Headaches in Pregnancy: Natural Ways to Finally Get Relief

Not everyone gets headaches in pregnancy, and of course, having a headache doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant (look for these early signs of pregnancy), but there is definitely a link between the two. Read on to get answers to all your questions about headaches in pregnancy—plus, time-tested natural remedies that may help you find some relief!

Are Headaches a Sign of Pregnancy?

You probably already know the main symptoms of pregnancy—missed period, nausea, food aversions, fatigue, heightened sense of smell, moodiness—but did you know that, for some women, headaches can be a sign of pregnancy?

Some mamas only get headaches in early pregnancy, and they may subside in the second trimester. For other women, the headaches don’t start happening until the second trimester. For others, they come even later during pregnancy. And of course, some mamas don’t get them at all (you lucky ducks)!

If you’re experiencing headaches in pregnancy, don’t worry: pregnancy headaches usually subside at some point, so you’re probably not doomed for the whole 9 months. (But everyone is different, so we can’t make any promises 😉)

What Causes Headaches in Pregnancy?

So what causes headaches in pregnancy? Of course, it depends on the person, but there are a few common denominators that are often to blame for these nagging head pains.

1. Hormones

Rising estrogen levels cause headaches for many women in the beginning of pregnancy. If your headaches or migraines are caused by the sudden influx of these extra hormones, then you will likely have more issues in the first trimester of pregnancy when your body is suddenly experiencing high levels of hormones (compared to pre-pregnancy).

How to get relief

With your midwife or doctor’s approval, you can gently support your liver, which may be overburdened from processing all of the excess hormones! Here are some things to try…

  • Rotate these simple liver tonics: dandelion root tea, lemon water and diluted apple cider vinegar in water.
  • Try a raw carrot salad once a day. In studies, it helped to reduce PMS and endotoxins, which can both contribute to headaches.
  • Eat more cruciferous veggies, which will help your body assimilate excess estrogen. Try fermented cruciferous foods like raw sauerkraut or Gut Shots from Farm House Cultures. This will give you an added dose of good probiotics!
  • Skin brush or do light rebounding (without lifting feet off trampoline) can move your lymph system, which can also help to flush excess hormones.

How long they last

Hormone levels should stabilize in the second trimester (up to 20 weeks), and many women find relief as they leave the first trimester behind.

2. Blood volume

Women also experience an increased blood volume during pregnancy—in fact, a pregnant mama’s volume of plasma increases 40 to 50 percent and her red blood cell mass increases 20 to 30 percent. (source)

How to get relief

There are two things that can help to support your increased blood volume: salt and protein.

Salt: Unless your doctor advises otherwise, do not restrict salt during your pregnancy (unless you’re eating fast food, packaged and processed food that is already very high in sodium). If you’re eating wholesome, real food, then salt your food to taste to be sure you’re getting ample quantities. Use high-mineral salt for the greatest nutrition.

One of the properties of salt is that it causes the body to retain fluid which, under normal conditions, is retained in the bloodstream for use in placental perfusion. Salt restriction during pregnancy limits the normal expansion of the blood volume. A blood volume below the level needed to service the growing placenta produces disastrous consequences. (Source.)

Protein: You also want to be sure you’re getting at least 80 grams of protein a day. If you’re struggling with swelling, headaches, or high blood pressure, you can increase to 100-120 grams a day with your doctor’s approval. 

The pregnant woman’s liver makes albumin to facilitate this blood volume expansion. Albumin is similar to egg white. When it is in the mother’s bloodstream, it creates osmotic pressure, which pulls extra fluid out of her tissues and back into the blood circulating in her blood vessels. The only way that the liver can make this albumin is from protein which the mother eats. (Source.)

How long they last

These headaches are especially prevalent in the first and third trimesters.

3. Dietary changes

For others, changes to the diet, like cutting out that beloved cup of coffee every morning, or trying to cut back on sugar, soda, or other stimulants can trigger withdrawal headaches.

How to get relief

Going cold turkey can shock the system. Obviously there are certain foods and beverages you should avoid during pregnancy, but others are okay in moderation. If you suspect cutting out coffee may be to blame, try a little caffeine (no more than 200 mg). Or if you think sugar is to blame, have something with natural sugars, like fruit.

How long they last

These types of headaches should subside once your body fully adjusts to your new diet (sans caffeine, sugar and stimulants).

4. Blood sugar

It’s normal for women’s blood glucose levels to rise during pregnancy, thanks to the extra hormones produced by the placenta. When blood sugar dips, it can trigger headaches and migraines for some.

