Pregnancy and Headache: Why It Happens and What to Do

Headache and migraines commonly affect pregnant women, often during the first trimester. An expert shares treatments to try and when to call your doctor.

7:00 AM

Author | Cathy Mellett

Woman with headache symptoms during pregnancy

Pregnancy is a crucial time of life — a time when the expectant mother wants to make sure that she is taking care of herself and that everything is going well.

SEE ALSO: 3 Reasons Women Are More Likely to Have Insomnia

Unfortunately, frequent or severe headaches can waylay these plans for many mothers-to-be. Here, neurologist and headache specialist Lauren A. Aymen, D.O., shares the medications, supplements, treatments and symptomatic red flags pregnant women should watch for.

Is it common for pregnant women to have headaches or migraines during pregnancy?

Aymen: Yes. Migraines are usually worse in the first trimester but can improve during the second and third trimester. Unfortunately, in 4 to 8 percent of women, migraines can worsen. Headache frequency typically returns back to the patient's pre-pregnancy baseline after delivery. 

What's the reason for this?

Aymen: Pregnancy usually brings with it hormonal changes, stress, disrupted sleep, nausea and dehydration. And all of these conditions may worsen migraine in pregnancy.

What can be done for pregnant women who have migraines?

Aymen: You can't use most of the over-the-counter (OTC) medications during pregnancy — with the exception of Tylenol (acetaminophen). Magnesium and riboflavin are OTC supplements that are safe and can be effective as well. 

Unfortunately, there are few prescription headache medications that are safe to use during pregnancy. 

However, there are certain procedures that are safe during pregnancy that can aid in preventing and stopping migraines. For instance, we commonly use nerve blocks to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches. One example is an occipital nerve block, which is very effective at reducing the burden of pain during pregnancy.

SEE ALSO: The Best OTC Meds and Supplements to Treat Headache

There is also a new procedure called a sphenopalatine ganglion nerve block, which involves placing a small rubber tube approximately 4 centimeters (about 1 1/2 inches) into each nostril and delivering medication to the sphenopalatine ganglion, a branch of the facial nerve. This is very effective for patients with frontal or retro-orbital head pain and certain facial pain syndromes. One advantage to this procedure is there are no needles involved, so it's minimally invasive. In addition, the medication we use in both procedures acts locally and does not have systemic side effects. 

If effective, these procedures can be repeated during pregnancy without any known risk to the baby.

Can a headache be a sign of something more serious? 

Aymen: Yes. A headache with any of the following symptoms — if you're pregnant or not — could suggest something more serious.

The red flags include:

In addition, new headaches in people older than 50 could be a sign of a more concerning condition.

When should you contact your health care provider? 

Aymen: If any of these red flags are present or if headaches are not responding to OTC medications or supplements, you should see a medical professional.

More Articles About: Health Management Headache Pregnancy Pain management Neurological (Brain) Conditions
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]


Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Featured News & Stories Animated microscopic image of the glioblastoma's tumor microenvironment
Health Lab
New model of key brain tumor feature could help scientists understand how to develop new treatments
Model shows how oncostreams form and behave in brain tumors – and how to inhibit them
Woman sweating hot flash fan
Health Lab
Menopause and migraines: New findings point to power of prevention
Women who have both migraines and a long-term history of hot flashes and/or night sweats have a slightly higher risk of heart disease and stroke, and young women who have migraines have a higher risk of later persistent menopause symptoms.
Patient lies in hospital bed after surgery with bandage on head, displays toys later after recovery
Health Lab
Lifechanging results for young woman after orange-sized brain tumor removed
Young woman thrives after surgery to remove a pilocytic astrocytoma tumor in her brain.
Woman sleeping on a couch holds her stomach, as if in pain
Health Lab
Long COVID-19 is linked to chronic pain conditions
Therapies for pain conditions like fibromyalgia provide clues for helping those with long COVID-19
Three year old patient poses by Wonder Woman statue, wears costume
Health Lab
Three-year-old Wonder Woman making strides after customized spinal procedure
Three year old Wonder Woman fan thrives after customized minimally invasive selective dorsal rhizotomy to help symptoms of cerebral palsy and spastic diplegia
Illustration of neuron cell
Health Lab
Two genes linked to autism implicated in brain cell connectivity
A new study links two autism-associated genes together for the first time, potentially revealing a mechanism behind brain changes seen in people with autism.