Headache during pregnancy: causes and prevention

Headaches during pregnancy or pregnancy headaches are common. What can a headache during pregnancy mean? Headache is one of the most common discomforts and complaints during pregnancy. Headaches mainly occur during the first trimester (the beginning of pregnancy). However, headaches during pregnancy can also occur during the second or third trimester. It is not possible to completely eliminate headaches during pregnancy. There are a number of rules that a pregnant woman can observe to reduce the risk of headaches during pregnancy.

  • Headache during pregnancy
  • Possible causes
  • Headache during pregnancy a warning sign?
  • Types of headaches
  • Tension headache
  • Migraine
  • Sinus headache
  • Cluster headache
  • Preventing headaches during pregnancy
  • Prevent dehydration
  • Avoid certain foods and drinks
  • Avoid triggers
  • Do not smoke
  • Eating regularly
  • Good attitude
  • Varied and healthy food
  • Sufficient rest and sleep
  • Exercise
  • Avoid tension
  • What can you do against headaches during pregnancy?
  • Paracetamol for headaches during pregnancy


Headache during pregnancy

Headache during pregnancy is a common complaint. Headaches can occur at any time during pregnancy, but they are most common during the first and third trimesters. The so-called ‘tension headache’ is the most common. This type of headache feels like a pressing pain or a constant dull ache on both sides of the head or the back of the head and neck. Someone who is sensitive to tension headaches may suffer more from them during pregnancy.

Headache during pregnancy / Source: Istock.com/skynesher

Possible causes

Headaches during the third trimester of pregnancy are often related to poor posture and tension from carrying extra weight. However, headaches during the third trimester can also be caused by a condition called preeclampsia or pre-eclampsia. During pregnancy checks, the midwife, doctor or gynecologist may discover that the pregnant woman is suffering from pre-eclampsia.
If severe pre-eclampsia has been diagnosed, there is often only one solution to avoid endangering the mother’s life further: to deliver the baby. However, if your baby is not yet fully grown, this is not a desirable solution. In severe cases, your baby can even die. Sometimes labor is induced, often you have a caesarean section. If you have pre-eclampsia, all kinds of tests will be carried out to ensure that the pregnancy is on the right track.
An increase in headaches during the first trimester may be caused by the sharp increase in hormones and the increase in blood volume in the body due to pregnancy. These headaches can be made worse or worse by tension or poor posture. Other possible culprits include sudden caffeine withdrawal, lack of sleep or general fatigue, sinus congestion, allergies, eyestrain, depression, hunger and dehydration.

Headache during pregnancy a warning sign?

Sometimes headaches during pregnancy can indicate something serious. In the second (weeks 13 to 27 of pregnancy) or third trimester of pregnancy (week 28 to the week of your delivery), headaches can be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy-induced condition characterized by high blood pressure. Other symptoms of preeclampsia include an unusual amount of protein in the urine, vision changes, and liver and kidney abnormalities.
If you are experiencing a migraine or other severe headache for the first time and acetaminophen does not provide relief, call your doctor.

Types of headaches

There are several types of headaches, including:

Tension headache

Tension headache is the most common type of headache. It may feel like a pinching pain or a steady dull ache on both sides of your head or at the back of your neck. If you’ve always been prone to tension headaches, pregnancy could make the problem worse.

Phases of a migraine attack / Source: Martin Sulman


Migraines cause moderate to severe throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head. It may also be accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound. A migraine attack lasts 4 to 72 hours. Many women find that their migraines improve in the later stages of pregnancy, when levels of the hormone estrogen stabilize. However, other women notice no change in their migraines during pregnancy.

Sinus headache

Sinus headaches usually feel like pressure or pain in the cheeks, around the eyes, and in your forehead. This type of headache usually occurs after a cold, a respiratory infection, or a sinus infection, and it’s not as common as you might think.

Cluster headache

Cluster headaches are much less common and these headaches do not appear to be affected by pregnancy. Cluster headaches are characterized by sudden, severe pain usually around an eye or temple, sometimes with watery eyes or a stuffy nose. These headaches tend to appear at the same time every day, often a few hours after falling asleep, for weeks or months.

