A cesarean delivery, commonly known as a C-section, is a surgical procedure used to deliver a baby from the abdomen of a pregnant woman. This is an alternative to the more common vaginal delivery.

During this hour-long procedure, a pregnant woman is given anesthesia and then surgery is performed. An OB surgeon makes a horizontal incision on the abdomen, and then makes another incision to open the uterus. The surgeon uses a vacuum to suck out the amniotic fluid in the uterus and then carefully delivers the baby.

Delivering a baby through C-section always requires some form of anesthesia. Following the procedure, older studies have reported that 22 to 36 percent of women experience headaches. These headaches are usually the result of the anesthesia and the general stress of childbirth.

When the anesthetic causes a headache

There are several reasons why a woman might experience headaches after a cesarean delivery, but it’s most commonly due to the anesthetic used.

The two most commonly used anesthetics are:

Side effects of spinal anesthesia can include extremely painful headaches. These headaches are caused when spinal fluid leaks from the membrane around the spinal cord and reduces pressure on the brain.

These headaches usually occur up to 48 hours after the C-section. Without treatment, the hole in the spinal membrane will naturally repair itself over the course of several weeks.

Anesthesia is essential to modern cesarean deliveries, but using them can cause a list of unpleasant (but common) side effects. These include:

Other causes for headaches after C-sections

In addition to headaches from anesthesia, other causes for a headache after a C-section include:

A rare condition that may cause headaches after cesarean delivery is postpartum preeclampsia. It occurs when you have high blood pressure and excess protein in your urine after childbirth.

This condition can cause:

  • severe headaches
  • changes in vision
  • upper abdominal pain
  • a decreased need to urinate

If you experience any of these symptoms soon after childbirth, see a doctor immediately. Prompt treatment is necessary to avoid complications.

Symptoms and treatments for headaches after a C-section

Headaches can be a very uncomfortable and even debilitating side effect of cesarean deliveries. People report feeling intense pain at the back of their head and behind their eyes, as well as shooting pains at their neck and shoulders.

Headaches can typically be treated with:

If you received a spinal epidural and your headaches aren’t improving with treatment, your doctor may perform an epidural blood patch to relieve the pain.

A blood patch can cure a spinal headache by essentially filling in the puncture hole left in your spine from the epidural and restoring spinal fluid pressure. Up to 70 percent of people who experience spinal headaches after a C-section will be cured by a blood patch.


Headaches after surgery or childbirth are extremely common. If you’re experiencing headaches after a C-section, they’re usually due to anesthesia or a reaction to the stress of childbirth.

With rest, water, mild pain relievers, and time, the headaches should resolve themselves. However, if your headaches are extremely painful and don’t respond to normal treatment, you should always seek care right away.