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Maria Kammerer and Paula Kashtan

Headaches During Pregnancy

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

What is a headache?

We know you know what a headache is, of course. But you may have noticed you’ve been getting them more and more lately. Headaches are really common during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester.

What could be causing my headaches?

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.

But headaches can 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).

What should I do to treat my headaches?

You can try to avoid headaches by getting plenty of sleep, exercising, eating healthy and staying hydrated. If you get a headache, you can 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 or take a warm shower. If these natural methods don't relieve the pain, talk to your doctor about medication. 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 should I go to the doctor with my headache?

Most headaches during pregnancy aren’t a big deal, but sometimes they could 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 severe headaches occur 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