Baby Blues: Migraines, Pregnancy and Motherhood

pregnancy mom migraines infantsIf you’re a chronic migraine sufferer and become pregnant, you might be surprised to learn that pregnancy can actually ease migraine symptoms in some women. However, this is definitely not the case for everyone. Some pregnant women experience even more chronic migraine pain and symptoms during their term. If you fall into this category, don’t despair; migraine relief is possible. Pain and symptoms caused by migraines can be managed, and there are ways for pregnant women to mitigate and reduce their symptoms substantially.

Moms With Migraines and Infants

Study results shared at the 2012 American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in New Orleans explored a link between mothers who have chronic migraines and colic in their babies. Colic is a condition that is marked by excessive fussing and crying in an otherwise healthy child.

Dr. Amy Gelfand, a pediatric neurologist from the Headache Center at University of California in San Francisco explained, “Mothers with a history of migraine were more than 2 and 1/2 times more likely to have a baby with colic than mothers who didn’t have migraine.” 

Data gathered from 154 mothers and their newborns showed that about 29% of infants who had mothers with chronic migraines had issues with colic, compared with 11% of infants whose mothers had no issues with migraines.

Experts believe that this new research suggests colic could be an early manifestation of chronic migraine. Babies have nervous systems that aren’t as developed as an adult’s. Migraine, a neurological condition, could manifest differently in adults and children; however, the underlying pathophysiology could be exactly the same. 

Some experts advocate trying some of the same non-medication strategies for colic that help with adult migraines. Decreasing light, sound and other stimulation can offer relief. The next research steps will involve tracking colicky babies over the years and seeing if, indeed, colic is a precursor to migraine. 

Migraines and Medication

Doctors generally advise staying off most medications while pregnant, but an acute migraine may call for relief. An analgesic pain reliever like acetaminophen is generally considered a low-risk option during pregnancy. Avoid narcotics and NSAID drugs like aspirin and Ibuprofen. Aspirin carries a risk of bleeding and miscarriage for pregnant women as well as blood pressure complications for the baby. Ergotamines are effective on migraines, but doctors advise against taking them during pregnancy, as they carry a risk of birth defects and premature birth.

Medications for Preventing Migraines

If you’re a chronic migraine sufferer, preventative treatment can help you to stave off future attacks or at least reduce their severity. If you are pregnant, however, it is best to consult your physician immediately before continuing to take the medications you depend on. Keep in mind that your baby may be vulnerable to the aggressive components and side effects of your migraine relief medications.

Consult your doctor with questions about specific medications and treatments, especially when pregnant. Whether it’s a natural herbal product, a home remedy or a drug, you’ll want to make sure it’s safe for you and the baby. Chronic migraine pain may be hard to bear, but taking a risk with your baby’s health and your own could cause complications and long-term issues down the road. Make sure you and your doctor weigh both the risks and benefits of any migraine treatment you consider.

Pregnant women experience enough new aches, pains and sensations as it is; migraine pain shouldn’t have to be an added burden. Follow these guidelines for migraine relief, and you’ll minimize the effect that chronic migraines have on your pregnancy and your your life.

Migraine Triggers During Pregnancy

The exact causes of chronic migraines is not known at this time. Chronic migraines appear to involve certain neurochemicals as well as changes in the nerve pathways and blood flow within the brain. During a migraine, agitated or over-stimulated brain cells release a surplus of neurochemicals that irritate blood vessels on the surface of the brain. The blood vessels then begin to swell, causing severe discomfort and stimulating the pain response.

The hormone estrogen is also believed to be a factor in migraines. Menstruation, pregnancy and menopause all cause altered estrogen levels which can change a woman’s pattern and experience of migraines. Fluctuating serotonin levels also seem to contribute to migraines. Some migraines last just a couple of hours, while others can last the whole day or more. Pregnancy may make migraines worse for one woman, but they might completely disappear during pregnancy for another.

Tracking Migraine Triggers

Most women have a combination of migraine triggers. Stress, erratic eating patterns and a lack of sleep can all contribute to causing migraines. However, a trigger that bothers you one day may not affect you at all the next. Keeping a migraine journal can help you to track your triggers so that you can adjust daily habits accordingly. It can also help your doctor in finding the most effective migraine treatments for you. Keep in mind that your triggers might be different while you’re pregnant. For each journal entry, include the following:

• The date and day of the week
• Specific symptoms
• A detailed description of the pain
• The starting time and ending time
• The conditions you believe caused or contributed to the migraine
• Treatments you tried — what worked and what didn’t

While every woman is different, some of the substances and conditions that have been associated with migraines include:

• Chocolate
• Beverages containing caffeine
• Strong cheeses
• Foods containing the preservative MSG (monosodium glutamate) such as soy sauce, seasoned sauce and many processed snack foods
• Foods containing nitrates (hot dogs, bacon, etc.)
• Aspartame, the artificial sweetener in Equal and NutraSweet
• Harsh or flickering lights
• Prolonged exposure to electromagnetic energy (computers, appliances, stormy weather, etc.)
• Strong perfumes, cleaners or other scents

Reducing Migraines and Their Symptoms

The best defense against migraines is a consistent healthy lifestyle and proper self-care. Here are some tips for managing migraines while pregnant:

• Avoid your known triggers and potential triggers
• Stay hydrated — drink plenty of water
• Have a predictable meal and snack schedule and stick to it
• Get enough sleep and rest
• Manage your stress levels and keep them as low as possible
• Learn and use relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, qigong, etc.
• If you feel a migraine coming on, make use of ice packs and/or get a neck and back massage

Have a tip or advice for dealing with migraines while pregnant? Please share your thoughts here.

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Image Credit: Kakapo31

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