For years, migraines have plagued my life. I first started getting them during elementary school and it seems like they progressively get a little worse every year. And they were my biggest concern before getting pregnant. How could I possibly survive migraines during pregnancy?? After all, I couldn’t take nearly as many medications as normal if I was busy growing a healthy baby!
If you’re worried about migraines during pregnancy, keep reading to learn what you can expect. I’ll also let you know how to prepare and give you tips to endure and overcome even the worst pregnancy migraine.
What to Expect
When it comes to migraines during pregnancy, it’s split into thirds.
Over one-third of women see a huge improvement in their migraines during pregnancy, likely due to hormonal changes. Women whose migraines get better by taking birth control are the most likely to see improvements during pregnancy.
About one-third of women see no change in their migraines during pregnancy. Both the frequency and intensity are about the same as normal.
About one-third of women see a worsening in their migraines throughout pregnancy. And some women experience them for the first time while pregnant. Again, this is believed to be due to the hormonal changes, as well as decreased medical interventions.
Unfortunately, you don’t know which category you will fall into until you are pregnant. I always hoped I would fall into the first category. But I’d say I fell into the second. The frequency, duration, and pain level stayed the same as normal. At least until the third trimester…
Preparing for Pregnancy
If you suffer from regular, debilitating migraines, I highly recommend that you work with your medical team before you become pregnant. Although it isn’t absolutely necessary (no worries if you’re already expecting!), it will make things easier and can help you to feel more in control of the situation.
First, do as much as you can to identify your triggers and ways to help your migraines pre-pregnancy. Especially any non-medical remedies. This will make it much easier for you to avoid getting a migraine during pregnancy and also make it easier for you to get rid of one once it comes on.
Second, try to get your migraines under control as much as possible before getting pregnant. For a few years, my migraines were really bad. At least once every few weeks I needed infusions for several days in a row. I missed weeks of work throughout the year and was taking tons of medicine every day. This wouldn’t have been the optimal time for me to get pregnant, because most of those medications were unsafe during pregnancy.
Work with your medical team to try out different solutions. Fortunately, there are countless different options for you to try. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a while because they don’t know where to start or what will work best for you. Your migraines don’t have to go away completely, but it helps your pregnancy to go more smoothly if they’re more managed beforehand.
You want to get pregnant, now what?
Ideally, you will continue to work with your medical team as you are planning to get pregnant. Although we weren’t necessarily trying to get pregnant, we were open to whatever happened. I started working with my neurologist a few months before we got married to prepare for if we did get pregnant.
First, stop taking any medications that you cannot take while pregnant. There are some medications that are incredibly dangerous and much more likely to cause birth defects if you are taking them. You don’t want to be on them if there is any chance that you will become pregnant.
Second, identify what medications you need to stop taking once you find out you are pregnant. My neurologist approved most of my medications and verified that it would be okay if I took them for a few weeks before I knew I was pregnant. But he gave me a list of which ones to stop once I found out I was pregnant and recommended scheduling an appointment with him as soon as I was expecting.
Woohoo, you’re pregnant!! Now what?
Congratulations!! You’re going to have a baby and that is so exciting! I absolutely adore being a mom and I’m so excited for you! But what does that mean for your migraines?
First, make sure that you talk to your entire medical team to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows about your migraines. I coordinated with my primary care doctor, neurologist, and OB. It is very important that your team knows about your migraines because they can cause complications. Women with migraines are more likely to have pre-eclampsia, pre-term birth, and/or a baby with low birth-weight. Because of these risks, it is vital that your entire medical team knows about your history of migraines.
Next, verify what medications are okay to take and what you should stop taking. Ideally, you will take the least amount of medications as possible, and you’ll likely be told repeatedly to “avoid everything and take a Tylenol if it gets bad.” But as a migraine sufferer, you also know that Tylenol is not going to cut it. Go over every medication to identify if it will be safe and how often you can take it. Be very proactive and ask exactly what you should do if you get a bad migraine. Hopefully, you’ll be one of the lucky third and your migraines will go away. But if not, you want to be prepared.
Finally, take it easy! Growing a baby is hard and it’s a lot of work for your body. Do your best to get as much rest and relaxation as possible. Avoid stress and try your hardest to stay away from your migraine triggers. The better you avoid your triggers, the more likely you will prevent a migraine during pregnancy.
