Headaches can be quite common during pregnancy and can vary in intensity.

Understanding the causes, treatment options and preventive measures can help you manage. Don't forget - always consult with your midwife or GP before starting any new treatment to ensure it's safe for both you and your baby. 

Causes of headaches in pregnancy

Pregnancy brings about a myriad of changes in your body - headaches are often a side effect of these changes. Common causes include:

  1. Hormonal Changes: Fluctuating hormone levels, particularly in the first trimester, can trigger headaches and migraines.
  2. Increased Blood Volume: The increase in blood volume during pregnancy can lead to headaches.
  3. Stress and Fatigue: The emotional and physical stress of pregnancy can contribute to headaches.
  4. Dehydration: Not drinking enough fluids can cause dehydration, which is a common headache trigger.
  5. Caffeine Withdrawal: Reducing or eliminating caffeine intake can lead to withdrawal headaches.
  6. Poor Posture: The additional weight and changes in posture during pregnancy can cause tension headaches.

Managing headaches during pregnancy

Paracetamol is the first choice of painkiller if you're pregnant.

However, for safety, if you take paracetamol in pregnancy, take it for the shortest possible time. You can get advice from your pharmacist, midwife or GP about how much paracetamol you can take and for how long.

There are some painkillers you should avoid in pregnancy – such as those containing codeine, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen – unless prescribed by your doctor.

You can also make changes to your lifestyle to try and help prevent and treat headaches. Try to:

  • drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • get enough sleep – read about tiredness and sleep problems in pregnancy
  • rest and relax – you could try a pregnancy yoga class, for example
  • eat regular, balanced meals to maintain steady blood sugar levels

When to seek medical advice

While most headaches during pregnancy aren't serious, it’s important to call your maternity unit if you're worried, or experience any of the following:

  • Severe or persistent headaches
  • Headaches accompanied by visual disturbances, swelling, or high blood pressure
  • Sudden onset of severe headache
  • Headaches that don't respond to typical treatments

These could be signs of more serious conditions such as pre-eclampsia, which needs medical attention quickly. 

Here because you're a migraine sufferer?

If you have a history of migraines, you may find that they change during pregnancy. Some women experience more frequent migraines, while others notice an improvement.  The Migraine Trust has lots of helpful information.

More Resources

NHS Website

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