Pregnancy Headaches

Headaches are quite common during pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimesters. These are usually tension headaches, although migraines can still occur. Treatment options for headaches during pregnancy include lifestyle changes, medications, and alternative treatments. Be sure to call your healthcare provider if the headache does not get better after a couple of hours or seems to return day after day.

An Overview of Headaches During Pregnancy

Headaches are quite common during pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimesters. Similar to headaches that occur when a women is not pregnant, most headaches during pregnancy are tension headaches (which are also known as stress headaches or tension-type headaches). Migraines are less frequent, although they still can occur (see Pregnancy and Migraines). Other possible common causes of headaches include lack of sleep, hunger, low blood sugar, depression, and dehydration, to name a few.
Although less common, headaches during pregnancy may also be a sign of something more serious. One example is preeclampsia, a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Treatment for Pregnancy Headaches

Your healthcare provider may recommend one or more treatment options for headaches during pregnancy. These options may include:
Lifestyle Changes
When you are pregnant, lifestyle changes may play a role in limiting the frequency and severity of headaches. These lifestyle changes can include:
  • Understanding your headache triggers (see Migraine Triggers) and then avoiding or limiting them
  • Reducing stress
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting adequate amounts of sleep.
A number of medicines are used for treating headaches (see Headache Medicines). However, your healthcare provider may advise against taking most of these, including over-the-counter ones. This is because several of these medicines have been shown to cause possible problems to the fetus during testing. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen sodium (Aleve®), which are available both over-the-counter and with a prescription, are generally not recommended during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. You should also not take anything with aspirin in it, since these medicines can increase the risk of bleeding. Most healthcare providers consider acetaminophen (Tylenol®) to be the medication of choice for headache relief during pregnancy.
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