Occasional headaches during pregnancy are perfectly normal and can be caused by a variety of physiological and emotional changes related to pregnancy, such as increased blood volume and stress. A more severe form of headache is a migraine. Migraine headaches cause moderate to severe throbbing pain, typically on one side of the head. They last from 4-72 hours if untreated and are aggravated by physical activity. They can also be accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and noise. Experts estimate that about 1 in 5 women have a migraine headache at some time in their lives, and about 15% of migraine sufferers get migraines for the first time when they're pregnant -- most often in the first trimester.
Some common migraine triggers include foods that contain:
- monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- nitrites (common in processed meats such as hot dogs, salami, and bacon)
- sulfites (used as a preservative for salads and also found in many dried fruits)
- artificial sweeteners
- certain beans and nuts
- aged cheese and cultured dairy products (such as buttermilk and sour cream)
- certain fresh fruits (bananas, papayas, avocados, and citrus)
- smoked fish
- chocolate and carob
- things that are fermented or pickled (such as soy sauce or sauerkraut)
Other headache triggers may include glaring or flickering lights, loud noises, excessive heat or cold, strong odors, and tobacco smoke.
Tips for alleviating headaches:
- For a tension headache, apply a warm or cool compress to your forehead or the base of your skull. Cold compresses tend to work best for migraines.
- Keep your blood sugar steady. Don’t miss meals, eat whole rather than processed foods, and include protein at every meal. If you're on the go, keep healthy snacks (fruit, yogurt, nuts) within reach.
- Avoid fatigue
- Try to make time for naps in your day. If you're having a migraine, try to sleep it off in a quiet, dark room.
- Get regular exercise. Some evidence shows that regular exercise can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines and reduce the stress that can cause tension headaches.
- Try relaxation techniques. Meditation, yoga, and self-hypnosis all can be helpful in reducing stress and headaches.
- Try massaging your neck, shoulders, and back to release tension.