Headaches are a problem that many women face during pregnancy. Along with the extremely unpleasant feeling, the problem is complicated by the fact that most of the drugs usually used for headaches are not suitable for use during pregnancy.
Although it is a common problem, unexpected, frequent headaches in the later stages of pregnancy can be a sign of a more serious condition called preeclampsia, so tell your doctor if this is the case! If you often suffer from headaches during pregnancy, which is not affected by the usual medications used for headaches, visit your doctor!
Causes of headaches during pregnancy
Many women experience headaches during pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimesters.
Take a look at our best pillow for tension headaches guide.
Common reasons for this are hormonal changes, an increase in the amount of blood the body produces, insufficient sleep, a withdrawal reaction from caffeine (coffee, tea, or cola), low blood sugar, dehydration, stress, and poor posture, especially when the baby grows bigger. (1)
How to deal with headaches during pregnancy?
Headaches during pregnancy caused by hormonal changes
The rising estrogen levels are a cause of headaches in many women in early pregnancy. If your headache or migraine is caused by a sudden influx of these extra hormones, then you will probably have more problems during the first trimester of pregnancy, when the rise in hormone levels occurs faster. To relieve headaches associated with hormonal changes during pregnancy, you can try:
- Mix dandelion root, lemon water, and diluted apple cider vinegar in a glass of water and drink it.
- Eat more cruciferous vegetables that will help your body absorb excess estrogen.
- Try fermented cruciferous foods such as raw sauerkraut. This will give you an extra dose of probiotics!
Usually, hormone levels stabilize in the second trimester and many women find relief after the end of the first trimester.
Headaches during pregnancy related to blood volume
During pregnancy, women have an increased blood volume – in fact, the volume of plasma increases by 40 to 50% and the mass of red blood cells by 20 to 30%. (2)
There are two things that can help maintain increased blood volume – salt and proteins.
Unless your doctor recommends otherwise, do not limit salt during pregnancy (unless you eat snacks, packaged and processed foods that are significantly high in sodium too often). If you eat wholesome, real food, then salt your food to make sure you get enough. Use high mineral salt for the best nutrition.
One of the properties of salt is that it causes the body to retain fluid, which under normal conditions is retained in the bloodstream for use in placental perfusion.
Restricting salt during pregnancy limits the normal expansion of blood volume. And, blood volume below the level needed to maintain the growing placenta could lead to disastrous consequences. (3)
Aim to get at least 80 grams of protein a day. If you are struggling with swelling, headaches, or high blood pressure, you can increase it to 100-120 grams per day with the approval of your doctor.
The liver of a pregnant woman produces albumin to facilitate the expansion of blood volume. When it is in the mother’s bloodstream, it increases the osmotic pressure, which draws the extra fluid from her tissues back into the bloodstream. The only way the liver can synthesize this albumin is by using the protein that the mother eats with food.
These headaches associated with salt and protein levels during pregnancy are especially common in the first and third trimesters.
Headaches during pregnancy associated with dietary changes
Obviously, there are certain foods and drinks that you should avoid during pregnancy, but others are beneficial in moderation. If you suspect that refusing coffee may be to blame for the headache, try some caffeine (no more than 200 mg). Or if you think the blame is on sugar, take something with natural sugars, such as fruit.
Headaches associated with diet during pregnancy usually disappear after the body adjusts to the new diet (without caffeine, sugar, and stimulants).
Headaches during pregnancy associated with changes in blood sugar levels
It is normal for women’s blood sugar levels to rise during pregnancy due to the extra hormones produced by the placenta. When blood sugar drops, it can cause headaches and migraines in some. (4)
To prevent headaches due to blood sugar imbalance, make sure you get enough complex carbohydrates from fruits, starchy vegetables (peas, beets, carrots), and whole grains. And of course, try to eat enough protein and healthy fats to stabilize that blood sugar.
This type of headache caused by changes in blood sugar levels can continue throughout pregnancy.
Headaches during pregnancy associated with nasal congestion and sinus irritation
During pregnancy, all tissues in the body swell, including the nasal passages, which can lead to congestion and retention of allergens that irritate and inflame the tissues in the sinus area, causing sinus pressure and pain that can lead to headaches or even migraines.
For relief, you can rinse your sinuses with a neti pot. Use salt in your water. Some mothers find relief by adding a little baking soda.
You can also take a steam bath to relieve sinus congestion by filling a bowl with hot water, leaning over it, and covering your head with a large towel to catch the steam and let it penetrate the sinuses. If you are struggling with seasonal allergies, increase your vitamin C intake by eating foods such as fresh peppers, citrus fruits, and strawberries.
These types of headaches can last throughout pregnancy.
Headaches during pregnancy associated with fatigue and exhaustion
Exhaustion or pregnancy itself can cause headaches! The body puts a lot of strain on doing everything it needs to develop human life – pumping large amounts of hormones, sending nutrients to the baby, and even raising another organ (the placenta!). No wonder you’re so tired!
