During pregnancy, hormones shift and the volume of blood moving through your body increases – headaches are to be expected. Pregnancy headaches won't harm your baby, but that doesn't make them any more fun to experience. If your headaches are particularly frequent or accompanied by other symptoms such as heartburn, rib pain, or swelling of the hands, feet, or face, visit your doctor.
A maternity specialist may be able to recommend some pain relief if you're struggling but always consult with a professional first.
Sleep – Headaches are often brought on by exhaustion. Aim for 8 hours a night. Rest as much as you need to during the day; listen to your body.
Massage – Either a massage by a professional with experience treating pregnant women, or a massage by a friend or partner, could bring you some relief. You might find the shoulders and back of the neck to be hot spots.
Posture – As your baby bump grows, your posture will change. Remember to roll your shoulders back and try pregnancy-safe lengthening exercises.
Exercise – Develop a manageable exercise routine. Research exercises safe for your stage of pregnancy. Avoid rigorous training, heavy lifting, or exercising with a headache. Consider consulting a physiotherapist.
Hot/Cold – A warm compress over your face may bring some relief if your headache is accompanied by congestion. You might find hot or cold packs to the back of the neck helpful for tension headaches. A shower could help loosen things up and relieve some discomfort.
Reducing caffeine – It's best not to drink caffeine while pregnant, but caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches. If you find this to be the case, try reducing your intake slowly.
Diet – As always, eat a balanced diet. Avoid processed meats, too much sugar or chocolate, or any other foods you notice a pattern of leading to headaches.
Hydration – Sometimes, pregnant women decrease their water intake because they're sick of needing to use the toilet so often. Try increasing your water intake during the day to minimize night-time toilet trips. Quality electrolyte drinks are a great way to consume less liquid and increase hydration – remember to sip slowly.
Manage blood sugar levels – Eat healthy snacks or small meals frequently, rather than three larger meals a day. Eating more often can help keep your blood sugar levels more stable.
Relax and rest – Stress, anxiety, and depression can lead to headaches. Make time for yourself to breathe and relax. Develop some coping strategies for anxiety and try to avoid stressful situations.
Manage your triggers
Common headache triggers to watch out for include:
● Blue light
● Bright lights
● Strong smells
● Hunger or low blood sugar
● Processed foods
You could also try tracking your headaches in a diary. When you experience a headache, make note of what you've had to eat and drink that day, your mood and activity, location, time of day, and any other factors or obvious triggers. You might notice a pattern of what's contributing to your headaches.
Headache or migraine?
Migraines are more severe than headaches and can last for many hours or even days. Symptoms can include throbbing on one side of the head and nausea. Sometimes migraines are accompanied by auditory or visual 'hallucinations' such as seeing flickering lights or hearing sounds that aren't there.
Migraines can be debilitating. The best solution is generally sensory deprivation. Lay down in a dark, quiet room and rest until the pain passes. The good news is migraines are thought to be associated with low levels of estrogen, which is a hormone that increases throughout pregnancy, meaning migraines are likely to decrease throughout your pregnancy.
Developing preventative strategies could help reduce headaches. Remember to let yourself rest as soon as a headache comes on. Generally, pregnancy hormones stabilize during the second trimester, so this should be a relief period even if you suffer headaches in your first and third trimester.