Causes and Treatment of Headaches During Pregnancy

Headaches are a common discomfort of pregnancy. From hormone changes to the sudden end of drinking coffee to not sleeping well, there are plenty of reasons pregnancy can bring on a headache. Headaches may be a pain in the neck (well, more like a pain in the head) but they are usually not dangerous for moms and babies. Here’s what you need to know about the causes, prevention, and treatment of headaches during pregnancy.

treating headaches during pregnancy
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin


Women get headaches from time to time, so it isn’t surprising they pop up during pregnancy, too. The reason is not always known, but many things can lead to a headache while you’re pregnant. Some causes (this list is not exhaustive) include:  

  • Hormone changes
  • Hunger
  • Low blood sugar
  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine withdrawal 
  • Lack of sleep 
  • Eyestrain from changes in your vision or too much screen time on the computer or phone
  • Emotional or physical stress
  • Muscle strain from changes in your posture as the baby grows and you gain weight
  • High blood pressure in pregnancy


Before becoming pregnant, your main method of treating a headache might have been to reach for the pain medication. But, now that you’re expecting, you may want to try to deal with the pain in other ways and use medicine as a last resort. Here are some alternative ways to cope with a headache during your pregnancy.

  1. Rest in a dark room: Turn off the lights and lower the volume of the TV or turn it off and try to take a nap. 
  2. Use hot and cold towels: Alternate between heat and cold on your head where it aches. 
  3. Take a bath: If you are not experiencing pregnancy complications and your doctor says it’s safe to take a bath, you can relax in a warm tub. 
  4. Try natural health services: Alternative care such as massage, chiropractic care, or acupuncture may help to relieve headaches. Be sure to choose licensed professionals for all your natural health care needs and talk to your doctor too, especially if you have any issues with your pregnancy. 
  5. Make an appointment with your eye doctor: Pregnancy can affect your eyes by making them dry and changing your eyesight. Your eye doctor can offer options to help relieve headaches from eye issues.
  6. Ask for help: If you have other children, ask a friend or family member for help so you can get some rest. The people who care about you are often more than happy to help out.
  7. See your ob/gyn: For persistent or worsening headaches, check in with your obstetrician.


If you can get through an occasional headache without using pain medication, that’s great. But sometimes, chronic headaches or severe migraines are just too much to handle. You don’t have to suffer in pain just because you’re having a baby.

That doesn’t mean you should take the over-the-counter medication you usually would or the migraine medication in your medicine cabinet. Now that you’re pregnant, you have to be more careful about what you use to treat your pain. So, call your doctor. They will tell you which OTC pain medicine is safe or prescribe medication if you need it. General recommendations include the following:

  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) is considered safe to take while you’re pregnant, but it should only be taken in low doses when needed.
  • NSAIDs (Motrin, Aleve, or Advil) and aspirin are typically not recommended during pregnancy, particularly after 20 weeks of gestation.
  • For migraines, your doctor may give you prescription medications to treat migraine headaches, nausea, and pain.

The Food and Drug Administration no longer recommends the use of NSAIDs after 20 weeks of pregnancy. These drugs been have been linked to various serious complications, including heart and kidney problems, low amniotic fluid levels, preterm birth, miscarriage, and stillbirth.

Caffeine Headaches

Caffeine is a drug. It’s addictive, and your body can become dependent on it. If you love your coffee or soda and stop drinking it all of a sudden when you find out you're pregnant, you can go through caffeine withdrawal. Caffeine withdrawal can cause fatigue, irritability, shakiness, and, yes, a headache.

So if you get a headache right after you stop drinking coffee, it’s probably from caffeine withdrawal. It may take your body a few days to adjust to the absence of caffeine, so here are some tips to get you through.

  1. Cut down on the caffeine slowly: If possible, don’t give up caffeine cold turkey. It’s easier on your body if you cut back gradually. If you do get a headache, having a small amount of caffeine may help, and it is not shown to be harmful. You can also try decaffeinated coffee or tea.
  2. Find other ways to boost your energy: Caffeinated beverages give you energy, so you may feel tired and lack energy when you switch to decaf coffee or caffeine-free soda, especially mid-day. If you feel sluggish, you can try to give yourself a natural boost by having a healthy snack, getting some fresh air, or going for a walk.
  3. Stay hydrated: Don’t skip your beverage break just because it's no longer a coffee break. You still need fluids, so drink plenty of water or other beverages that don’t contain caffeine.
  4. Go to bed early: To help keep your energy levels up during the day, try to get enough rest at night.

Sinus Headaches

Allergies or a sinus infection can cause pain and pressure in your forehead, or around your eyes and the bridge of your nose. You may also have a stuffy or a runny nose and a fever.

Call your doctor if you think you have a sinus headache. Your doctor may want to prescribe an antibiotic if you have a sinus infection.

You can also treat a sinus headache by:

  • Trying to stay away from the things that may be causing your allergy
  • Using a saline nasal spray or neti pot to help loosen and clear the mucus
  • Using a humidifier or holding your head over a steaming bowl of water with a towel over your head and the bowl
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Getting extra rest

Not all over-the-counter sinus, allergy, and pain medications are safe to take while you’re pregnant. So, if you think you need an antihistamine or a pain reliever, you should talk to your doctor about which medicine is safe for you to use. 

