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Maria Kammerer and Paula Kashtan

Headaches During Pregnancy

The 411 on what could be causing that headache and how to make it go—and stay—away.

Headaches aren't some strange new phenomenon, but you may have noticed you’ve been getting them more and more lately. A pounding head is pretty common during pregnancy, especially headaches in early pregnancy. Here's what might be causing those pregnancy headaches and how to find some relief.

What Causes Headaches During Pregnancy?

There are a few pregnancy-related things that could be causing your headaches: Surging hormones, drops in blood sugar, increased blood volume and circulation, stress, lack of sleep, dehydration and caffeine withdrawal all can lead to a pounding head. If you suffered from migraines pre-pregnancy, you might get them more (or, if you’re lucky, less). Also, some headaches are caused by vision changes from those pregnancy hormones. If you’re experiencing some major vision changes, you might want to go to your optometrist to see what he can do to help. Luckily, these headaches should stop during your second trimester as your body adjusts to the new hormone levels.

Headaches during pregnancy can also be a sign of certain conditions like anemia, asthma, cold, flu, HELLP syndrome (hemolysis elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count), migraine, preeclampsia, sinusitis, toxoplasmosis and varicella (chicken pox).

How To Treat Headaches During Pregnancy

What can you take for a headache while pregnant? First, you can try to prevent getting headaches altogether by getting plenty of sleep, exercising, eating healthy and staying hydrated.

If you get a headache, you can try some of these at-home remedies:

  • Apply a warm compress to your face or a cold compress to the back of your neck
  • Rest in a dark room
  • Eat small, frequent meals to make sure your blood levels don’t drop
  • Take a warm shower

If these natural methods don't relieve the pain, talk to your doctor about medication that's safe to take during pregnancy. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is usually okay to use. It's generally recommended that pregnant women steer clear of meds like aspirin and ibuprofen, and never pop any pills or supplements without your doctor's approval.

When To See The Doctor About Headaches

Most headaches during pregnancy aren’t a big deal, but sometimes they can be a sign of a serious problem. If you’ve never gotten a migraine before and then get one while you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor. You can tell you have a migraine if the pain is moderate to severe, there’s intense pounding or throbbing, there’s a steady ache and you experience nausea or vomiting. Also, if you have a headache that’s extremely painful and doesn’t feel like one you’ve ever had before, talk to your doctor immediately, especially if it’s accompanied by a fever, stiff neck, vision changes, slurred speech or numbness. If you get severe headaches during the second or third trimester, talk to your doctor—this could be a sign of preeclampsia.

Plus, more from The Bump:

Ways to Deal With Pregnancy’s Aches and Pains

Treating a Headache Without Medication

Most Common Pregnancy Symptoms