Headaches during pregnancy - causes and treatment

Headaches are not uncommon during pregnancy, but there are certain things you should look out for, and some treatments to avoid

Dr Isma Ali from Doctor Care Anywhere offers advice on headache symptoms and relief.

pregnant woman headache and water

What causes headaches during pregnancy?

Headaches are, unfortunately, fairly common during pregnancy. During your first trimester, changes in your hormone levels and an increase in the amount of blood circulating in your body can lead to tension-type headaches. In most cases, though, these will settle after the first three months.

Other common causes of headaches are:

  • Hunger

  • Dehydration

  • Fatigue

  • Stress or anxiety

Cutting out caffeine can also lead to unpleasant "withdrawal" headaches - these should disappear after a few days as your body acclimatises. 

Should I worry about headaches during pregnancy?

Generally, women do not need to be concerned about headaches, unless they are of new onset or severe - in which case, you will need to be seen by a medical professional. If you have any worries, it's worth raising these with your antenatal team.

How to treat or relieve headaches during pregnancy

It is safe to take paracetamol in pregnancy, but other medications such as aspirin or anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen) are not recommended for pregnant women.

If you require stronger painkillers or medication for other reasons it is important to consult your healthcare provider or antenatal team for advice.

Migraines during pregnancy

Pre-existing conditions, such as migraines, may remain the same  - or in some cases, worsen. The good news, for some, is that migraines have been said to improve in up to two-thirds of pregnancies. 

Migraines can be difficult to deal with and so it is important to alert your healthcare provider early, and to try and avoid any known triggers.

Cases when headaches could cause concern 

Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition, which mostly occurs in the second or third trimester, and is associated with a headache. This is a sign of high blood pressure and can present with other symptoms such as visual changes, severe upper abdominal pain, nausea or swelling of the hands or face.

At every antenatal appointment, your blood pressure will be checked, and if there are any concerns about you having pre-eclampsia, the hospital will do further tests.

You can't prevent pre-eclampsia, and it is only relieved by having your baby - but there are medications that can be used to control your blood pressure during pregnancy.

Other symptoms to look out for and seek medical attention if they occur are:

  • Headache after any head injury

  • Severe sudden onset of headache – like a 'bang' on the head

  • Headache with a stiff neck or fever

  • Worsening headache along with visual changes, slurred speech, drowsiness or numbness

  • Sign of sinusitis – nasal congestion, fever or pain in the face

To avoid headaches, simple things you can try include:

  • Avoiding triggers

  • Eating and drinking frequently to avoid hunger or dehydration

  • Resting well and getting enough sleep

  • Light exercise

  • Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga or pilates

  • Massage can reduce tension in the muscles

  • Consider acupuncture, although there is no documented evidence of its effectiveness, however it is known to be safe in pregnancy.

What Mumsnetters recommend for treating headaches during pregnancy

"I'm just trying to drink more water and rest, as paracetamol doesn't touch them. For migraines, a cold flannel on the head and a dark, quiet room works a treat."

"Try to limit screen time if possible - that always made my headaches worse. Also, eat bananas as low potassium can make them worse."

"If they are migraines, watch your blood sugar levels and note any particular foods that set them off."

"I tried taking paracetamol which works a little but not enough to stop the thudding! 4head is amazing - I take it everywhere I go now, more or less gives me instant relief. Doesn't last for very long, but it's great for slapping on before bed and then at least you can drift off comfortably."

"On the plus side, once I was in the second trimester my headaches stopped completely. Hopefully that'll happen for you too!"

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Last updated: 23 days ago