Common Causes of Headaches When Breastfeeding

In general, headaches are just part of life. At some point, we all suffer from them. Although it might be uncomfortable, the occasional headache is usually not a concern. Headaches can develop during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Nursing women may experience a headache for many reasons, including these 7 common triggers.

1

Delivery Room Anesthesia

Woman receiving Epidural
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You can develop a headache if you had an epidural or a spinal block during delivery. If some of the fluid in your spine leaks out during the anesthesia process and the level of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in your body goes down, it can cause a headache.

In most cases, no treatment is necessary. Your headache should resolve on its own with rest and fluids. However, if it continues for longer than a day, your doctor may perform a procedure to help relieve the pain.

2

The Let-Down Reflex

Woman breastfeeding
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Some women get a headache while they're breastfeeding. The let-down of breast milk and the release of the hormone oxytocin may be to blame. This type of headache is called a lactation headache. Sometimes a lactation headache will resolve after a few weeks, but it could continue to occur until you wean your child.

If you suffer from headaches while you're nursing your baby, talk to your doctor. An over-the-counter pain medication such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) may provide some relief and allow you to continue breastfeeding.

3

Breast Engorgement

Baby breastfeeding

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A lactation headache can also develop if your breasts become hard, swollen, and overfull. Oxytocin, the same hormone that's believed to be responsible for let-down headaches, is also associated with breast engorgement. Try to stay ahead of engorgement as much as possible by breastfeeding or pumping often.

4

Poor Nutrition and Dehydration

sandwich and food on a tray
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If you don't eat enough, or if you skip meals, your blood sugar levels can drop. If you don't take in enough fluids each day, you can become dehydrated. Both of these situations can lead to weakness, exhaustion, and headaches.

Since breastfeeding requires extra calories and fluids, try to maintain a well-balanced diet. Eat at least three meals a day, along with a variety of healthy snacks, and drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated.

If you're getting headaches more often than you did before your baby was born, or if you're experiencing headaches of greater intensity than you previously experienced, call your doctor.

5

Fatigue

Exhausted mother
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New moms are tired and sleep-deprived. Lack of sleep and exhaustion can contribute to the onset of a headache. Try to nap when your baby is sleeping, and get help with household tasks. You may be able to ward off the headaches if you can get some more rest.

6

Too Much Screen Time

Mother in front of screens
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Since it can be hard to hold a book while breastfeeding, some moms read on a tablet or smartphone while their baby nurses. But spending too much time looking at the screen of your computer, tablet, or smartphone can tire your eyes and cause a headache.

Get enough rest, take frequent breaks from reading, and limit your screen time to reduce the strain on your eyes and help prevent headaches. If you continue to get headaches from eye strain, see your eye doctor. You may need glasses or a prescription change.

7

Allergies and Sinus Infections

Woman with headache
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Allergies, hay fever, and sinus infections can cause pain and pressure in your head. If you suffer from allergies, or if you think you have an infection, talk to your doctor about treatment.

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Article Sources
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  4. Yılmaz E, Ünal Çevik I. Headache in challenging and special circumstances: Pregnancy and lactation. Agri. 2018;30(4):153-164. doi:10.5505/agri.2018.85688

  5. Agarwal S, Goel D, Sharma A. Evaluation of the factors which contribute to the ocular complaints in computer users. J Clin Diagn Res. 2013;7(2):331–335. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2013/5150.2760

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Additional Reading
  • Riordan J, Wambach K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2014.

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