Updated: 2019, Jun 12

Pregnancy Headaches – Safe Tips to Treat Headaches During Pregnancy

By - Reviewed by CHD Team
Pregnancy Headaches

One of the earliest signs of pregnancy is headache. It is estimated that 1 out of 5 pregnant mothers suffer throbbing headache or migraine. Headache is not unusual when one is pregnant but may also indicate an underlying problem or a complication. The old wives’ tale that says headache is associated with having a baby boy is purely a myth.

Is Headache a Common Symptom During Pregnancy?

Headache is a common physiological response to pregnancy. Especially in the first trimester, headaches affect expecting mothers more frequently than usual, although it can occur at some point during pregnancy. There are many types of headaches but the most common one is the tension headache which is characterized by steady, squeezing pain felt on the both sides of the head or sometimes, back of the neck. Other types of headache are migraine and cluster headache.

Important: Do not confuse headache with migraine. Migraines have worse pain and often unbearable. Migraine is a crippling condition that even a little movement can aggravate the pain. Migraines tend to run in families, so women who have family history of recurrent headache or migraine are more likely to suffer the symptom.

What Causes Headache during Pregnancy?

There are many factors that contribute to frequent headache episodes during pregnancy. Read on the following causes of headache:

  • Infection such as colds, cough
  • Poor dietary intake, low sugar level, fasting
  • Abdominal gas
  • Hormonal surge (estrogen levels trigger migraine)
  • Increased circulating volume in the body
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Sleeplessness, sleep disorders
  • Too much fatigue
  • Hypotension, low blood pressure
  • Allergic reactions
  • Eye problem, eye strain
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Vitamin supplementation insufficiency
  • Strong light and odor

How to Relieve Headache During Pregnancy?

It should be mentioned that remedies for headache is contingent upon what causes it.

  • Identify What Triggers Headache: Chocolates, artificial sweeteners, MSG, citrus fruits, coffee, cheese and peanuts are foods that can trigger headaches.
  • Keep a Headache Diary or Journal: Keeping a detailed record helps recognize a pattern and keeps track on what triggers the headache. In the headache diary, write down the symptoms, the duration of headache (time started and ended), the food and drinks consumed 24 hours before and after headache occurs, and the type of environment (e.g sleeping while lights on, loud music).
  • Perform Low-Intensity Workout: Light exercise such as yoga and brisk walking is believed to help calm headaches.
  • Stress Can Aggravate Headache: Take a break from household chores and do things that you enjoy. Pamper self with a massage or a hair smoothing treatment at a salon. Spending time with family and friends also help relieve stress.
  • Do not Let Yourself Hungry: Low level of glucose in the brain can cause headache. Keep snacks on hand. Avoid bolus meals. Experts advise mothers to eat in small, frequent feeding. To prevent exercise-induced hypoglycemia, take sugarless gum or candy, soda or juice. Similarly, drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
  • Get Plenty of Rest and Sleep: Insufficient hours of sleep can cause headaches.
  • Maintain a Proper Posture: One of the surprising triggers of headache is postural dysfunction. Good posture not only relieves back pain but also calms muscle tension.
  • Use Warm Compress or Take a Shower: Warm dilates blood vessels thereby increasing blood flow to the brain.
  • Perform a Self-Massage: Relieve headache by placing thumbs on the side of the bridge of the nose at which point it joins the forehead. Apply pressure for 10 seconds then release. Repeat this up to 5 times. Also, release tension by massaging the area under the eyebrows and temples. Finish it by stretching the neck muscles.
  • Consider Acupuncture: Study shows that acupuncture eases chronic head pain as well as migraine. Acupuncture also enhances sleeping, relieves stress, reduces anxiety and treats infection.
  • Avoid Any lighting Source such as Watching Television: Promote sleeping by keeping the bedroom dim and quiet. Playing a soothing music may help you feel relax.

Are There Painkillers Safe to Take by Pregnant Mothers?

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is safe to take during pregnancy. Drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen are not recommended. These medications could cause low birth weight and abnormalities to the baby. Doctors warn mothers to only take acetaminophen when natural relieving measures seem not to work. Long term consumption of acetaminophen can be damaging to kidneys and livers. More importantly, take the drug as directed. Avoid taking herbs without consulting a doctor.

Is Headache During Pregnancy a Sign of Concerning Issue?

So, when to call a doctor?

The following can be warning signs of serious health problems:

  • Unstopping pain that lasts for days to week
  • Headache accompanied by fever (may indicate infection)
  • Sleeplessness due to unbearable pain
  • Pain in the head associated with high blood pressure, blurring of vision and swelling (may indicate preeclampsia)
  • Headache accompanied by nasal congestion (may indicate sinusitis)
  • Pain in the head following fall or head injury


Headache is a universal physiological experience happens in nearly all expecting mothers, especially in the first three months of pregnancy where hormones go haywire. The treatment of headache is contingent upon its cause or what triggers it. Thus, it is helpful and wise for pregnant mothers to keep a food diary and journal to take note of what predisposes them to experiencing headaches.

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