Preventing headaches during pregnancy

It is not possible to completely eliminate headaches during pregnancy, but there are a number of rules you can follow to reduce the risk of headaches during pregnancy. Below are some tips that can help pregnant women prevent headaches while improving overall health.

Prevent dehydration

Drink enough water to prevent dehydration. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day.

Do not drink alcohol / Source: Istock.com/karelnoppe

Avoid certain foods and drinks

Avoid foods that can trigger headaches, such as chocolate, old cheese, alcohol (not allowed during pregnancy as alcohol is a toxic substance that can be harmful to the unborn child to a small extent) and pre-processed meat (such as salami or luncheon meat).

Avoid triggers

You can also reduce the risk of migraines by avoiding certain migraine triggers. Possible triggers include:

  • chocolate
  • alcohol (in any case, you should not drink alcohol during pregnancy)
  • yogurt
  • old cheese
  • peanuts

Avoid foods that can trigger headaches such as chocolate / Source: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

  • bread with fresh yeast
  • canned meat
  • sour cream
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG), also known as Ve-Tsin or E621
  • nitrites and nitrates (common in processed meats such as hot dogs, salami and bacon)
  • artificial sweeteners
  • Other foods that can trigger a migraine include:
  • certain beans and nuts
  • certain fresh fruits (including bananas, papayas, avocados and citrus)
  • smoked fish
  • fermented (e.g. sauerkraut)


Be careful with bananas / Source: Ajcespedes, Pixabay

Other triggers may include:

  • glaring or flickering lights
  • loud noises
  • excessive heat or cold
  • strong odors
  • tobacco smoke


Do not smoke

Do not smoke during pregnancy. Smoking is a major trigger of headaches. Moreover, smoking can affect the growth as well as the intellectual development of a child.

Eating regularly

Don’t skip meals. This can cause you to suffer from headaches, which are caused by low blood sugar levels.

Good attitude

Observe good posture. Poor posture can create tension around the head and neck muscles.

Varied and healthy food

Eat a varied and healthy diet. Avoid eating junk food and sweets during pregnancy as this causes sharp fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Sufficient rest and sleep

Take sufficient (night) rest. It is important to get enough rest during pregnancy. Sometimes fatigue leads to headaches. A well-rested body can prevent headaches.


Get enough exercise.

Avoid tension

Avoid emotional stress and tension, as this can lead to headaches and other complaints.

What can you do against headaches during pregnancy?

How can you prevent or treat headaches during pregnancy yourself? The following measures may provide relief from the complaints.

  • Locate the area of pain and press on the area for two to three minutes to relieve the pain.
  • Massage the scalp by placing the fingertips on the skin and rotating it around and while rotating the fingers do not slide over the skin.

Blurred vision / Source: Gene Hunt, Flickr (CC BY-2.0)

  • Exercise can provide a solution for tension headaches.
  • Sometimes it helps to get some fresh air.
  • Drink water and eat something (not a snack) to balance blood sugar levels.
  • Sometimes a nap helps to relieve the headache.

Contact your doctor if the headache is accompanied by visual disturbances such as vague or blurred vision, pain in the right upper abdomen and swelling of the hands and face. In that case, gestational hypertension may be present and requires medical treatment, as high blood pressure can be dangerous for both the mother and the unborn child.

Paracetamol has an analgesic and fever-reducing effect / Source: Martin Sulman

Paracetamol for headaches during pregnancy

Paracetamol is used for various types of pain, such as headaches and migraines and is available without a prescription. The package leaflet states with regard to paracetamol during pregnancy:
You can use paracetamol to a limited extent. This means no longer than one week in a row and no more than four tablets (2 grams) per day. It has been used in that dosage by pregnant women for years, without any adverse effects on the child. If you need more than four tablets per day, consult your doctor first. If you need Paracetamol for a long time, for example longer than a week, consult your doctor first.ยน

  1. http://www.thuisapotheek.nl/geneestoffen/paracetamol


read more

  • Headache on the forehead, back of the head, behind the eyes, from the neck
  • Migraine: symptoms, causes, treatment and complications
  • Tension headaches: symptoms, treatment and prevention
  • Headache and pregnant: possible causes and what to do?