Headaches are common during pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimesters. They rarely signal a serious problem.
Causes of headaches during pregnancy
The cause of headaches is uncertain. In the first few months of pregnancy, they may be caused by normal changes in your hormone levels and an increase in blood volume and circulation.
In the second trimester, pregnancy-related headaches may disappear as your body becomes used to the hormonal changes. Towards the end of pregnancy, headaches tend to be related more to posture and tension from carrying extra weight.
During the second and third trimesters, headaches may also be caused by a serious condition called preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or right after pregnancy. It’s when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working properly. Some of these signs include having protein in the urine, changes in vision and severe headache.
Headaches and other pains
Some women often have tension headaches, which cause squeezing pain or a dull ache on both sides of the head or the back of the neck. The headaches may increase during pregnancy, especially if the woman experiences any of the following:
- Caffeine withdrawal (especially if she suddenly stops or cuts down on coffee drinking or other sources of caffeine when she learns she is pregnant)
- Lack of sleep
- Dehydration (lack of fluids)
- Hunger or low blood sugar
Some women may have migraine headaches for the first time in early pregnancy. These headaches cause severe, throbbing pains on one side of the head. The woman may also have nausea or vomiting. But many women who are prone to migraines may notice that they improve during pregnancy. Some migraine sufferers may notice no change during pregnancy or may find that their headaches become more frequent and intense.
What you can do
Before taking any medications or herbal remedies, always talk to your health care provider. If you regularly suffer from migraines, ask your health care provider before taking the medications you normally used before becoming pregnant. The following tips may safely help relieve or prevent headaches during pregnancy:
Use warm or cold compresses.
- To soothe a headache in the sinus area, apply warm compresses to the front and sides of your face and around your nose, eyes and temples.
- To relieve a tension headache, apply a cold compress to the back of your neck
- Avoid placing yourself in stressful situations.
- Relaxation exercises may help. For instance, try deep breathing or simply closing your eyes and imagining a peaceful scene.
Rest and exercise.
- Resting in a dark, quiet room can soothe headaches.
- Getting enough sleep and exercise can also be helpful.
- Always be sure to find out from your health care provider which exercises are safe for you, and how long you can maintain your exercise program.
Eat well-balanced meals.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
- This can help keep your blood sugar from getting too low.
Take care of your body.
- Maintain good posture, especially during the third trimester.
- Get a massage. Massaging your temples, shoulders and neck can help reduce the pain of headaches.
Avoid headache triggers.
- Different kinds of food or stresses can trigger headaches. For instance, triggers of migraine headaches include chocolate, aged cheese, peanuts and preserved meats.
- Keep a diary, and review the kinds of foods and activities that tend to trigger tension or migraine headaches.
When to talk to your health care provider
While most headaches during pregnancy are harmless, some can be a sign of a more serious problem. If you have a migraine for the first time during pregnancy, or if you have a headache that feels unlike any you've experienced before, call your health care provider to make sure it is not a sign of more serious problems. Call your health care provider right away if your headache:
- Is sudden and explosive or includes a violent pain that awakens you from sleep
- Is accompanied by fever and stiff neck
- Becomes increasingly worse, and you have vision changes, slurred speech, drowsiness, numbness or a change in sensation or alertness
- Occurs after falling or hitting your head
- Is accompanied by nasal congestion, pain and pressure underneath your eyes, or dental pain (these may be signs of sinus infection)
In the second or third trimester, headaches can be a sign of preeclampsia. Contact your health care provider immediately if your headache:
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know you're pregnant?
Knowing the signs of pregnancy can help you tell if you’re pregnant. Here are some signs that you might be pregnant:
If you have any of these pregnancy signs and think you may be pregnant, go to your health care provider. The sooner you know you're pregnant, the sooner you can begin prenatal checkups and start taking good care of yourself and your growing baby.
Is my baby moving enough?
You'll start feeling your baby's kicks at around the 28th week of pregnancy. By this time, your baby's movements are usually well established and some health care providers recommend keeping track of these movements.
- Track kick counts at about the same time each day when your baby is active.
- Track kick counts shortly after you've eaten a meal (when your baby may be most active).
- Sit or lay on your side, place your hands on your belly and monitor baby's movement.
- Mark every movement down on a piece of paper. Don't count baby's hiccups.
Keep counting until you've felt 10 movements from baby. If baby doesn't move 10 times within 1 hour, try again later that day. Call your health provider if your baby's movement seems unusual or you've tried more than once that day and can't feel baby move 10 times or more during 1 hour.
When will I start feeling my baby move?
Popcorn popping. A little fish swimming. Bubbles. Butterflies. Tickles. These are common words used by women to describe their baby's first movements. Also known as "quickening," it's a reassuring sign that your baby is OK and growing. This milestone typically starts sometime between 18 to 25 weeks into pregnancy. For first-time moms, it may occur closer to 25 weeks, and for second- or third-time moms, it may happen much sooner.
At first it may be difficult to tell the difference between gas and your baby moving. You might not feel movement as early as you are expecting to feel it, but you'll notice a pattern soon. You'll start to learn when the baby is most active and what seems to get her moving.