Just when you thought you had enough on your plate, along comes a migraine. This painful condition is quite common during pregnancy but luckily there’s lots you can do to prevent and manage it.
Aching head, zero energy and the need to lie down in a dark room. A nasty migraine is guaranteed to derail you, and episodes can last anything from an hour to a couple of days.
Different to regular ‘tension headaches’ – where the pain is usually mild to moderate, on both sides of the head with no other symptoms – migraines can be much more debilitating.
Migraines tend to involve a combination of these factors:
- Throbbing, intense pain on one side of the head
- Nausea and vomiting
- ‘Auras’, blurred vision and dizziness
- Sensitivity to light and noise
If you’re one of the millions of women who suffered from migraine before becoming pregnant, the good news is that you may be lucky and find that expecting a baby gives you a welcome break.
Research shows that the hormonal changes in pregnancy – in particular, the rise of oestrogen - can ease the misery of migraine for up to 80% of mums-to-be.
“There are also many physical, biochemical, and emotional changes in pregnancy that could account for improvement, including increased production of natural painkillers known as endorphins” adds Harley Street migraine expert Professor Anne MacGregor.
For many women though, migraines can occur through the whole nine months, and especially in the first trimester. The condition can even affect women who had never experienced a migraine before they became pregnant.
When an attack threatens, what pain relief can you take?
Check with your GP about what painkillers you can take. It is advised not to take ibuprophen after 30 weeks, and to avoid it before 30 weeks; paracetamol is usually safe to take. Check out NHS advice on painkillers in pregnancy.
There are other things you can do to help prevent migraines:
- Eat regularly. Yes, it’s a licence to snack, so your blood sugar stays stable. Make sure it’s a healthy snack rather than chocolate or sweets: the crash that follows a sugar high can bring on a migraine.
- Sleep, nap, rest. Great advice for any mama-in-waiting, but it’s worth stating again because sleep deprivation has been linked to headache and dizziness. Take afternoon naps and schedule early nights.
- Get some fresh air. Hormones are playing havoc with your body temperature and chances are you’re generally more sensitive to smell and light, so spending too much time holed up inside can make you feel hot, stuffy and headachey. Commit to taking a 20-minute walk outside every day.
- Stay hydrated. “Gentle exercise in pregnancy is vital but it can lead to dehydration which can bring on headaches. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise,” advises nutritionist Matt Plowman (cardiffsportsnutrition.co.uk).
- Try a relaxation technique. Pregnancy yoga, meditation, massage, biofeedback, acupuncture, even a little mindful colouring: do whatever it takes to quieten your mind and beat stress. We hold tension in our bodies, so when you’re feeling under pressure take five slow deep breaths and do a few simple stretches.
- Identify triggers: Keep a migraine diary so you can track your triggers. Whether it’s hunger, caffeine (or caffeine withdrawal), too much time in front of a screen or that sneaky pint of ice-cream you accidentally ate for lunch, identifying a pattern means you’ll know what to avoid.
Most of all, don’t worry: there’s no evidence that migraine will harm your baby. Some studies have linked migraine symptoms with an increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, so a chat with your doctor or midwife is the best way forward especially if you’re considering herbal or homeopathic remedies.
Migraine may be unpleasant but like cravings and vivid dreams, it’s often one of those things that plagues you in pregnancy but disappears when baby makes her debut.
For more information on migraine in pregnancy, check out Migraine Action at migraine.org.uk