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Headache in Pregnancy

Headache in pregnancy

Experiencing a headache in pregnancy is very common. The exact reason why women experience more frequent headaches during pregnancy is unknown. However it is possible that headaches are linked to hormonal changes and the natural increase in blood circulation in your body during pregnancy. Although they may occur at any point, headaches are more likely to occur in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches.

Natural Strategies for Treating Headache in Pregnancy

There are many things you can do to naturally decrease the pain of headaches. Natural strategies include:

  • Taking a warm bath or shower
  • Applying hot compresses to the face, particularly if the pain seems to be related to sinusitis
  • Applying an ice pack or cold compress to the back of your head or neck
  • Listening to a relaxation CD or practicing meditation

Many natural therapists, experienced in treating pregnant women, may also be able to assist you to minimise both the pain and frequency of headaches. You could consider consulting:

Triggers of Headache in Pregnancy

Avoiding the triggers that seem to bring about headaches will generally take care of much of the problem. When a headache occurs, consider what you have been eating and doing leading up to its’ onset. This may provide clues to certain foods, activities or environmental factors that are exacerbating your headaches. Some of the most common triggers of headache in pregnancy include:

  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Low blood sugar
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress
  • Particular foods
  • Environmental factors

Headache in Pregnancy from Dehydration

A lack of sufficient water can cause headaches. While it is always a good idea to keep the body hydrated, there are certain times when changes in the body call for more water. One of these times is during pregnancy.

Water is regularly utilised by the body to replenish amniotic fluid and blood volume as well as to transport nutrients through your blood to your baby. As your body works hard to perform these tasks, it can become dehydrated if fluid intake is insufficient.

Keep a water bottle nearby and take regular sips. As a rule of thumb – if your mouth is dry, you are already suffering from the initial symptoms of dehydration and increasing your chance of a headache.

Headache in Pregnancy from Caffeine Withdrawal

Headaches are a common side-effect of caffeine withdrawal. To avoid them, it is best to slowly wean yourself off caffeine (rather than going cold turkey!). This can be achieved by reducing the number of cups consumed, the volume of the cups, and the caffeine in each cup.

If you generally drank five mugs of coffee per day prior to pregnancy, start by replacing your mug with a standard cup. Then progress to cutting back the number of cups, slowly decreasing the number you drink each day until you cease to need the caffeine. Substituting your missing cups of coffee with decaf can help to overcome the ‘psychological withdrawal’ associated with removing a beverage which often acts as a form of comfort to the drinker.

It’s best to avoid caffeine containing drinks in pregnancy. Keep in mind that most experts agree a small amount of caffeine in pregnancy is unlikely to cause any significant harm to mother or baby.

Headache in Pregnancy from Low Blood Sugar

As most pregnant women realise, sound nutrition is vital in pregnancy. Eating a balanced diet helps to support your body to nurture the growing life inside you, and ensures your baby has the best possible start. The timing of food intake, however, is also important.

Due to the increased blood volume in a pregnant woman's body, and the body's adjustment to this increase, pregnant woman require a steady flow of nutrients. The lack of these nutrients can result in low blood sugar, one of the prime symptoms of which is headache.

To avoid low blood sugar, and minimise the chance of associated headaches, eat several small, balanced meals throughout the day.

Headache in Pregnancy from Lack of Sleep

Most everybody, at one point or another, has experienced a headache which could be directly attributed to lack of sleep. Creating a life is hard work. In pregnancy, your body undergoes enormous change and requires more sleep than usual in order to replenish vital stores.

Compounding this, particularly in the third trimester, is the sleeplessness that can be cause by an inability to find a comfortable position, and a baby that seems to invariably choose the moment you get into bed as a signal to wake up.

To minimise the risk of headaches from sleep deprivation, aim to get at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. Where this proves difficult (or impossible) try to compensate wherever possible by taking daytime naps, putting your feet up and resting during your lunchbreak, or employing relaxation techniques to help ensure that what sleep you do get, is sound.

Headache in Pregnancy from Stress

Stress is a well-known contributor to headaches, both in and out of pregnancy. It is important to avoid stress as much as possible and make a point of taking time out to relax and go for a walk.

If you think stress is causing your headaches, look for ways to reduce it. Strategies could include planning and preparing ahead to avoid rushing when completing tasks, restructuring your schedule, reducing your work hours, or seeking the assistance of family, friends or paid workers to help you with routine tasks like cleaning.

If thoughts or fears are the cause of your stress, consider sharing these with your doctor or midwife, a counsellor, your partner or an understanding friend. Talking often helps.

Nutritional and Environmental causes of Headache in Pregnancy

For most headaches, simple changes in lifestyle can alleviate the issue.  Avoiding certain foods and situations could be all that is needed to resolve many types of recurring headache. This is particularly true for women suffering from migraines, many of whom will not have experienced a migraine prior to pregnancy. Foods known to trigger headache include:

  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Peanuts
  • Preserved meats
  • Bread that is baked with fresh yeast (including pizza and doughnuts)
  • Figs
  • Overripe avocadoes and bananas
  • Cultured dairy products (buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, aged cheese, chocolate milk)
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Aspartame (an artificial sweetener marketed raw as NutraSweet but also contained in many sugar-free drinks and foods such as soft drinks and jelly)

There are also environmental issues that can trigger headaches in pregnancy. Avoiding these triggers may also help to reduce the severity of headaches.

  • Bright and/or flashing lights
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • High altitude travel
  • Eyestrain
  • Over exercising
  • Hunger

Though these triggers do not cause the migraines themselves, they set up a series of reactions within the sufferer’s body to which it responds with pain.

If you are experiencing recurrent headaches, which appear to be migraine-like in nature, it is smart to keep a record of what you did and ate on the day that the headaches occurred. Most people are able to identify what triggers their migraines with relative ease when they use this process.

When to Call your Midwife or Doctor

Headaches can be a part of pregnancy. While annoying uncomfortable discomfort, they can generally be relieved by using natural strategies.

Occasionally a headache in the second or third trimester can signal that something more serious is going on. A condition known as preeclampsia, a blood pressure related disorder that affects pregnant women, can cause a severe headache. If you have a sudden, severe headache, or if the headache is accompanied by blurred vision, nausea, vomiting or pain in the upper right hand quadrant of the abdomen, contact your midwife or doctor immediately.

References:

http://uhs.berkeley.edu/home/healthtopics/pdf/triggers.pdf
http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/headaches.html
http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/yourbody_headaches.html
http://www.birthingnaturally.net/exercise/massage/techniques.html
http://angelaharris.hubpages.com/hub/Headache-Cure-Essential-Oils
http://www.aworldofaromatherapy.com/essential-oils-headaches.htm
http://www.ehow.com/facts_4745298_low-blood-sugar-during-pregnancy.html
http://www.freedrinkingwater.com/water-education/water-pregnancy.htm

Published 13th December 2011

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