Migraines are the most common forms of headaches and can also occur during pregnancy. They have no particular characteristics, except being a little more frequent in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Migraine is much more painful than a normal headache, which is generally harmless and bilateral, unlike migraine, which only affects one side of the head, typically on the front or on the side, with sharp and pulsating pain, often accompanied by discomforts such as nausea, vomiting, intolerance to light, noise, and certain smells.
Sometimes, this throbbing and pulsating pain starts on one side or around the eyes to gradually spread while increasing in intensity over the whole head. In a few cases, migraines headaches are preceded by an aura: a blurred vision that manifests as flashing lights, zigzag lines or a temporary loss of vision.
Some women are more susceptible to headaches during pregnancy, including migraines attacks, tension headaches, and others. And about 16% of these women experience migraines for the first time during pregnancy, most often in the first trimester.
For women prone to migraines, especially those who suffer mainly from menstrual migraines, pregnancy is usually a calming period after the first trimester, when the hormonal balance is well established. But for certain women, the rhythm of migraines may be the same or more frequent.
Even if mild, migraine can still affect a pregnant woman’s life quality. In general, worsening migraine cases are uncommon during pregnancy. However, if you have severe migraine headaches, you should be vigilant and consider them seriously as they are not only very painful but can also hide something else.
What Causes Migraines During Pregnancy?
Although the causes of migraine development, in general, are not clear, there are a variety of possible triggers. During pregnancy, we can notice some common explanations such as pregnancy hormones, increased blood flow, imbalance of chemicals in the brain, and poor posture or posture changes.
Migraine in the first trimester is most likely caused by a hormonal imbalance (estrogen fluctuations in particular), the nervous system becomes more susceptible to any external stimulus. On the other hand, increased blood flow in the pregnant woman’s body directly affects the cardiovascular system, making a woman prone to migraine attacks.
During the third trimester, it tends to be more related to poor posture and posture changes due to weight gain. When you support the extra weight, the strain on your neck and shoulders can cause muscle spasms, which can irritate the nerves in the back of your head.
Various studies show that in some people, migraines can also be triggered by diet. Particular foods and drinks that cause a migraine attack contain a substance called tyramine (also known under several other names), and this can lead nerve cells in your brain to release a chemical called norepinephrine.
The increased amount of both tyramine and norepinephrine can produce migraine attacks. These amino acids are found in aged cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, nuts, soy-based foods, red wine, and incorrectly stored or spoiled foods.
In some people, specialists perceive a genetic predisposition to migraine as it can occur frequently in the family: their brain is more excitable. While they are sensitive to environmental irritants (unpleasant odors, bad ventilation in the room, too noisy music, etc.), migraines are more easily induced.
Other potential factors that often co-exist include:
- Excess or lack of sleep
- Nasal congestion
- Sensitivity to weather conditions
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Poor nutrition
- Low blood sugar
Migraines During Pregnancy: When To Worry?
Although migraines can be very unpleasant, it is important to remember that most attacks during pregnancy are not potentially dangerous and do not increase the risk of abnormalities or complications in the mother or the fetus.
However, very severe and repeated migraine attacks, accompanied by nausea and vomiting, become potentially harmful to the fetus as the pregnant woman may suffer from dehydration and lack of oxygen. In addition, frequent vomiting and excessive exhaustion can provoke a miscarriage or halt fetal development.
If this is the case for you or if you are worried that your migraines may affect your pregnancy or your unborn baby, you should contact your doctor, neurologist or gynecologist for advice.
Migraines during the third trimester of pregnancy can be more serious. They may actually be an alert sign of high blood pressure, or even pre-eclampsia (hypertension with protein in the urine), a serious complication due to placental dysfunction.
This condition also represents a health risk for both the expectant mother and the baby. Other signs and symptoms may also be present, such as fever, stomach pain or blurred vision. It is therefore recommended to contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
8 Steps To Overcome Your Migraines During Pregnancy
Treatment often becomes a revolving door in the management of migraines during pregnancy, but the most important issue then remains the proper use of medications.
For women who have migraine attacks during pregnancy, some analgesics can be used safely and are sometimes effective. However, before taking any medication, it is important to consult your health care provider for advice on the safest options.
Nevertheless, there are some really basic steps to deal with migraine headaches that you should never forget to try.
1. Regular Exercise
Even exercise can both cause and prevent migraine headaches. Regular and moderate exercise will help reduce migraines by improving your breathing, regulating blood sugar levels, and stimulating the release of endorphins into the brain – these are the body’s natural pain-killers.
Plan to exercise for at least 20 minutes, such as walking or swimming, five days a week if not every day. By doing so, you will also improve your general health because of its beneficial effects on your heart.
On the other side, by exercising aggressively and without any previous plans, you can significantly increase your body’s oxygen demand, which triggers a migraine attack.
Like exercise, an excess or a lack of sleep can trigger migraine headaches. Keep this in mind and note if you tend to trigger migraines from sleeping too much or too little. Not all women are the same in terms of how much sleep is right for them.
Change your dietary habits by eating little and often throughout the day instead of three large meals. This will also help you manage early pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, which can reduce your blood sugar levels and induce migraines.
It is important to avoid skipping meals or fasting. Poor nutrition and insufficient fluid intake can be a major trigger of migraine headaches.
So make sure you eat more often and drink plenty of water and fluids to avoid dehydration and decreased blood sugar levels. On the other hand, together with your doctor, make a list of foods that can trigger a migraine attack (see the examples already mentioned).
In order to manage stress during pregnancy and thus reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, you need to learn about restoring your nervous system. Plan to practice a relaxation technique such as meditation or yoga to cope with stress. If it is severe, you may consider referring it to a therapist for help.
Excessive caffeine consumption can precipitate migraine attacks. Try to stop caffeine completely for a while, and then decide whether or not it can be a contributing factor. Suddenly stopping all caffeine consumption can also trigger migraines, so try to reduce your intake over a week.
6. Use Cold
Cold can help reduce pulsation and relieve migraine during pregnancy. You may consider applying ice to the painful area for a couple of minutes. Wrap it in a bag and soft fabric and attach it to the sides of your head, and along the back of your neck.
7. Try Massage
Getting a gentle, circular, not sharp massage can help release tension in the shoulder, neck, and back muscles. It is not necessary to call a professional massage therapist, you can ask your partner or someone close to you for a message of your head, neck, and temples. This will improve blood circulation and increase oxygen supply to the brain.
8. Get Some Rest
First of all, try to recognize the surrounding environments in which your migraines appear: noise, overheated or smoky atmosphere, bright light, computer screens, etc… and avoid them as much as possible. Rest and a breath of fresh air are always welcome.