Headaches can sometimes feel unbearable and even more so for a new mother.
Depending on the type of headache — sinus headache, tension headache, migraine, and more — the cause of the headache varies.
Sometimes, you can experience a headache triggered by changes in estrogen levels, which can commonly occur during and after pregnancy. In rare cases, your headaches may be due to a more serious cause.
Fortunately, there are treatments for headaches experienced after pregnancy. Here’s what you need to know about the causes and treatments of headaches after pregnancy.
Studies have shown that up to 39 percent of people experience headaches in the first week after childbirth. Commonly called postpartum headaches or postnatal headaches, sometimes these headaches can be due to changes in estrogen levels.
After pregnancy, a woman’s estrogen levels drop significantly. This is also a cause of postpartum depression.
The primary causes of headaches after pregnancy include:
- lack of sleep
- drops in estrogen levels
Sometimes, headaches after pregnancy can be a symptom of serious conditions, such as:
- preeclampsia or eclampsia
- a spinal headache
- a reaction to medication
If your headache occurs while you’re still in the hospital, your doctor will want to rule out any life-threatening causes, especially if you’re exhibiting other symptoms such as:
Your doctor may order a CT scan or MRI to make sure there are no issues. Treatment for life-threatening headaches will vary depending on the condition.
If you experience mild to moderate headaches with no other serious symptoms after giving birth, your doctor will most likely treat the headache much like a normal headache.
Recommended treatment for headaches after pregnancy include:
- cold packs
- sleep or relaxation
- a dimmed and quiet room
- small amounts of caffeine
- a small dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- massage or acupressure
- increased hydration
While breastfeeding, you must be careful about what you put into your body. Essentially, anything that you’re ingesting could be transmitted to your child.
If you’re experiencing headaches, try non-medical relief first. If you’re still experiencing symptoms, talk to your doctor about medications that are safe for the baby. These include over-the-counter medications such as:
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), not over 600 milligrams (mg) per day
- acetaminophen (Tylenol), not more than 3 grams (g) per day
Prescription medications may include:
- diclofenac sodium (Voltaren)
- eletriptan hydrobromide (Relpax)
It’s not safe to use:
- zonisamide (Zonegran)
- atenolol (Tenormin)
- tizanidine (Zanaflex)
Doctors suggest that you avoid certain medications. If you think you might need to take medication, it’s a good practice to keep pumped breast milk stored in the freezer for occasions that you need to take medication that could affect the baby.
Sex hormones are known to affect a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. The hypothalamus controls hunger and thirst, and is involved in emotional activity. The pituitary gland is a small part of the brain that acts as a controller to other hormonal glands.
After birth, a women’s estrogen levels falls dramatically. This drastic change in your estrogen level could cause headaches or migraines.
There are many reasons why you may experience headaches after pregnancy.
If you have persistent or severe headaches after giving birth, see your doctor for a full diagnosis. You should also call your doctor if, along with your headache, you have other concerning symptoms which may signal a more serious condition. These include dizziness or blurry vision.