock. Peppermint and lavender essential oils are great for relief of headaches. Do not use lavender during 1st trimester (1st 12 weeks).
Try a cup of relaxing tea.
Relaxing Tea recipe by Aviva Jill Romm, M.D. The Natural Pregnancy Book.
1 tsp. of chamomile (only one cup of chamomile a day during the 1st trimester)
1 tsp. of lemon balm
½ tsp. of lavender
½ tsp. of fennel seeds
Steep in a cup of hot water (covered) and drink hot. You can add milk and honey for flavor. (Check with your healthcare provider before using any “herbal remedies”.)
18. Try homeopathic remedies. For example:
Byonia – Busting or splitting headache. Movement makes the headache worse.
Natrum muriaticum – pounding headache. Pain over eyes, cold cloth, lying down, and a quiet dark room brings relief.
Aconite – sudden violent headaches, throbbing temple.
Two or three doses of 30c. Take every 15 minutes.
When should you call the doctor?
Before taking any medications, not all medications are safe during pregnancy.
Severe headaches starting after the sixth month can be a sign of toxemia or preeclampsia.
Your headaches get worse.
You experience headaches that are different than normal such as a migraine.
Your headaches are accompanied by: blurry vision, sudden weight gain, pain in the upper right abdomen, and swelling in the hands and face.
Pregnancy is a time when you need lots of support, love, comfort, affection, healthy-nourishing foods, rest, and a stress-free environment. (Okay, I know that a stress free environment is difficult in this day and age but stress affects your growing baby as much as it affects you.) But try to reduce stress as much as possible. You have to be your own best friend, take care of you and your growing baby. Love yourself as if you were your own child and believe me, you and your baby will benefit. You are your baby’s nutritionist, teacher, nurturer, protector and healer. Check out my page just for expecting moms.
A Rare But Unpleasant Side Effect of Having an Epidural
Brian Levine, MD, MS, is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology as well as in reproductive endocrinology and infertility.
If you’re expecting a baby, whether you have a vaginal birth or a Cesarean section, you’re like to have epidural anesthesia when you give birth This type of anesthesia is very safe—the most common side effect is shaking as the numbness wears off. But very rarely an epidural can result in a temporary but severe headache.
This head pain commonly is referred to as a spinal headache because it also is a potential side effect of spinal anesthesia (rarely used in childbirth anymore) and a diagnostic procedure called a spinal tap. The more formal term for a spinal headache is postdural puncture headache.
Only 1 percent of women develop a spinal headache after having an epidural. (Research shows the incidence is higher, about 4 percent, among those who are obese). But if it happens to you, here’s what you should know about why you have head pain, how long it will last, and how to get relief.
What Causes a Spinal Headache
To understand how head pain can occur after an epidural, you first need to understand why this type of anesthesia is given and how. The purpose of an epidural is to block sensation in the lower part of the body to lessen the pain of contractions and childbirth. It’s done by injecting an anesthetic medication (or a combination of such drugs) through a catheter placed in a small area just outside the spinal cord in the lower back called the epidural space.
In order to insert the catheter, a needle is first inserted into the back. There’s a very small chance that when the needle goes it might pierce the dural sac which encases the spinal cord and the cerebral spinal fluid that surrounds it. If fluid leaks from the tiny puncture, the pressure inside of the dural sac will change temporarily, resulting in a headache. The risk of this happening during an epidural is about one in a hundred.
What a Spinal Headache Feels Like
Usually, a spinal headache doesn’t occur until a day or more after an epidural, so you may already be home with your new baby if you get one. Spinal headache pain tends to be a dull, throbbing pain that can vary from mild to incapacitating, according to the Mayo Clinic. It tends to get worse when you sit up or stand, but lessens dramatically when you lie down. It’s been described by many women as the worst headache they’ve ever experienced.
If you develop a spinal headache you might also experience other symptoms, such as dizziness, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss, blurred or double vision, nausea, and neck stiffness.
Prevention and Treatment
You can help lower your risk of developing a spinal headache when you have an epidural: Before inserting the needle into your low back, you’ll be asked to curve your upper body forward while sitting or to lie on one side and curl into a fetal position so that your spine is visible and accessible.
Your job will be to hold very, very still so that the anesthesiologist can be as precise as possible in placing the needle. Your participation in this part of the process can help prevent a slip of the needle that could puncture the dural sac.
That said, accidents happen. Although a puncture of the dural sac during an epidural is extremely rare, if it happens to you and you wind up with a spinal headache, it can be treated until it resolves on its own, which can take a couple of weeks. Of course, you will have just given birth so don’t hesitate to ask for extra help with the baby.
- Lie flat as much as possible to prevent changes in the pressure inside the dural sac that can bring on head pain.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers. If you’re breastfeeding, ask your doctor which are safe to take and at what dose.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Sip coffee or tea: Caffeine sometimes can help relieve head pain.
