We’re gonna give it to you straight: Pregnancy can mess with your head. And we’re not just talking about brain fog and forgetfulness. We’re also talking about headaches — migraine attacks, in particular.
Migraine is a type of headache that can cause intense throbbing, usually on one side of the head. Imagine having a 3-year-old living behind your eye socket and relentlessly pounding a drum. Each beat sends waves of agony through your skull. The pain can make natural childbirth seem like a walk in the park.
Well, almost. Maybe we shouldn’t go that far — but migraine attacks can be very painful.
Migraine affects about 30 million AmericansTrusted Source, 75 percent of whom are women. While many women (up to 80 percent) find that their migraine attacks improve with pregnancy, others struggle on.
In fact, about 15 to 20 percent of pregnant women experience migraine. Women who have migraine attacks with “aura” — a neurological event that accompanies or proceeds migraine and can manifest as flashing lights, wavy lines, vision loss, and tingling or numbness — generally don’t see their headaches improve during pregnancy, according to experts.
So what’s a mom-to-be to do when a migraine attack strikes? What’s safe to take and what’s not? Is migraine ever dangerous enough that you should seek emergency medical care?
Most headaches during pregnancy — including migraine — are nothing to worry about. But that’s not to say that migraine attacks aren’t incredibly annoying, and, in some cases, dangerous for pregnant women and their babies.
Here’s everything you need to know about migraine during pregnancy so you can tackle the pain — head on.
Migraine headaches seem to have a genetic component, which means they tend to run in families. That said, there’s usually a triggering event that unleashes them. One of the most common triggers — at least for women — is fluctuating hormone levels, particularly the rise and fall of estrogen.
Moms-to-be who get migraine attacks tend to experience them most often in the first trimester of pregnancy, when hormone levels, including estrogen, haven’t yet stabilized. (In fact, headaches in general are an early pregnancy sign for a lot of women.)
An increase in blood volume, which is also common in the first trimester, can be an additional factor. As blood vessels in the brain expand to accommodate extra blood flow, they can press against sensitive nerve endings, causing pain.
Other common migraine triggers, whether you’re pregnant or not, include:
- Not getting enough sleep. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends 8–10 hours per night when you’re pregnant. Sorry, Jimmy Fallon — we’ll catch you on the flip side.
- Not staying hydrated. According to the American Migraine Foundation, one-third of those who get migraine headaches say dehydration is a trigger. Pregnant women should aim for 10 cups (or 2.4 liters) of fluid daily. Try to drink them earlier in the day so sleep isn’t interrupted by nighttime visits to the bathroom.
- Certain foods. These include chocolate, aged cheeses, wines (not that you should be drinking any of those), and foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG).
- Exposure to bright, intense light. Light-related triggers include sunlight and florescent lighting.
- Exposure to strong smells. Examples include paints, perfumes, and your toddler’s explosive diaper.
- Weather changes.