How to get relief? Put yourself first. It’s easier said than done, isn’t it?! But it is important to listen to your body. Get a light nap or an extra hour of sleep when you can and make sure you are hydrated enough and eat well. If appetite is a problem, eat what you can. If it’s rice crackers, shakes, fruit, and the like… so be it!
These types of headaches associated with fatigue and exhaustion during pregnancy are most common in the first and third trimesters when the body is at its busiest.
Headaches during pregnancy associated with dehydration
Pregnant women need more water than the average person – water helps form the placenta and amniotic sac. Your baby depends on all the water to help him grow! Aim to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water a day.
When you have a headache, try drinking 500 ml of extra water to see if it helps. To make the water tastier and easier to drink in larger quantities, try adding to it:
- several pieces of cucumber
- a few pieces of fresh fruit and mint leaves
- fresh lemon or lemon juice
This type of dehydration-related headache during pregnancy is usually easily prevented as long as you are hydrated! Remember to drink more fluids at work or in hot weather.
Migraine is a special type of headache that most often occurs on one side of the head – it can be moderate or very painful.
People who suffer from migraines may also feel sick, vomit, and feel hypersensitive to light or sound. Migraines can get worse in the first months of pregnancy, but for many women, the condition can improve in the later stages of pregnancy when the level of the hormone estrogen stabilizes.
In other women, there may be no change or even a reduction in the number of migraine headaches during pregnancy. Some women may have differences in migraines during different pregnancies.
Home remedies for migraines and headaches during pregnancy
It is not recommended that pregnant women with migraines use the usual migraine medications. For other headaches, it is recommended that you try to treat your headache without medication. For this purpose, you can try:
- more sleep, rest, and relaxation
- yoga exercises for pregnant women or other exercises
- practicing good posture, especially later in pregnancy
- regular and well-balanced meals
- placing a warm face towel over the eye and nose area if it is a sinus headache
- putting a cold compress on the neck if it is a tension headache
- neck and shoulder massage
Pregnant women who have migraines should avoid things that can exacerbate the attacks. This may include:
- canned meat
- aged cheese
- monosodium glutamate
- strong or flashing lights
- strong odors
- loud sounds
- computer or movie screens
- sudden or excessive physical exertion
- emotional challenges or stress
If you are taking medicines for headaches or migraines, you should first consult your doctor. Paracetamol is generally considered safe for use in pregnant women, but you should avoid using other pain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
Magnesium helps to relax muscles and prevents premature uterine contractions during pregnancy. It also strengthens the baby’s muscles and teeth. Therefore, a daily intake of 400 mg of magnesium is recommended.
One cup of spinach contains approximately 157 mg of magnesium and is, therefore, a good nutritional component for the menu of pregnant women. A tasty and easy way to take advantage of the useful ingredients of spinach is in the form of a shake:
Spinach Shake Ingredients:
- 1 cup spinach
- 2 tablespoons vanilla ice cream
Put the spinach in boiling water for five minutes. Mix the spinach and ice cream leaves together and the shake is ready.
Another way to include more magnesium in your diet is by including almonds in your diet.
Ginger is used as a natural anti-nausea remedy. It also acts as a natural remedy for headaches during pregnancy. Ginger blocks prostaglandins, which stimulate muscle contractions and help prevent headaches. It can be taken in the form of ginger tea:
Take a piece of ginger root (2 cm), a few mint leaves, half a lemon, and 2 glasses of water. Soak the ginger roots and mint leaves in water and let them stand for five minutes. Strain the water, squeeze the lemon in it and stir. Consume this tea to relieve headaches during pregnancy.
Lemon juice has many health benefits, and the fight against headaches is one of them. It also reduces stomach cramps and improves the immune system. Pregnancy can reduce the levels of vitamin C in the body, leading to headaches.
Lemon also washes toxins from the body, improves blood circulation, and acts as an antioxidant. More about the many beneficial effects of lemon on health can be found in:
To use lemon for headaches during pregnancy you need:
- half a lemon
- slice of grated ginger (optional)
- glass of water
Squeeze the lemon in the water and add the ginger. This is a quick, easy and effective method of treating headaches at home during pregnancy.
When to contact a doctor?
If you have frequent headaches that do not respond to paracetamol, this may be a sign of a more serious condition called preeclampsia. This usually includes an increase in a pregnant woman’s blood pressure and kidney problems.
There are other serious risks for both the pregnant woman and the baby. Preeclampsia occurs mainly in the second half of pregnancy.
Contact your doctor, especially if:
- the headache is accompanied by blurred vision or pain in the upper right abdomen and swelling of the hands and face.
- occurs after the sixth month of pregnancy
- accompanied by pain under the ribs, heartburn, sudden swelling of the face, arms, or legs, and vision problems.
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