BISERKA KNEZIĆ FRKOVIĆ MSc. spec.gin. dr.med. (domski)

Headaches or Migraines in Pregnancy


What you need to know

It's quite common to experience headaches during pregnancy, especially if you have suffered with them before you were pregnant. Some pregnant women find they get a lot of headaches.

Headaches can get worse in the first few months of pregnancy, but they usually improve or stop completely during the last six months. They don't harm the baby, but they can be uncomfortable for you.

Coping with Headaches in Pregnancy

Changes to your lifestyle may help prevent headaches. Try to get more regular rest and relaxation. You could try a pregnancy yoga class, take a warm bath, and avoid stressful situations.

Taking paracetamol in the recommended dose is generally considered safe for pregnant women. Codeine can only be taken if prescibed by a Doctor, as this can affect the baby. You should not take NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflamatory Drugs) medications such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen during pregnancy unless your doctor tells you to.

Make sure you keep hydrated! If you haven't drank enough water- especially on a hot day- this can cause a headache.

If you often have bad headaches, tell your midwife or doctor so they can advise you. Severe headaches can be a sign of high blood pressure and you should seek urgent advice, as this could indicate a serious condition called pre-eclampsia. This usually happens after 20 weeks gestation.

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that affects some pregnant women during pregnancy or shortly after the delivery of their baby.

Women with pre-eclampsia have:

  • high blood pressure
  • fluid retention or swelling, usually in the hands, feet and/or face (oedema)
  • protein in the urine (proteinuria)
  • Headaches
  • Visual disturbances- such as 'flashing lights'
  • Epigastric pain 

If it's not treated, it can lead to serious complications. Pre-eclampsia can cause growth problems in the unborn baby. 

Migraines in Pregnancy

Exactly what causes migraine headaches isn't known. However migraines appear to involve changes in nerve pathways, neurochemicals and blood flow in the brain. Researchers believe that over-excited brain cells stimulate a release of chemicals. These chemicals irritate blood vessels on the brain's surface, which causes blood vessels to swell and stimulate the pain response.

Oestrogen is thought to play a role in migraines. That's why pregnancy, menstruation and menopause often change a woman's pattern of migraine headaches.

Migraines are quite unpredictable. So while pregnancy may make them worse for one woman, they might completely disappear for another.

A headache diary can let you keep track of your particular triggers. This will help your doctor decide what treatment will work best to relieve your specific symptoms. It may also help you recognise a pattern that tells you which triggers to avoid while you're pregnant.

Speak to your Midwife or GP about your migraine treatment. You may need to change your pre-pregnancy medication to something more suitable for pregnancy. You may be referred to see one of our consultants if your migraines persist.

Information sourced from NHS Choices


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