Better Me

Is a Headache During Pregnancy Something to Worry About?

Pregnancy is a beautiful thing to be celebrated, but few people fill you in on the not-so-great symptoms that may occur during the journey. Namely, heartburn, gas, constipation and, for some pregnant mamas, headaches.

While headaches can be just another normal symptom of pregnancy, should they ever be a cause for concern?

“Headaches are common in women both in and outside of pregnancy,” said Kelley Saunders, MD, an OBGYN with Banner – University Medicine Women’s Institute. “But whether they are normal or not should always be discussed with your doctor."

Here is some insight into what causes headaches during pregnancy, some remedies to treat them and why your doctor should be kept in the loop.

Is it a headache or something else?

It isn’t always easy to tell what kind of headache you’re having, but the most common types of headaches during pregnancy are tension-type headaches, migraines and cluster headaches.

Tension headaches are the most common kind of headache in pregnant women. It can feel like someone is trying to squish your head like a watermelon. If you carry your stress in your shoulders and neck, you may be more susceptible to this kind of headache.

Migraines are a particular type of headache that occur on one side of the head. For some women, migraines can get worse the first few months and then improve in later stages of pregnancy. For others, they may experience no change, decrease or difference in their migraines.

Cluster headaches are less common but can occur during pregnancy. You’ll suddenly have severe pain around your eyes or temples usually about the same time every day.

The good news is that there are plenty of pregnancy-safe things you can do to prevent and relieve the most common pregnancy headaches.

Tips for relieving mild headaches

  • Get plenty of rest. Sleep is especially hard later in your pregnancy but is so important to physical and mental health. Find yourself a comfy prenatal pillow and snuggle away.
  • Drink plenty of water. Pregnant moms require more water than the average person. While you may want to avoid extra trips to the bathroom, adequate fluid intake is important for you and baby.
  • Eat regular, well-balanced meals. To prevent low blood sugar, eat small meals throughout the day. Avoid sugar, like soda and candy.
  • Get a prenatal massage. A full-body massage can release tension in the muscles of your neck, shoulders and back.
  • Use warm compresses on head, neck and shoulders.
  • Avoid triggers. Keep a journal to help identify specific triggers so you can learn what to avoid. Some common headache triggers include strong odors and nitrites or nitrates.
  • Try exercise and relaxation techniques. There’s evidence that regular exercise can reduce stress and boost overall mood. Check with your doctor first before starting any new fitness routines.
  • Take acetaminophen to relieve symptoms (as approved by doctor).
  • Take caffeine in doses less than 200mg in a day (as approved by doctor).

If you have a history of migraines, however, your doctor may treat them differently during pregnancy. Discuss with your doctor what medications are safe to take during pregnancy.

Is my headache a cause for concern?

Sometimes. Headaches tend to be more common in the first and third trimesters, but they can occur in the second trimester as well. While there are common causes for headaches during pregnancy, it’s important to note that headaches during the second and third trimester can also be due to high blood pressure, called preeclampsia.

“Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related condition that requires prompt evaluation and management with an obstetrician or maternal fetal medicine specialist,” Dr. Saunders said. “Elevated blood pressure prior to pregnancy puts a woman at increased risk for preeclampsia.”

When should I call my doctor?

Whether you experience headaches or not, it’s always important to discuss your pre-pregnancy history, obstetrical history and concerns with your doctor for an individualized assessment and management plan. However, if none of the above treatments resolve your mild headache or your headaches become more frequent and severe, talk to your doctor to determine the cause.

“This includes new headaches that present after 20 weeks, a sudden onset of severe headaches, headaches associated with a fever, mental health changes, elevated blood pressure and vision changes,” Dr. Saunders said. “It’s important to keep an open line of communication with your physician and let them know about any changes in your health so they can rule out anything serious."

Got questions? We can help!

If a headache is keeping you up at night and your doctor isn’t available, call the Banner Nurse Now line, a free health care service that offers advice 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Call 844-259-9494.

Check out other pregnancy articles on our Banner Health blog

Pregnancy is an exciting, but also a bit scary time (especially if this is your first baby). Here are some other reads to help guide you through the trimesters and welcoming baby:

Women's Health Pregnancy

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