What can I do about headaches during pregnancy? I'd rather not take medication.
Answers from Roger W. Harms, M.D.
There's much you can do to prevent or relieve headaches during pregnancy without taking medication. Start with simple prevention tips:
- Avoid headache triggers. Keep track of your meals, activities and headaches for several days to help pinpoint your headache triggers — then do your best to avoid your triggers.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine. Try a daily walk or other moderate aerobic exercise.
- Manage stress. Find healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life, such as delegating tasks on your to-do list and spending time with people who lift your spirits.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Try calming activities such as deep breathing, yoga and visualization.
- Eat smaller, more-frequent meals throughout the day. Regular meals will keep your blood sugar on an even keel, which can help prevent headaches.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated can keep you feeling your best.
- Follow a regular sleep schedule. Fatigue and lack of sleep can contribute to headaches during pregnancy. Go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Consider biofeedback. With this mind-body technique, you learn to control certain bodily functions — such as muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure — to prevent headaches or reduce headache pain. If you'd like to try biofeedback to treat headaches during pregnancy, ask your health care provider for a referral to a biofeedback therapist.
When a headache strikes:
- Rest. Lie down in a dark, quiet room with your eyes closed.
- Use a compress. Apply a warm compress (such as a hot towel) to your face, eyes and temples — or try a cold compress on the back of your neck.
- Try massage. Ask someone to massage your shoulders and neck to relieve tension. You might rub your temples, too.
If these steps don't help, check with your health care provider about other treatment options for headaches during pregnancy.
Most pregnant women can safely take acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) to treat occasional headaches. Your health care provider might recommend other medications as well. As with any medication, though, make sure you have the OK from your health care provider first.
Herbal headache remedies, such as feverfew and butterbur, aren't generally recommended during pregnancy.
July 21, 2012
- Lee MJ, et al. Headache in pregnancy. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed April 20, 2012.
- Taylor FR. Tension-type headache in adults: Acute treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed April 20, 2012.
- Menon R, et al. Headache and pregnancy. The Neurologist. 2008;14:108.
- Silberstein SD. Treatment recommendations for migraine. Nature Clinical Practice Neurology. 2008;4:482.
- Marcus, DA. Managing headache during pregnancy and lactation. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. 2008;8:385.