Headaches During Pregnancy

Mother Nature's Message

Young woman suffering from a migrane

Terry has a headache. Poor girl had a migraine last week, too. She's six-weeks pregnant and feels lousy. She asks, "Is this normal?" Yep, Terry, unfortunately it is. Headaches are one of the most common yet underpublicized symptoms of pregnancy. Nausea gets all the glory and fatigue comes in second place but headaches are right up there on the top of the symptom-list for many women.

Like morning sickness, women tend to get more headaches in the first trimester than later in pregnancy. Why? In part, its Mother Nature's way of warning us how much more exciting and hectic life is about to become, but there are a lot of physiologic reasons for headaches too. Raging hormones, increased blood volume and circulation get most of the blame but The American Pregnancy Association lists these additional causes for headaches:

- Lack of sleep - Dehydration - Caffeine withdrawal - Stress (too many changes)

Don't underestimate how big a change giving up that diet Pepsi or double cappuccino is. Ask anyone what it felt like to quit their caffeine habit and they'll name "headaches" as their #1 complaint. Add to that the hours of sleep you're not getting because you have to pee all the time, all the late-night talks with your partner about what to name the baby, your aversion to all healthy foods (along with your new diet of crackers, ice water and almost nothing else) and it only makes sense to get a headache.

While some women get fewer migraines during pregnancy (due to dilated blood vessels increasing circulation to the brain), others have more migraines. The real kicker is you can't take most of the medicines that relieve them. What's the message MN is giving us with this symptom? "Get in bed, turn off the lights and ride it out." Talk to your doctor/midwife about other things you can do to relieve your migraines.

If you start getting headaches in your last few months of pregnancy, there's a chance you're developing a complication called pre-eclampsia or pregnancy induced hypertension. Watch out for these accompanying symptoms: blurry vision, sudden weight gain, abdominal pain, and swelling in the hands, feet and face. Call your doctor/midwife and tell them how you're feeling. They'll probably want you to come in to get your blood pressure and urine checked. They may also run some blood tests. Don't be surprised if they recommend you get more rest.

You'll have better luck with headache-induced bed rest if this is your first baby than if you have a toddler (and a first-grader and maybe an adolescent or two) banging on your door. Call your mom, sister, best friend or baby sitter and ask them to take your older kids out for a few hours while you take a nap (and maybe some Tylenol).

Mother Nature's a noisy girl and not the least-bit subtle. She can be ruthless and blunt. Listen to her when she tells you something loud and clear with an annoying physical symptom like a headache. Her biggest message? "Build your village, honey...you're going to need it." Once you have children, your girlfriends and sisters are going to be more important than an iced mocha or martini ever was in your pre-kid life. Seriously, don't hesitate to call them when you need, NEED a break from your little ones because you've got a lousy, rotten, no good headache.

Turnabout's fair play, though. Be there when they call you.

Terry, I hope your headache is short-lived and the rest of your pregnancy is a breeze. Get some rest and know that all will be well soon enough. I'll be thinking about you.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to jeanne@jeannefaulkner.com.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.