The only thing worse than having a headache, is having a headache while pregnant! There are limited treatment options that will cure them right away. Typically when I get headaches, I would take ibuprofen and they go away. However, being pregnant, ibuprofen is not an option, and Tylenol just doesn’t work the same.
I woke up with a headache on Thursday morning a few weeks ago, and it didn’t fully go away until that Sunday afternoon. This has happened once before during this pregnancy and now I’m positive I know what the culprit is: STRESS.
The weeks leading up to my three-and-a-half day headache spell, I was experiencing an extremely busy time at work. The company I work for is closing operations this summer, and while my original last day of work was scheduled for June 28th, a lady in my department ended up quitting, so my new last day of work will be August 2nd. While I’m definitely thankful for the opportunity to stay on longer, the last few weeks have been extremely busy because of the extra work I have taken on. On top of that, another lady in my department was out for two weeks because of surgery, so her workload was then split between myself and my boss. Needless to say I’ve been extremely busy!
Now I’m typically the type of person who thrives under stressful situations. I love to be challenged and to stay busy. However, being pregnant, I’m learning the hard way that I cannot handle stress in the same way as I typically have been able to. My body has found ways to tell me to ‘chill’ and ‘relax’, even when I don’t think I need to. One of those ways is by inflicting debilitating headaches which leave me in pain and basically immobilized for days at a time.
Since I don’t have the luxury of being able to take ibuprofen, or to be debilitated by days worth of headache pains, I did some research on natural remedies and the best ways to prevent headaches in the first place.
Acetaminophen, or Tylenol, is one of the only medications that you can take while pregnant, and is typically the go-to treatment for headaches. It’ll help a little, but for me, it does not make my headaches go away completely. After taking the recommended dosage for a couple days, and still having a headache, I knew I needed alternative remedies because I don’t like taking medicine if it’s not necessary.
Head & Neck Massage
Lucky for me, my husband completed massage therapy school years ago, and although he never pursued a career in massage therapy, I sometimes get to reap the benefits of his knowledge and skills. Massage therapy is not only relaxing and feels good, but its been proven effective for the treatment of tension headaches. Massaging the head and neck helps to relieve the tension that has built up, and I’ve found that it helps ease the pain I feel enough to be able to lay down or sleep without too much pain.
The pain I feel tends to linger behind my left eye and somewhat down to my neck. While laying down, I would take an ice pack and just lay with it pressed behind my head in that general area. The combination of the head & neck massage with the ice pack treatments helped to numb the pain enough that I could get some rest or go to sleep.
I’ve also read that hot packs or heating pads as well as a warm shower or bath are good for relaxing the muscles. If you’re having tension headaches like I was, those would probably be a good idea as well.
The day after my headache started, on Friday afternoon, I happened to have an ob-gyn appointment scheduled. The first thing she did was check what my blood pressure was when I came in. Since it was normal, she said my headaches were not pregnancy related so we could rule out pre-eclampsia. She then suggested I take magnesium supplements since the Tylenol was not working. Magnesium is more of a preventative treatment, so I decided to start taking them right away.
After leaving my appointment I stopped into Walgreens to buy the Magnesium. While looking at the choices, I wasn’t sure what bottle to actually pick out. Some read “Magnesium”, some read “Magnesium Citrate”, etc., so I asked the pharmacist for her advice. She asked what I would be using it for, I told her my Ob recommended it for my headaches, so she actually suggested Magnesium Oxide aka Mag Ox.
My doctor also asked about my caffeine intake. Caffeine withdrawal is notorious for causing headaches. So if you’ve found yourself drinking less caffeine than you normally do, this could definitely trigger a headache. I was able to rule this out as a cause for my headache because even before I became pregnant I weened myself to one 12 oz. cup of coffee per day. With the controversy around caffeine causing miscarriage, I made a personal decision to limit my intake while my husband and I were trying to conceive, and I’ve stuck with my one cup of coffee since then.
A balanced diet is important for overall health and wellness. Eating too much sugary foods or skipping meals can trigger headaches. Looking back, I realized while I was busy at work, I would compromise for quick and easy meals which were not as healthy as I would typically eat. I’d also be so wrapped up in whatever tasks I was doing, that I wouldn’t eat as regularly as I typically would either. With a busy schedule, a little meal planning makes such a big difference in making sure you eat a healthy balanced diet.
Stress is a big trigger for tension headaches. If you’re able to identify the areas of your life which are causing stress, you can then make a plan to alleviate it going forward. Life changes such as pregnancy and extra busy work days are the perfect combination for generating tension headaches. But since both are unavoidable, for me now anyways, how do you prevent the onset of a headache in the first place?
Did you know that exercise and physical activity releases endorphins which act as natural pain killers and stress relievers? Pairing exercise with a healthy, balanced diet and the right vitamin supplements are the perfect combination for a foundation of preventing the onset of headaches. In addition to the physical, it’s important to be mindful of your mental health as well. Some common methods to help reduce stress when you’re in it are prayer and meditation, reading, taking a bath, etc. Find what relaxes you and incorporate it into your lifestyle on a regular basis.
Since headache triggers are ultimately different for everyone, and it may even be a combination of different things causing them, I would suggest keeping a journal to help you to identify your triggers. The journal shouldn’t be a burden or added stress, so even just a couple bullet points each day would suffice. Include what you ate and drank, any physical activities you participated in and how your mental state of mind was. Add any significant events that may have occurred, like an argument you had with someone or a shortened deadline at work, etc. The next time a headache occurs, you should have a pretty good idea of what caused it. If you experience more than a couple headaches, you’ll be able to look back and maybe even see a pattern of what’s causing them, and hopefully be able to make a preventative plan to prevent future headaches.
I truly hope you find some helpful tips here you can use. And if there is something that’s worked for you that isn’t mentioned above, I’d love to hear about it!