- Try not to lift anything heavy. Have a nurse or your partner pick up the baby from his bassinet and bring him to you to feed or hold.
If your headache is very severe you may need to be treated with an epidural blood patch, in which some of your own blood is injected into the dural sac near the puncture to help speed healing of the puncture by creating a clot to help plug the hole and stop the leakage of cerebral spinal fluid. For most people, this procedure will clear up a spinal headache within 24 hours, allowing you to go about the business of caring for your new baby without the distraction of head pain.
- Frequency of migraines during pregnancy
- Migraine myths: boy or girl?
- How to prevent migraines
- Migraine relief and remedies during pregnancy
- When to see a doctor
Migraines aren’t your typical headache. This severe, throbbing pain can affect one or both sides of your head and last for hours or even days. Sometimes, migraines are preceded or accompanied by what doctors call auras — neurological symptoms that include blurred vision, flashes of light or numbness, or tingling in your arm, leg or face.
To top it off, migraines with or without auras can make you feel nauseated beyond your typical morning sickness and leave you feeling even more fatigued, dizzy and sensitive to light and sound. Here’s what causes them — and how you can treat them when you’re expecting.
Frequency of migraines during pregnancy
Many women have migraines for the first time when they’re expecting; others, including women with a history of migraines, get them more often.
Blame your out-of-whack pregnancy hormones, plus all those other pregnancy-related triggers you’re experiencing: fatigue, tension, blood sugar drops, physical or emotional stress, nasal congestion and overheating — or a combination of all of these.
That said, some women who have a history of migraines related to their menstrual cycle actually end up getting these headaches less often when they’re expecting, particularly during the second and third trimesters.
That’s because their migraines are likely caused by the “withdrawal” of estrogen that occurs just before menstruation; during pregnancy, estrogen levels remain consistently high.
Migraine myths: boy or girl?
Read that having more migraines means you’re more likely to be carrying a boy? Unfortunately, there isn’t a reliable study to back that myth. So while it’s a fun note to add to your list of signals of your baby’s sex, don’t bank on it until you get the results from your NIPT or level 2 ultrasound.
How to prevent migraines
Often the best way to treat a migraine is to prevent it from happening in the first place. And while it isn’t always preventable, there are some steps you can take to cut down on the odds and frequency of an attack:
More About Common Pregnancy Conditions
- Keep a migraine journal. Jot down what you ate, where you were and what you were doing just before you experienced a pregnancy migraine. Common triggers include glaring lights or loud noises, excessive heat or cold, tobacco smoke and foods such as chocolate, cheese, artificial sweeteners and nitrates in processed meats — though you’ll want to avoid the latter during pregnancy anyway. Once you notice a pattern of what commonly precedes your migraines, try to avoid those potential triggers.
- Cut back on stress. Because stress is a common migraine trigger, it’s thought that holistic therapies — including acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, meditation and yoga — can help alleviate migraine pain.
- Get enough sleep. There’s no doubt that it can be hard to get adequate shut-eye during pregnancy. But since sleep disturbances and fatigue can trigger migraines, try to make sleep a priority.
- Exercise. Regular, pregnancy-safe aerobic exercise like walking, swimming and bicycling can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines during pregnancy — and it’s good for the rest of your body and your baby, too. Once a migraine hits, though, don’t whip out your sneakers and head for the gym; exercise can make symptoms worse.
Migraine relief and remedies during pregnancy
A migraine bearing down on you? Stay away from ibuprofen and talk to your doctor before taking an aspirin. Try the following instead:
- Relax. If you suspect a migraine coming on, lie down in a quiet, dark room with a cold compress on your neck or forehead for two or three hours. With any luck, you’ll fall asleep and wake up migraine-free.
- Pop an acetaminophen. While you should never take any pain medication — over the counter, prescription or herbal — without the OK from your doctor, the occasional use of Tylenol (acetaminophen) is considered safe during pregnancy. Check with your practitioner for recommendations on dosing.
- Talk to your doc. If you relied on strong migraine medications before you conceived, you may have to avoid them until the baby arrives (some have been linked to adverse birth outcomes such as preterm birth). Your doctor may be able to recommend safer drug options, or refer you to a migraine specialist, who can suggest other strategies for managing your pain.
When to see a doctor
Check in with your doctor the first time you suspect you’re having a migraine. Ditto if an unexplained headache persists for more than a few hours, returns very often or is accompanied by a fever.
Some research shows that women who have migraines during their pregnancy may also be at increased risk for hypertension, preeclampsia and other vascular disorders. So if you have symptoms that include sudden dramatic weight gain, visual changes (like blurry vision, seeing double, or seeing bright spots), puffiness in your face or hands, or chest discomfort, call your doctor right away.
From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Health information on this site is based on peer-reviewed medical journals and highly respected health organizations and institutions including ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), as well as the What to Expect books by Heidi Murkoff.