Pregnant women get headaches for the same reason any person does: fatigue, stress, sinus problems, and a history of migraines. Many expectant moms find that their headaches are worsened during pregnancy because of elevated hormone levels; however, most women find that headaches improve by the 3rd trimester.
If you're continuing to have headaches at this point in your pregnancy, take measures to prevent and treat them. It's bad enough that you're waddling down the hall every 20 minutes to relieve your bladder; it hardly seems fair to have to squint through a headache as well. Keep a "headache log," which can be a simple sheet of paper charting the start, duration, and severity of your headaches. Identifying what causes your headaches will help you sort out what measures to take in preventing and treating them.
For example, you have every reason now to feel stressed and tense. You may not be on maternity leave yet, so you may be frantically putting in extra hours at work to get ready to leave it all behind in good order. You may be worrying about an older child and how you'll manage that toddler and a new baby. Or your partner may be withdrawn or physically absent at work, making you feel overwhelmed at home and emotionally abandoned.
To stave off headaches brought on by stressful emotions, turn down the volume on your life. Deal with whatever's worrying you, ask for help, and get enough rest. Find time during the day to retreat to a cool, dark place and do some deep breathing or just stretch out. Get some fresh air, too, and move around. If a tension headache does hit, apply ice to your forehead or the back of your neck to draw blood away from your head. You can also try putting a hot-water bottle or heating pad across your feet to do the same thing.
If your headaches are the result of sinus problems, allergies, or a stuffy head, keep your bedroom cool and run a humidifier in your home. There are treatments for seasonal allergies that are safe in pregnancy. Ask your health care provider.
It's still safe to take a pain reliever containing acetaminophen (the ingredient in Tylenol) during your 3rd trimester. If you are having migraines, turn out the lights, use a cold compress, and try to sleep. Most important, contact your provider immediately if you experience severe or persistent headaches that won't go away with the measures outlined here or if the headaches reappear often. Persistent headaches can be an indication of preeclampsia, which should be evaluated immediately.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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