Headaches are a common pregnancy symptom in early pregnancy. They typically occur in the first trimester, but they can return in the third trimester. They are normal, but in rare cases, they can sign a serious problem that requires medical attention.
About Pregnancy Headaches
In the first trimester, pregnant women often experience tension headaches. This type of pregnancy headache feels like a squeezing pain, or a dull ache on both sides of your head. Sometimes, a tension headache can extend to the back of the neck.
(Some women will experience migraine headaches for the first time in pregnancy, as well. Tension headaches are more common, though.)
You may notice that you have more headaches than normal in pregnancy. This is especially true if you are under a lot of stress and you’re not sleeping well. Being hungry and dehydrated (not getting enough to drink) can also trigger pregnancy headaches.
This pregnancy symptom can also be common in the first trimester due to an expecting mother’s sudden caffeine withdrawal. You will want to limit your caffeine consumption during pregnancy, because high amounts of caffeine have been linked to miscarriages and other pregnancy complications. When a woman suddenly stop drinking her daily cup of java, or she cuts down on other sources of caffeine, this can bring on pregnancy headaches.
What Causes Headaches in Pregnancy?
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes pregnant women to be more prone to headaches. However, it is widely believed that the hormonal changes that occur in a pregnant woman’s body, as well as the increase in blood volume and blood circulation that take place, play a role in triggering this pregnancy symptom.
Most women find that their pregnancy headaches disappear in the second trimester. Scientists believe this is due to your body adjusting to the elevated hormones. It’s also possible that pregnancy hormones tend to level off once you hit the “honeymoon” of pregnancy.
Sometimes, the vision changes that occur in pregnancy can also cause headaches. (Pregnant women can experience some vision loss, or blurriness when expecting.) If you think your pregnancy headaches may be brought on to vision changes, take a visit to your optometrist for a check up. A new prescription may be all it takes to get relief from this common pregnancy symptom.
(Make sure that you keep your old glasses or contacts. Your vision will usually go back to normal after you have your baby.)
How to Cope with Pregnancy Headaches
In many cases, headaches in pregnancy will go away in the second trimester (which begins at pregnancy week 24 and lasts until you’re 28 weeks pregnant).
Pregnancy headaches can be painful. Try to get relief from this pregnancy symptom using natural methods, before you use any medication. (Always talk to your midwife or OB before you use any medication or herbal remedies. Not all medications are safe for your unborn baby. In most cases, Tylenol is one of the safest pain relief for you to use in pregnancy. Don’t use Advil or Aleve. They may have adverse affects on your baby.)
You may be able to soothe your headache with warm or cold compresses. Reducing stress, whether by avoiding stressful situations, or using relaxation exercises may help you feel better.
If you’re aware of any headache triggers, you’ll want to avoid those as well. If pregnancy headaches become a real problem for you, be sure to keep a diary or journal of your symptoms. This can make it easier for you to figure out what triggers this painful pregnancy symptom. Avoiding triggers may offer some relief.
When to Call the Doctor
Most headaches are harmless, but severe headaches can be a sign of a more serious problem – such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy). Always talk to your doctor about your headaches.
You’ll need to immediately contact your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Headaches that are sudden or very intense. If the pain from your headache is strong enough to arouse you from sleep, call the doctor right away.
- A pregnancy headache comes with a fever, or a stiff neck.
- You experience nasal congestion, dental pain, pain or pressure underneath your eyes, along with your headache. (This may be a sign of a sinus infection.)
- Headaches that occur after you’ve fallen or hit your head.