Headaches in pregnancy

Headaches are common in pregnancy, the most common kind are tension headaches

At a glance

  • Headaches are common in pregnancy
  • The most common kind are tension headaches

Are headaches in pregnancy common?

Headaches are common in pregnancy, particular in early pregnancy when your body is adapting to the changes you’re undergoing. While it’s not known what exactly causes a head to ache during pregnancy, it is thought to be connected to fluctuations in hormones and changes in blood circulation.

The most common kinds of headaches in pregnancy are tension headaches, and if you are normally susceptible to these kinds of headaches then pregnancy can make this worse. Tension headaches can feel like a squeezing pain or steady dull ache on both sides of the head or the back of the neck.

What about pregnancy migraines?

Some women experience migraines for the first time in pregnancy and some experience an increase in migraine symptoms in the first trimester. The pain is a different kind to that of a tension headache. Migraines tend cause a throbbing pain, typically on one side of the head. Other migraine symptoms include nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise.

However, around two-thirds of women who suffered migraines before pregnancy will find that their migraines improve while pregnant, particularly if they were linked to your menstruation cycle. 

Could there be other reasons for my pregnancy headaches?

Pregnancy headaches are not always connected with pregnancy and can occur due to other lifestyle related reasons, some of which are common in pregnancy such as:

  • Giving up or cutting down on caffeine
  • Feeling tired or stressed
  • Dehydration or feeling hungry
  • Particular foods or allergies
  • A cold or flu 

Can I take painkillers to relieve a headache while pregnant?

Paracetamol is safe during pregnancy and can be taken to ease the pain of a headache. However the NHS recommend using the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time while pregnant and pregnant women should not take medication that contains added caffeine. If paracetamol doesn’t help with the pain then contact your doctor for more advice.

Ibuprofen or codeine should not be used during pregnancy unless your doctor has advised you to. This is particularly important within the first and third trimesters as taking ibuprofen can increase the risk of miscarriage and delayed labour. The risk lessens during your second trimester, but its best to opt for paracetamol if possible.

Aspirin should not be taken during pregnancy unless specifically advised by your doctor. Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory medications may sometimes be recommended for certain pregnancy complications, but in the case of headaches it is not advised. 

Is migraine medicine safe during pregnancy?

We recommend consulting your doctor when taking any sort of medication for headaches even if you know of other mothers taking migraine medicine. This will give you reassurance and allows your doctor to recommend and advise on a case to case basis. It may be that your doctor suggests you take something else instead such as anti-nausea tablets. But remember, if you are taking drugs to ease your symptoms, ensure you’re taking as few drugs as possible at low doses. 

Is there anything else I can do to help my pregnancy headaches?

Dealing with pregnancy headaches is no fun at all, but if paracetamol doesn’t help there are other things can you try. Getting as much rest as possible and reducing stress can help you to avoid headaches, while keeping a ‘headache diary’ often pinpoints a specific trigger for your headaches which you can avoid.

Some mums find that a warm compress on your forehead made from a flannel dipped in warm water can help. Massaging your head or asking someone to gently rub the pulse points on your forehead can help with the pain, or if you can afford it, getting a professional pregnancy massage can also help to relieve muscle tension. 

When should I seek help for pregnancy headaches?

Most pregnancy headaches are unpleasant but harmless. However, if you’re experiencing other unusual symptoms such as blurred vision, violent vomiting, sudden swelling and inflammation or a headache accompanied by stomach pain, loin pain or urinary symptoms, consult your doctor straight away.

At a glance

  • Headaches are common in pregnancy
  • The most common kind are tension headaches

Pregnancy conditions