How to Alleviate Headaches During Pregnancy

Three Parts:Treating the Symptoms of HeadachesMaking Lifestyle Changes to Reduce HeadachesRecognizing More Serious Problems

Headaches are very common during pregnancy, especially throughout the first trimester. You can typically treat the symptoms of most mild to moderate headaches at home and make lifestyle changes to avoid future incidences. However, you should see your doctor right away if you experience headaches that are very severe or won't go away, as this may be a symptom of a larger problem.[1]

Part 1
Treating the Symptoms of Headaches

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    Lie down in the dark. Some people with severe headaches and migraines find that they are more sensitive to light. If you're experiencing a painful headache, try lying down in a quiet, dark room to relax and take the strain off of your eyes.[2]
    • If you're able to take a nap while you lie down you may want to do so. Napping can help relieve headaches, but napping for longer than 30 minutes may affect your ability to sleep at night.
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    Apply a cool compress. Cold therapy is a long-standing treatment option for headaches and migraines.[3] The exact mechanism through which cold therapy works is not well known, though some studies suggest it may involve cooling and slowing down the flow of blood to the brain.[4]
    • Place a cool compress on the back of your neck and/or on the part of your head where the headache is most painful.
    • Remove the cool compress after about 20 to 30 minutes. Wait at least 10 to 20 minutes before reapplying.
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    Try heat therapy. Some people find that heat therapy is more effective than cold therapy for treating headaches and migraines. This may have to do with the muscle relaxation that is typically associated with heat therapy.[5] Just make sure that you don't use a compress that's too hot or leave it on for too long, as this may lead to burns. It's also best to avoid lying down with a heat pack to avoid falling asleep and getting burned.
    • A heat compress on your neck may help reduce the symptoms of severe headaches.
    • You can also try taking a hot bath or shower to relax your muscles.
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    Using relaxation techniques. Stress is often a trigger for headaches in many people. Practicing relaxation techniques can lower your stress levels and may help naturally reduce the symptoms of headaches.[6]
    • Take long, slow breaths deep into your diaphragm (below the rib cage). Count to four on each inhalation, hold the breath for four seconds, and exhale to the count of four, then repeat.
    • Get a massage. A professional masseuse can help relieve tension in your muscles, leaving you feeling more relaxed and improving your circulation.
    • Try practicing yoga. Yoga can help relieve stress, improve circulation, and make you feel more relaxed.
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    Consider taking a pregnancy-safe pain reliever. Some pregnant women may be reluctant to take medicine, as there are many medications that can affect the baby if taken during pregnancy. However, many doctors generally agree that certain over-the-counter pain relievers are safe for expectant mothers to take. Talk to your doctor about which medications can and cannot be taken safely during pregnancy.[7]
    • Tylenol and other acetaminophen-based medications are generally considered safe during pregnancy.[8] However, make sure you avoid any medications containing codeine, as this may be unsafe for the baby.[9]
    • Do not take ibuprofen during pregnancy. Ibuprofen has been associated with a number of birth complications, and is best avoided unless your doctor advises that the benefits would outweigh the risks.[10]

