Tommy's PregnancyHub

Headaches in pregnancy

Mild headaches can be caused by hormones or dehydration and are common in pregnancy.

How can I treat a headache in pregnancy?

Headaches can be common in early pregnancy. They usually improve as pregnancy goes on. 

You can take paracetamol in pregnancy. Follow the instructions on the packet for how much you can take. Try to take the lowest dose that works and for the shortest amount of time. 

Your midwife, GP or pharmacist can give you more advice if the pain is ongoing and doesn’t go away with paracetamol. 

There are some painkillers you should not take while you’re pregnant. These include tablets or capsules that: 

  • contain added caffeine (sometimes sold with 'extra' on the label) 
  • contain codeine 
  • are anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen or aspirin. 

Some women may be advised to take a low dose of aspirin during their pregnancy if they are at risk of pregnancy complications, such as pre-eclampsia. This will be prescribed by a doctor.  

Aspirin is not recommended for pain relief in pregnancy (such as for a headache).

Find out more about drugs and medicines in pregnancy

Some people find that sleeping or lying in a dark room can help with headaches or migraines. Using cooling strips or placing a cold flannel on your forehead may also help.  

What can I do to prevent headaches in pregnancy? 

There are some things you can do to prevent headaches. Try to: 

  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration 
  • get enough sleep 
  • eat a healthy, balanced diet 
  • take a break from looking at your phone or a screen (it helps to plan in regular screen breaks during your day) 
  • rest and relax as much as possible. You could try things like mindfulness, going for a short walk or doing some breathing exercises

When should I call a doctor or midwife about a headache in pregnancy? 

Call your midwife, doctor or hospital maternity unit if you have a very bad headache, a headache that won’t go away or if the headache affects your vision in any way. This could be a symptom of pregnancy-induced hypertension.  

It’s also known as gestational high blood pressure or gestational hypertension. 

Your midwife will check your blood pressure at all your antenatal appointments. 

If you develop high blood pressure in pregnancy, you will be assessed in a hospital by a healthcare professional.

Pre-eclampsia 

Call your midwife, maternity unit or NHS 111 straight away if you have: 

These symptoms could be a sign of pre-eclampsia, which needs to checked immediately. Pre-eclampsia can be dangerous for you and the baby if it is not treated and monitored.  

Migraines in pregnancy 

Migraines are a common type of headache. Many people who have migraines may have: 

  • severe pain, which feels like a throbbing, pounding or pulsating pain 
  • nausea (feeling sick) 
  • increased sensitivity to light and sound 
  • an ‘aura’, such as flashing lights before the migraine starts. 

Talk to your GP or midwife if you’ve had migraines before and if you are taking or have taken any medication for them. This is because some migraine medications can contain codeine, aspirin or ibuprofen, which are not recommended in pregnancy. 

Don’t wait until you have a migraine to speak to someone about them. Your doctor should be able to give you advice on how you can manage your symptoms while you’re pregnant, and if you choose to breastfeed

It may also help to think about what triggers your migraines and find ways to try and avoid them. Common triggers may include: 

  • emotional triggers, such as stress or anxiety 
  • physical triggers, such as tiredness or poor-quality sleep 
  • dietary triggers, such as dehydration or caffeine  
  • environmental triggers such as changes in climate, flickering screens or strong smells. 

Drinking plenty of water, limiting your caffeine intake and finding ways to reduce stress will help you and baby stay well in pregnancy. 

More information and support

Migraine Trust

NHS. Headaches in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/headaches/ (Page last reviewed: 8 April 2021 Next review due: 8 April 2024) 

Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. Pre-eclampsia. https://www.rcog.org.uk/for-the-public/browse-all-patient-information-leaflets/pre-eclampsia-patient-information-leaflet/

NHS. High blood pressure (hypertension) and pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/complications/high-blood-pressure/ (Page last reviewed: 20 May 2021 Next review due: 20 May 2024)

 

Review dates
Reviewed: 21 February 2023
Next review: 21 February 2026