It's not unusual to get tension headaches when you're pregnant, especially in the first trimester. Tension headaches – the most common kind of headache – can feel like a squeezing pain or a steady dull ache on both sides of the head or the back of the neck. If you've always been susceptible to tension headaches, pregnancy can make the problem worse.
Experts don't know exactly why carrying a child tends to make your head ache more often, but one good guess is the hormonal free-for-all that's taking place in your body. Your increased blood volume and circulation may also play a part, especially in early pregnancy. Going cold turkey on caffeine can also make your head pound.
Other potential culprits include lack of sleep or general fatigue, sinus congestion, allergies, eyestrain, stress, depression, hunger, and dehydration.
If you have headaches in your first trimester, you'll probably find that they diminish or even disappear during the second trimester, when the flood of hormones stabilizes and your body grows accustomed to its altered chemistry. What about migraines?
Migraines are another common type of headache. Experts estimate that about 1 in 5 women has a migraine headache at some time in her life, and about 15 percent of migraine sufferers get migraines for the first time when they're pregnant (most often in the first trimester).
Migraine headaches cause moderate to severe throbbing pain, typically on one side of the head. They last from four to 72 hours (if untreated) and are aggravated by physical activity. They can also be accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and noise.
Some migraine sufferers have what are known as migraines with aura – that is, headaches that are preceded by symptoms that may include visual changes (such as bright flashing lights or blind spots), sensations of numbness or "pins and needles," weakness, and speech disturbances. These symptoms may start as long as an hour before a migraine and may last up to an hour.
Fortunately, about two-thirds of women who are prone to migraines notice that they improve during pregnancy. (This is more likely if your migraines tended to be worse around your periods or started when you first began menstruating.) Others notice no change or find that their headaches become more frequent and intense.
Even if you're part of the unlucky minority whose migraines don't improve during pregnancy, you can at least take some solace in the fact that migraine sufferers don't appear to have a higher risk of pregnancy complications than other women. What can you do to treat headaches during pregnancy?
The best way to deal with headaches is to avoid them altogether. Avoiding tension headaches is easiest when you follow these tips:
Practice good posture (especially during the third trimester)
Get plenty of rest and relaxation
Eat well-balanced meals
Apply cold or heat packs to your head
If you have a sinus headache, apply a warm compress around your eyes and nose
If you have a tension headache, apply a cold compress or ice pack at the base of your neck
Maintain your blood sugar by eating smaller, more frequent meals. This may also help prevent future headaches
Get a massage. Massaging your shoulders and neck is an effective way to relieve pain