Tension Headaches

You can get a tension headache from anxiety or stress. It may feel like a tightness around your head, and you may also feel it down the back of your head and in your neck. To ease a tension headache, you can:

  1. Place an ice pack or cold towel on the back of your neck to relieve tension.
  2. Take breaks to get up and walk around if you are sitting down at a computer or desk all day for work.
  3. Try pregnancy yoga, gentle neck stretching exercises, and breathing exercises to help to ease muscle tension in your neck and back.
  4. Take a warm bath or shower.
  5. Rest with your feet up.

Migraine Headaches

Migraines are more intense than typical headaches. The throbbing, pounding pain is often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, blurry vision, and sensitivity to light and sound. Some women who suffer from migraines find that they get better during pregnancy, but that’s not always the case.

If you get migraine headaches, you can try to pinpoint and avoid the things that commonly trigger migraines including:

  • Certain foods or smells
  • Alcohol (which you should be avoiding during pregnancy anyway)
  • Caffeine
  • Stress
  • Exhaustion
  • Bright lights

You can also:

  • Rest in a quiet, dark place
  • Use relaxation techniques
  • Apply ice packs to your head
  • Try alternative treatments such as massage or acupuncture

If your migraines are too severe and you need medication, talk to your doctor. 

Any severe, unrelenting headache that awakens you from sleep should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.

Headache Prevention

Headaches are a part of life. Since they don’t always have an obvious cause and you can get one from things that you can’t control, like a cold, there’s no way to prevent them completely. But there are some things you can do to try to keep them away.

  1. Avoid triggers: If you can figure out what foods, plants, or smells are causing your headache, you can stay away from them.
  2. Stay hydrated: Not drinking enough water or losing too much of your body’s water on a hot day or through exercise can lead to a headache, so drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
  3. Don’t skip meals: Hunger and low blood sugar can cause a headache, so try to eat a well-balanced diet. Have three meals a day plus a few healthy snacks to keep your blood sugar levels steady. Carry healthy snacks full of protein and whole-grains with you, so you don’t have to go for long periods without eating.
  4. Try to get enough rest: Fight off fatigue by getting a good night's sleep and taking naps during the day, if possible.
  5. Use relaxation techniques: Meditation, listening to music, doing some mild exercise such as yoga, and other stress-relieving coping mechanisms can help reduce anxiety and stress.
  6. Be aware of your stress: If you are under too much stress and need help dealing with it, talk to your doctor.
  7. Try to improve your posture: It's so easy to slouch, so try to sit up straight and walk with your shoulders back. Good posture helps to prevent muscle strain on your back and neck, especially as your baby and your belly grow.

When to Call the Doctor

Most of the time, a headache is just a headache, and it will go away once you eat something or get a little rest.

A bad headache that does not go away in a few hours, gets worse, or keeps coming back could be a sign of a pregnancy complication, so you should call your doctor.

You should also notify the doctor:

  • Before taking any medication or herbal supplement to treat your headache to be sure that it’s safe
  • If your natural treatments are not working
  • If you have a fever, pressure around your eyes, or a stuffy nose
  • If you get a headache and you have a history of high blood pressure
  • If you get a headache after you hit 20 weeks pregnant
  • If you have pain along with other symptoms such as nausea, blurry vision, abdominal pain, or swelling in the body
  • If you have head pain after falling and hitting your head

A Word From Verywell

Headaches can be painful and annoying. They're even worse when you’re pregnant, and you have to be careful about taking medication. But by understanding what can trigger a headache, you can try to prevent it. And if you do get one, you’ll be better prepared to deal with it.

Thankfully, most headaches during pregnancy are just a pain and not dangerous for you or your baby. They typically go away on their own with some fluids, a bite to eat, and a little relaxation. However, don’t be afraid to call the doctor, especially if it’s lasting long, getting worse, or you have any other symptoms along with a headache.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food and Drug Administration. FDA recommends avoiding use of NSAIDs in pregnancy at 20 weeks or later because they can result in low amniotic fluid.

Additional Reading
  • Bienstock JL, Fox HE, Wallach EE, Johnson CT, Hallock JL. Johns Hopkins Manual of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2015.

  • Briggs GG, Freeman RK, Yaffe SJ. Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation: A Reference Guide to Fetal and Neonatal Risk. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012.

  • Digre KB. Headaches during pregnancy. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2013;56(2):317-29. doi:10.1097/GRF.0b013e31828f25e6

  • Dixit A, Bhardwaj M, Sharma B. Headache in pregnancy: a nuisance or a new sense?. Obstet Gynecol Int. 2012;2012:697697. doi:10.1155/2012/697697

  • Robbins MS, Farmakidis C, Dayal AK, Lipton RB. Acute headache diagnosis in pregnant women: a hospital-based study. Neurology. 2015;85(12):1024-30. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000001954

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.