Headaches and pregnancy

All you need to know about coping with headaches in pregnancy
Headaches are another of the delightful 'symptoms' that many women experience during pregnancy. However, there seems to be little rhyme or reason as to who will particularly suffer. Many women who were prone to headaches or migraines before they fell pregnant find that these clear up almost completely while they're expecting, particularly if they were related to their menstrual cycle. However, others who have never suffered before find themselves stung by a pounding head on a regular basis.

To help you cope with this unpredictable side effect we share our tips for preventing and treating pregnancy headaches.

What causes headaches in pregnancy?

While it's not known for sure it's thought that the huge influx of hormones whizzing around your body are largely responsible for the headaches that many women suffer from, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy. Changes to your blood pressure as the volume of blood circulating your body increases are also thought to play a role. Later on in pregnancy headaches are often attributed to the bad posture and tension that comes from carrying a baby that's nearing full term.

Dehydration, low blood sugar, fatigue and stress are also thought to play a role in causing pregnancy headaches. Reducing the amount of caffeine you consume may play a role too, particularly if you a big tea or coffee drinker before you found out you were expecting.

How can I prevent them?

While it's not possible to completely prevent headaches there are a number of things that you can do to try and minimise their occurrence. The following tips are all worth putting into practice as they'll help to boost your overall health and energy levels in the meantime.
  • Drink plenty of water - It's recommended that you need at least 8 glasses a day to stay hydrated and getting your quota can help minimise dehydration headaches.

  • Eat a balanced diet - So called 'junk food' can cause your blood sugar levels to swing from one extreme to the other so while eating sugary, comfort foods may give you a boost for a while, it's also likely that you'll experience an energy crash shortly after. Including plenty of slow release foods like wholegrains, pulses, fruit and vegetables in your diet can keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel and help reduce headaches.

  • Get plenty of rest - Understandably this is easier said than done but catching up on sleep where you can will help to keep fatigue related headaches at bay. Even half an hour shut eye in the afternoon can help you to feel refreshed if you're not sleeping well at night.

  • Get active - Research has shown that gentle exercise can help to reduce pregnancy headaches by reducing stress, balancing your blood sugar and improving your breathing. Find something you enjoy and stick to it whether its yoga, swimming or walking you will feel the benefits.

  • Check your posture -
  • Relax - Stress and tension often play a role in causing headaches so trying to stay relaxed will help keep them at bay. Try and take 10 minutes out of your day to try and destress, focusing on taking some deep breathes and relaxing your shoulders down from by your ears! Alternative therapies like reflexology, acupuncture and massage (providing they are carried out by a trained professional) can all help you to stay calm too.

  • Snack - Try to eat something 'healthy' every couple of hours to help keep your blood sugar levels stable, even if you just have a small snack. Oatcakes, nuts or dried fruit are handy, healthy snacks to keep in your handbag as an emergency resort when your head starts to pound.

How can I treat them?

Recent research has suggested that aspirin and ibuprofen are not suitable for consumption during pregnancy so it's best to avoid headache tablets containing these ingredients. Paracetamol can be taken in moderation but its better for you and baby if you try to use it as a last resort and look to natural remedies first. You could try:
  • Closing your eyes and taking some deep breaths

  • Going for a short walk in the fresh air

  • Drinking a glass of water to make sure you're hydrated

  • Having something 'healthy' to eat to help balance your blood sugar

  • Placing a cool compress across your forehead

  • Sniffing a few drops of peppermint oil (or sucking on a mint if you don't have any to hand)

  • Massaging your head and neck to relieve any tension (or better still enlist a willing helper so you can really relax!)

  • Take a nap or, if that's not possible, try to sit down quietly for a few minutes and relax

When should I see the doctor?

While most headaches are nothing to worry about, if you experience a severe headache accompanied by blurred vision, flashing lights, pain in your abdomen, sickness or sudden swelling you should see your doctor as soon as possible as these symptoms may be indicative of high blood pressure.

Additionally, if you were already taking medication for migraines it's a good idea to visit your doctor to check that they are still suitable for consumption during pregnancy.

Do you suffer with pregnancy headaches? How do you manage? Whether you have headache-busting advice that you can share with others or simply fancy sharing your experiences, why not visit the AskBaby forums for a chat.

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