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Pregnancy: Headache

Headaches are common in early pregnancy. They’re usually caused by altered hormone levels and increased blood volume. Contact your doctor if your headaches don’t go away or are especially painful.

Pregnancy: Headache

Getting headaches is a common symptom during the first trimester, Moss said. They could be a sign of hunger or dehydration, or may even be caused by caffeine withdrawal, she explained.

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Common symptoms of headache during pregnancy

Headache pain may vary from one person to the next. You may have:

  • dull ache
  • throbbing or pulsating pain
  • severe pain on one or both sides
  • sharp pain behind one or both eyes

Migraine pain may also include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • seeing lines or flashes of light
  • blind spots

What can I do about headaches?

Steps to manage headaches include the following:

  • Avoid any known headache triggers, including allergens and certain foods, like monosodium glutamate, cured meats, and strong cheeses.
  • Smoking is never a good idea in pregnancy. You should also avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Try to eat well and drink plenty of fluids, especially if you are prone to morning sickness.
  • Reduce your stress level. Try a massage or cold pack to help with tension headaches. 
  • If your headache is a migraine, rest in a cool, dark room with no noise, and try using warm or cold compresses or an ice pack.

There is good news, however. Most women have fewer headaches during pregnancy, especially after the first trimester. And those with a history of migraines often find there is improvement during pregnancy.

Can I prevent my pregnancy headaches?

While some headaches are unavoidable, a few steps can help prevent them in the future:

  • Keep eating. The low blood sugar that results from skipping meals can trigger a headache, as can the crash-and-burn that comes after eating a lot of sweets. Stash a bag of whole-grain crackers, a container of trail mix, or a really nutritious granola bar in your bag, desk or glove compartment (or all three) so you’ll always have a healthy snack at arm’s reach.
  • Make sure you get enough rest. It’s especially important in the first and third trimesters, when you’re more likely to feel pooped — but don’t oversleep, as too much of that good thing can also make your head hurt.
  • Keep a food diary. Some foods (including chocolate, cheese, ice cream and processed meats) can trigger headaches. By keeping track of the foods, you may discover that some are linked to your headache patterns — and you can cut those edibles out of your diet.
  • Go slowly if you’re giving up coffee. Cutting back on caffeine during pregnancy too fast can trigger withdrawal headaches. Even if you’re just a one-coffee-a-day gal, wean yourself first to half a cup — or switch to a less-potent tea — before nixing caffeine entirely if that’s what you’ve decided to do. The same rule goes for soda.
  • Get some air. Avoid hot, stuffy spaces and strong odors (you’re more sensitive to them than ever), and dress in layers so you can start peeling them off before overheating leads to a headache. Stuck inside? Get some fresh air a couple of times a day, or at least open a window.
  • Switch lighting. Fluorescent lighting and windowless work spaces can trigger headaches, so take whatever steps you can to control your environment — or at least take breaks from it as frequently as you can.
  • Seek peace and quiet. Noise can give you a headache (duh!); if you’re extra-sensitive to loud noises you can make it a point to avoid the worst offenders (the mall, loud parties, boisterous restaurants). If your job is extra noisy, talk to your boss about taking steps to reduce the excess noise — or even ask for a transfer to a quieter area, if possible.
  • Watch your posture. Try not to slouch, slump or bend over while you do close work (knitting baby booties?) for long stretches of time.
  • Go alternative. To prevent stress from building up into a headache, take a prenatal yoga class, meditate or do some breathing exercises — anything that’ll help you relax. Or try alternative medical treatments including acupuncture, acupressure or prenatal massage.
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