My experience with migraines during pregnancy
I was pretty lucky and maintained my migraines pretty well during the first two trimesters. They weren’t gone, but they weren’t terrible. I felt pretty lucky.
But my luck definitely ran out at the beginning of my third trimester. One day a migraine came on really strong and really fast. I instantly knew that I was in trouble.
Unfortunately, no matter what we did, we couldn’t completely shake this migraine. It just kept getting worse and worse. I tried the medications on my list and nothing touched it. I went into the hospital for a modified infusion every day for a week and didn’t see much relief. This was
For me, the worst part was that I wasn’t just worried about my pain. After all, I’ve grown very accustomed to pain. I’ve dealt with migraines for years and have had a headache every day for as long as I can remember. I honestly can’t remember the last time I didn’t at least have a mild headache.
However, now I also had my baby to worry about. As my migraine got worse, my blood pressure also got higher and higher. And my poor doctor had to decide if I had preeclampsia (symptoms include high blood pressure, headache, blurred vision, nausea) or if I just had a migraine (symptoms include high blood pressure from pain, headache, blurred vision, nausea).
Even worse, as the pain from my migraine got worse, my baby stopped moving as much and didn’t seem to be growing as much as we wanted. And that terrified me! I knew I could put up with the pain if needed, in order to avoid medications. But that also wasn’t good for baby because my pain also stressed him out. It felt like a lose-lose situation!
Ultimately I had to do what was best for my baby. I had been working an average of 80+ hours a week in a very stressful job. Eventually, I resigned from my job and spent the remainder of my third trimester on modified bed rest. I went to the doctor several times a week for modified infusion treatments and to monitor my pregnancy to make sure my baby was growing.
Although I wasn’t able to completely shake this migraine, we didn’t have to induce at 33 weeks, like our doctor originally thought. I used a variety of ways to help make this migraine a little better and was able to hold out until my baby was 37 weeks.
I don’t say all of this to depress you. My doctor was very open that this was an incredibly difficult case and most migraines are not this persistent. If you have a migraine, it’s very unlikely that it will last the remainder of your pregnancy. Especially if you use these tips, which even helped my mega-migraine.
What can you do to cure a migraine during pregnancy?
*Drink at least a gallon of water a day. Migraines are often associated with a lower volume of cerebral spinal fluid in your brain. And you need even more water than normal while you’re pregnant because of your extra blood volume. Make sure to drink enough water!
*Avoid your triggers. This is vital! A big trigger for me is stress and lack of sleep. I often wonder if my job hadn’t been so stressful and the hours so irregular if I could have been more successful in getting rid of this migraine.
*Try acupuncture or chiropractic care. Many people see tons of benefits from these procedures. I didn’t have much luck with them, but they both made my body feel better!
*Put a cold or hot washcloth on your forehead and neck. I feel a little better when it’s warm, but others prefer it cold.
*Rest! Sleep as much as you can to try and get over this migraine. Once I went on modified bedrest, I spent 95% of my time sleeping and laying in bed. And this helped dramatically to decrease the overall pain and manage this terrible migraine.
*Ask about taking a magnesium pill. This helps for many people and I believe is a big reason I was able to do so well during the first two
*Ask if your doctor does the
*Ask your doctor about infusions that might be safe for you to do during pregnancy. After several days of this, I was finally able to get over the worst part of this migraine so I could get some rest.
*Ask what other medications you can take. As my migraine got worse, my doctor recommended that I take a few narcotics. He assured me that he felt it was safe and better for my baby for us to get this pain under control. I took a couple to get over the worst of
If you’re struggling with a migraine during pregnancy, know it will get better.
I think this is the hardest part of migraines. You just never know when the pain will get better and you often wonder how much of this you can take.
I remember one day in particular that I went the hospital crying, just wanting them to do anything to make the pain go away. And all the while I felt terrible and guilty for exposing my baby to medications.
But things did get better and we made it. Once your baby is born, you can use much stronger medical interventions to completely get rid of
As another perk, I think having a migraine might help prep your body to handle pain! Labor pain is very different from migraine pain, so it’s hard to compare which is “worse.” But I would much rather be in labor than have a really bad migraine. And I thought labor was much less painful than I expected!