Migraine headaches during pregnancy
Reviewed by our clinical team
Migraines are a moderate or severe headache that can disrupt daily life. They’re not like a normal headache as migraines often come with other symptoms such as vomiting, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.
If you’re planning on becoming pregnant or are pregnant you might be wondering if the migraines you experience will change during your pregnancy or if you’ll get migraines for the first time. In this article we’ll explore how the hormonal changes in pregnancy affect migraines, whether migraines are common during pregnancy and what migraine medication is safe to take. We’ll also advise you what steps you can take if you get a migraine during pregnancy.
Causes of migraine headaches
It’s not completely known what causes migraines; however, a migraine attack can be triggered by several different things. Find out more about what triggers migraines and learn tips to avoid them in our article.
Migraine triggers can include:
Pregnancy can be a wonderful time, but also a stressful one too. Feeling stressed can bring on a migraine attack as can heighted emotions such as excitement or anxiety. It’s important to make time to relax, to not hold onto stress and ask for help when you need it.
Having too much or too little sleep can trigger migraine headaches. Some people find that a few bad nights mean they’re feeling tired which can cause a migraine. Others may find too much sleep leads to one. Making sure you get the right amount of sleep for you can help you avoid a migraine. This may be easier said than done when you’re pregnant, especially if you have other children to look after.
Staying hydrated is important but even more so when you’re pregnant. Not drinking enough water can lead to migraines, you should aim to drink at least 8 glasses of water every day.
Having too much caffeine can cause a migraine attack. When you’re pregnant you should limit your daily caffeine intake to no more than 200mg a day. That’s two cups of instant coffee or around two and a half cups of tea a day. However, it’s best that you don’t cut out caffeine completely as this can also trigger a migraine.
Migraines are associated with female hormones; many women find they have migraines around the time of their period. During pregnancy, rising oestrogen levels can mean your migraines improve and stop all together.
If you experience migraines daily or 15 or more days per month you should speak to your doctor as you may be experiencing chronic migraines.
Hormonal changes in pregnancy
Hormones are a common migraine trigger for many women, especially when hormone levels change around ovulation, your period and pregnancy.
During pregnancy oestrogen (female sex hormone) levels rise quickly and stay high throughout pregnancy. In the early stages of pregnancy, the level of progesterone (produced during ovulation) decreases only to rise again at the later stages.
Are migraines common during pregnancy?
Every person and pregnancy is different, your migraines may improve, worsen or you may get them for the first time. During the second and third trimesters your migraines may improve, the frequency and severity of your attacks can change for the better. A study showed that by the third trimester 89% of women had no attacks or fewer attacks.
If you’re experiencing a migraine for the first time while you’re pregnant you should talk to your GP.
Migraine without aura during pregnancy
A migraine without aura causes a throbbing pain on one side of your head as well as light sensitivity and sickness. If you experience migraines without aura, you could experience a reduction in the frequency and severity of your attacks while you’re pregnant. However, this isn’t guaranteed for every person and pregnancy. If you have migraines while pregnant make sure to let your midwife, GP or consultant team know.
Migraine with aura during pregnancy
A migraine with aura is where there are warning signs such as dizziness or flashing lights before the migraine starts. You might find that a migraine happens after the symptoms or you could get these without a migraine. Pregnancy may trigger attacks of aura without the headache.
According to the Migraine Trust if you experience migraine with aura you are more likely to have these attack continue during your pregnancy. If you do, it’s important that you let your pregnancy care team know.
Migraines in early pregnancy
During the first trimester the early signs of pregnancy such as nausea and vomiting can make your migraines worse. If you have morning sickness you may be struggling to eat and drink which can lead to dehydration. It’s important that you stay hydrated by drinking small amounts of water frequently and eating small frequent meals too.
The extreme tiredness you may feel in the first few months can also trigger a migraine attack. It’s important to rest as much as possible and avoid migraine triggers if you can.
If you experience any of the signs of pre-eclampsia (listed below) you should get medical advice immediately by calling your GP/doctor or NHS 111:
- a severe headache
- problems with vision, such as blurring or seeing flashing lights
- pain just below your ribs
- a sudden increase in swelling of your face, hands, feet or ankles
Migraines after childbirth
If you experienced migraines before you were pregnant or during pregnancy, your migraines are likely to return after the birth of your baby. They can return when your periods do, or you may have a migraine attack in the first few days after birth. You’ll want to look out for symptoms such as throbbing pain on one side of your head, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.
Migraine triggers such as tiredness, dehydration and exhaustion may be hard to avoid when you’ve just had a baby. But it’s important that you look after yourself while caring for your baby, making sure you’re drinking water and eating regularly.
Migraine treatment in pregnancy
It’s always important to make time for yourself, but even more so when you’re pregnant. It’s not always possible with busy schedules and family to care but getting sufficient rest can help you avoid migraines. Looking after yourself to prevent migraines could include:
- Drinking water
- Eat regularly
- Resting as much as you can
- Unwinding with a pregnancy-safe massage
- Limiting screen time
- Following a regular sleeping pattern
Is migraine medication safe during pregnancy?
Paracetamol is considered safe to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This can be taken soluble at the first signs of a migraine.
When it comes to taking migraine medication, such as Sumatriptan, during pregnancy it’s best to speak to your GP. They’ll be able to discuss with you which treatments are safe to take while you’re pregnant.