Part 2
Making Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Headaches

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    Eat regular meals to avoid low blood pressure. Skipping meals or spacing them too far apart can cause a drop in blood pressure. Some people experience painful headaches when this happens. The best way to avoid a headache caused by low blood pressure is to eat regular, scheduled meals and carry snacks in case you get hungry between meal times.[11]
    • Choose healthy snacks like fresh fruit and vegetables whenever possible.
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    Wean off of caffeine gradually if you give it up. Many pregnant women choose to give up caffeine during the pregnancy. If you decide to do this, you should give it up gradually. Going from a high-dose coffee habit to giving up caffeine cold turkey can cause withdrawal symptoms like sleepiness, depression, and an increase in headaches.[12]
    • Switch to a smaller mug if you use a larger mug to cut back more gradually.
    • Aim to decrease your coffee consumption by 0.5 to 1 cup of coffee less each day.
    • Mix your regular coffee grounds with decaffeinated coffee grounds so that your brewed coffee is at half strength.
    • Try switching to tea instead of coffee, as this may make it easier to decrease your caffeine consumption more gradually.
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    Avoid trigger foods. Some people find that certain foods/drinks are more likely to cause a headache than other foods. While this won't necessarily apply to everyone, if you know you have certain foods that can trigger a headache, it's best to avoid them as much as possible.[13] Some common headache-inducing foods include:
    • chocolate
    • caffeine[14]
    • aged cheese
    • alcohol
    • peanuts
    • bread products made with fresh yeast
    • citrus
    • preserved meats (bologna, smoked fish/meats, hot dogs, sausages, etc.)
    • yogurt
    • sour cream
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    Stay hydrated. Dehydration is a common cause of headaches.[15] The best way to avoid dehydration is to drink plenty of fluids and eat foods with a high water content (like fresh fruits and vegetables) throughout the day. It's generally recommended that adults drink eight glasses of water each day, though a better measure of hydration is to look at the color of your urine. Clear urine is a sign that you're staying hydrated, while darker urine indicates that you need to drink more water.[16]
    • Try to drink water gradually throughout the day so that you never feel too thirsty.
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    Reduce stress. Managing stress can help prevent headaches, especially if you live a high-stress lifestyle or are prone to anxiety. Try avoiding stressful situations as much as possible and delegate stressful tasks to others as much as you can.[17]
    • Try to get more exercise, as this is a great way to relieve stress. Exercise can even block pain signals in your brain, making existing pain more manageable.[18]
    • Try relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and meditation can help relieve tension and may reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches.
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    Get more sleep. Tiredness and lack of sleep are common causes of headaches, especially during pregnancy.[19] Most adults need 7 to 10 hours of sleep each night in order to feel their best.[20] If you're pregnant and you've been experiencing headaches, you may want to try increasing the amount of sleep you get each night.
    • Try to get to bed around the same time each night, even on weekends or days off.[21]
    • Do something relaxing before you go to bed.
    • Try making your bedroom slightly darker and cooler for a better night's sleep.
    • Turn off all electronic products at least 30 minutes before bed.
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    Abstain from smoking and avoid from second-hand smoke. You should always abstain from smoking when you're pregnant to protect the health of your child. However, you may not know that smoking can actually cause headaches. Even second-hand smoke can trigger painful headaches in some individuals.[22]
    • If your roommate, partner, or friends/family members smoke, politely ask them to do so outside and away from you.

Part 3
Recognizing More Serious Problems

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    Look for symptoms of high blood pressure. Any blood pressure reading that is above 120/80 mm Hg is considered high, though there are many varying degrees of severity when it comes to high blood pressure.[23] Most people with high blood pressure do not experience any noticeable symptoms.[24] That's why it's important to see a doctor if you suspect you may have this condition. However, some people with high blood pressure also experience the following symptoms[25]:
    • dizziness
    • blurred vision
    • changes in your field of vision
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    Recognize the signs of pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a condition that may affect some women during pregnancy, usually starting during the second half of the pregnancy. Specifically, pre-eclampsia tends to set in after 24 to 26 weeks, with cases rarely occurring before the 20 week mark.[26] Many cases of pre-eclampsia are mild, but without proper monitoring and treatment it may cause some serious complications during the pregnancy.[27] See your doctor right away if you experience any of the following:.
    • high blood pressure
    • severe headaches
    • protein present in urine samples
    • fluid retention and swelling of the feet, ankles, hands, or face
    • difficulty seeing
    • pain below the ribs
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    See a doctor if symptoms persist or get worse. If you're experiencing headaches that have gotten worse and/or won't go away, the best course of action is to see a doctor right away. Your doctor can rule out or confirm high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, cluster headaches, sinus headaches, and many other possible conditions.[28]


  • Talk to your doctor or OB/GYN before taking medication to relieve headaches, including over-the-counter medications.


  • Do not take ibuprofen while you are pregnant. Ibuprofen has been linked with numerous birth complications and is best avoided if you are pregnant.

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Categories: Pregnancy