How to get relief

To prevent headaches due to blood sugar imbalance, make sure you’re getting enough complex carbohydrates from fruit, starchy vegetables (peas, beets, carrots), and healthy grains. And of course, try to eat ample protein and healthy fats along with them to stabilize that blood sugar. 

How long they last

Unfortunately, these types of headaches may come and go throughout your entire pregnancy. 

5. Nasal congestion and irritation

Everything swells when you’re pregnant—including your nasal passages—which can cause painful congestion and trapped allergens. These trapped allergens can irritate and inflame the tissues in your sinus area, causing sinus pressure and pain in susceptible women, which can lead to a full-blown headache or even a migraine.

How to get relief

Try doing sinus rinses with a Neti pot. Be sure to use salt in your water. Some moms find relief by adding a few drops of food-grade iodine and/or baking soda into the neti pot too.

Do a steam bath for your sinuses by filling a bowl with steaming hot water. Cover your head with a big towel to trap the steam inside, lean over the bowl, and let the steam seep into your sinuses.

Take natural anti-histamines like Standard Process Antronex or Stinging Nettles tea (talk to midwife or doctor for approval!). If you are struggling with seasonal allergies, boosting your vitamin C intake with camu camu powder or special foods like organic bell peppers, citrus, and strawberries.

How long they last

Unfortunately, these types of headaches may come and go throughout your entire pregnancy.

6. Exhaustion

The sheer exhaustion or pregnancy can cause a headache! Your body is on overdrive making everything it needs to grow a human life—it’s pumping out tons of hormones, sending nutrients to baby, and even growing another organ (the placenta!). No wonder you’re so tired! 

How to get relief

Put yourself first. Easier said than done, right?! But it’s important to listen to your body. Sneak in a nap or an extra hour of sleep whenever you can, and make sure you’re hydrating (more on this below) and eating well. If appetite is an issue, eat what you can. If it’s rice crackers, smoothies, fruit, and the like… then so be it!

Looking for some pre-baby pampering inspiration? Check out this post!

How long they last

These types of headaches are most common in the first and third trimesters, when your body is on overdrive.

7. Dehydration

This is a big one! Pregnant women need more water than the average person—water helps form the placenta and the amniotic sac. Your baby is depending on all that water to help him/her grow!

How to get relief

Aim for at least 8–10 glasses of water per day. When you have a headache, try drinking 16 ounces of water in one sitting to see if that helps.

To help make boring H2O more palatable, try adding…

  • a few slices of cucumber
  • some chunks of fresh fruit and mint sprigs
  • fresh lemon or lime juice and a add a tiny sprinkle of sea salt
  • a few drops of concentrated mineral drops for greater hydration

How long they last

These types of headaches are usually preventable as long as you keep yourself hydrated! Be sure to drink more fluids when working out or in hot weather.

8. Jaw tension

Some people clench their jaw without even realizing it—especially in response to stress. This can cause tightness and pain in the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Eventually, this tightness can even turn into a tension headache.

How to get relief

  • Ask your partner to gentle massage your jaw area and neck.
  • Go to a chiropractor regularly to be sure your whole body is in alignment.
  • Try doing a body scan throughout the day to see if you’re holding your shoulders tightly or clenching your jaw.
  • Get outside in nature or going on a peaceful walk. Focus on what you see, hear, smell, or touch.
  • If you’re feeling stressed, try to get some extra rest and follow these tips.

How long they last

These types of headaches may come and go throughout your entire pregnancy depending on many factors. Use the above-mentioned tools to keep your jaw healthy and loose.

Headaches vs. Migraines

Headaches are definitely a nuisance, but they usually don’t extend past a certain pain threshold. With migraines, they reach a point where the person is often completely debilitated and cannot function well, if at all, because of the host of other symptoms that often accompany them.

Migraines vary from person to person, but common symptoms include nausea and vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, aura, and dizziness. Interestingly, some lifelong migraine sufferers see changes in the frequency, duration, or severity of their migraines during pregnancy—for some women migraines disappear altogether!

Doctors call this the Rule of Thirds.

  • One third of chronic migraine suffers will not experience migraines during pregnancy
  • One third of chronic migraine suffers will experience about the same about of migraines as they did before pregnancy
  • And one third will develop more migraines during pregnancy.

Since migraines are often very severe and can result in dehydration due to nausea and vomiting, pregnant mamas with a history of migraines should work with their doctors to come up with a treatment plan. 

Is It Normal to Have Daily Headaches in Pregnancy?

