Pregnancy Migraines Are The Freaking Devil

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
a woman touching her head, a woman with a headache
Media for Medical / Getty Images

The blinding light. The pounding of nails behind your eyes. And in your ears. Your vision is blurred and you may throw up at any minute. You need a pitch black room and 100% silence, and you need it now.

If you have suffered from migraines, you know this scene all too well. They are headaches like no other and can leave you feeling hungover and unable to function for days after. Unfortunately, migraines during pregnancy are a whole different ball of wax, as often the medication you took previously isn’t safe for the fetus. Or maybe you’ve never experienced them before and this new pregnancy side-effect is a super special surprise.

The good news is that according to David Dodick, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine in Arizona, “Between 50 and 80% of pregnant migraine patients actually experience a reduction in migraine attacks during their pregnancy.” Many doctors attribute this reduction to rising estrogen levels that help reduce migraine frequency and intensity.

However, before you start celebrating that you’ll live migraine-free for nine months, here’s the bad news: many women still do suffer from horrific migraines while pregnant, and it’s crucial that their pain is dealt with as safely and effectively as possible. So here’s a little Preggo Migraine 101.

Dr. Susan Hutchinson, Headache Specialist and Medical Advisor to MigraineX, says if you are experiencing sudden migraines while pregnant and have never had them before, you should tell your doctor to assess the root cause, especially if you experience vision changes, slurred speech, and weakness on one side of the body. These could be symptoms of what’s called “migraine with aura” and can be signs of a more serious condition.

“Top causes for migraine during pregnancy include stress, changes in weather and/or barometric pressure, dietary triggers, lack of sleep, changes in blood sugar, and poor life-style,” Dr. Hutchinson adds.

Well that’s shocking! Since it’s so easy to relax, maintain a healthy, structured diet and get plenty of restful slumber while pregnant. Especially with a toddler in tow, amiright?

Therefore, since most pregnant women still actually need to get up, go to work, care for other children, and generally go about their day in a functioning manner, despite it feeling like a family of garden gnomes is building a small village in their brain, what can we do to prevent and/or treat these debilitating headaches? Especially with the extra special bonus of not being able to take strong migraine medication while growing another human?

Well, Dr. Hutchinson recommends that not only do we need to eat well, drink enough fluids, and sleep, but also that we can try physical therapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture.

Exercise is a good preventative as well as vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and magnesium. Also, Dr. Hutchinson shares that essential oils including lavender, peppermint, spearmint, and eucalyptus may be helpful and can often be rubbed onto the temples (with a carrier oil) to treat or prevent a migraine.

But one idea she presents is something I’d never heard of, but makes total sense: MigraineX ear plugs. These devices work alongside a weather app that will alert you to changes in barometric pressure — which can be migraine-inducing. The ear plugs work by “decreasing the difference in the external ear pressure versus the inner ear pressure,” Dr. Hutchinson says. “By minimizing that difference in air pressure, the migraine can be prevented or lessened. The ear plugs can be placed in the external ear canal as a preventive treatment if the individual is alerted to an upcoming change in barometric pressure via an app that can be downloaded to a mobile device and is free when with purchase of this device.”

So for moms-to-be who suffer from the hell that are migraines, these external ear canal tools may bring them some relief that is safe for both them and their growing baby.

However, Dr. Hutchinson also addresses another major cause of migraines, especially in women, and that is our perfectionist tendencies. (As someone who began having migraines as a young child when I got my first B on a report card, I might know a thing or two about that.) “Women, in my opinion, often feel they need to be at their best all the time, at work and in home,” she says. “That can cause undue pressure to perform ‘at all costs’ and that cost could be an increase in migraines during pregnancy.”

Sigh. If only it were that easy to flip that switch and turn off the need to do all the things, right girls?

So for now, as your belly grows and you prepare for motherhood (or if you’ve already been around the block and spend your days wrestling a hangry toddler while your stomach protrudes from the last clean maternity shirt you have), know that there are things you can try to prevent and/or treat those wretched migraines. Because as much as laying in bed for two days and doing nothing sounds amaze-balls, you know it isn’t really an option unless you’re on island in the Caribbean and a cabana boy is bringing you a (virgin) margarita on the hour.

Take care of yourself, girlfriends. We know what happens when Mommy can’t function. And it ain’t pretty.

This article was originally published in 2018.

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