Most moms have a few instances to a few weeks of dealing with headaches, but they do pass

Interesting to note: My midwife finds the most common window of headaches in her pregnant patients is between 16 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Other moms will struggle with chronic headaches. Just like how some moms throw up for the entire pregnancy, while most only have morning sickness in the first trimester, some moms are just extra sensitive to all of the changes in pregnancy and it triggers frequent headaches.

If you have excessive or debilitating headaches (and you didn’t before you became pregnant), talk to your healthcare provider. In rare cases, it can be a sign of preeclampsia or a cerebral blood clot (if the pain is severe), so you’ll want to double check with your provider just to be safe. They’ll want to monitor your blood pressure, test your urine for protein, and/or run other tests to rule things out.

Other Natural Ways to Relieve Headaches in Pregnancy

Women are often more sensitive during pregnancy, and things that didn’t cause an issue before (like bright lights or strong smells) can cause headaches during this time.

If you’re struggling with headaches in pregnancy and the above strategies don’t help, you may find relief by avoiding: 

  • Bright lights (especially fluorescents)
  • Salty foods: In one study, people who ate more sodium had one-third more headaches than those who ingested less sodium.
  • High histamine foods (fermented food, cheese, shellfish): In one study, instances of chronic headaches subsided in 73 percent of participants when they followed a low-histamine diet.
  • Common food sensitivities and allergens, like peanuts, gluten, dairy, soy and other potentially inflammatory or allergenic foods.
  • Strong odors: Avoid scented laundry detergent, dryer sheets, perfume… anything with an artificial scent. These “fragrances” are actually toxins, and some mamas are especially sensitive to them during pregnancy. Stick to natural scents like fresh lavender, a bouquet of flowers on the table, or a small amount of essential oil. But be aware that some sensitive mamas can even have issues with these natural scents!

If you’re still struggling with headaches in pregnancy, you can also try:

  • Applying a warm or cold compress, whichever feels better.
  • Exercise (lightly and with approval from doctor)
  • Massage
  • Chiropractic care (find someone skilled or experienced with pregnant women)
  • Warm shower or bath (you could even try alternating with hot and cold water; this boosts the lymphatic system and might help with a headache)
  • Acupuncture: Find a licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.), or try acupressure, which you can administer yourself by exerting gentle pressure on a particular meridian point
  • Sleep it off. When all else fails, go into a dark room, close the door, and use ear plugs if you have to. Get an ice pack or heating pad (whichever helps you the most), and SLEEP IT OFF. If you are in too much pain to sleep, get your partner to give you a neck and shoulder massage, or a foot massage to help relax you. It might be enough to ease the tension and at least get you to sleep for a while.

What Can You Take for a Headache While Pregnant?

For many moms, natural remedies can be a big help for headaches in pregnancy. For other moms, the pain may be so severe that they need a little something more to get through the day.

If natural remedies don’t work, talk to your healthcare provider before taking anything.

Your doctor may recommend acetaminophen—but do know that it’s been linked to ADHD later in life.

Unfortunately, ibuprofen and aspirin are a no-go for headaches in pregnancy. If ibuprofen normally helps you, try taking ginger capsules or turmeric/curcumin capsules (or use curry or turmeric in your cooking) to act as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. 

Some moms need to medication like Tylenol, acetaminophen, or other migraine drugs to find relief. They literally cannot function if they don’t (been there!). Forgive yourself, and do the best you can to manage the pain naturally when you are able to.

Do Headaches in Pregnancy Mean It’s A Boy or Girl?

It’s a well-established old wives tale that headaches are associated with boy pregnancies. But is there any truth to this gender predictor? Old wives tales are notoriously hard to prove, because they’re just theories. No studies have been done on this particular topic, so we’ll just have to rely on the experience of others. And, unfortunately that’s not going to tell us much: Some mamas say yes, other mamas say no way.

How About You?

Did you have migraines or headaches in pregnancy? What helped you find relief? I’m sure the pregnant mamas reading this right now would appreciate any additional tips you may have!

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2 Comments

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  1. Headaches during pregnancy are the worst! From personal experience, it seemed to me that dehydration was a sneaky culprit. Sometimes I’d get so busy I’d forget to drink water. Such an easy fix, but somehow i just overlooked it!

  2. Even before pregnancy I used cayenne pepper to relieve headaches. I take about an ounce of warm water and mix a little bit of cayenne pepper into it, take a Q-tip swish it around and use as a nasal swab. It will burn at first but within a few minutes when the burning has gone away the headache has usually subsided.

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