Ask Your Midwife: Will Migraine Improve During Pregnancy?

Migraine is a serious health problem for many people across the United States. Indeed, the Migraine Research Foundation estimates that around 36 million people in the United States suffer from this condition. Women are more susceptible to migraine than men, and pregnancy can affect the condition. Find out how changes in your body during pregnancy can affect migraine, and learn more about the steps you may need to take to cope with the disease.

How migraine affects the body

Migraine is more than just a headache. Indeed, thousands of people in the United States have to go to the emergency room every year because they suffer from the disease. A migraine attack can cause throbbing, debilitating headaches, nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light. What's more, a single episode can last several days.

Doctors are not yet entirely sure what causes migraines. Studies suggest that both genetics and environmental factors can cause migraine symptoms. During a migraine attack, serotonin levels in the brain can drop, triggering the release of other substances to protect this vital organ and a sudden onset of head pain.

Migraine triggers and pregnant women

For women who are susceptible to migraine, certain triggers can cause an attack. Triggers vary from one person to another and can include certain foods, medications, environmental changes or stressful incidents. Hormonal changes also commonly trigger migraine attacks.

During pregnancy, the estrogen in your body can sometimes exceed one hundred times the normal level. Conversely, progesterone levels can drop and rise during different stages in the gestation. Nonetheless, hormone fluctuations during pregnancy are not always as pronounced as those women experience when they aren't pregnant.

As such, if you regularly experience migraine attacks, you may find that the problem subsides while you are pregnant. Unfortunately, these improvements may only occur for certain migraine sufferers.

Types of migraine

Doctors generally recognize two types of migraine. Migraine with aura occurs when you experience warning signs before you suffer more serious symptoms. Experts estimate that less than 20 percent of people with migraines also experience these warning signs (or prodromes).

For everyone else, migraines normally occur without warning. Doctors refer to this form of the disease as migraine without aura. Only women who experience migraine without aura generally see an improvement in the condition when they are pregnant. Even then, only 60-70 percent of these women see a positive change.

Medication during and after pregnancy

Unfortunately, some migraine medications may cause damage to your unborn child, so doctors recommend that you stop taking certain drugs or switch to lower doses.  As such, even women who suffer from migraine without aura may increase their chances of an attack because they cannot continue with anti-migraine medication like triptans.

When you first experience the signs of an attack during pregnancy, doctors recommend that you simply take soluble paracetamol with food. Limit your intake of ibuprofen to 600mg per day, and avoid aspirin late in pregnancy, as the drug can cause bleeding.

If possible, you should continue to avoid anti-migraine medications if you decide to breastfeed your baby, although you should not take aspirin at all, as this drug can interfere with the infant's blood clotting ability. You can continue to take certain triptans after the baby's birth, but avoid breastfeeding for 24 hours after you take the medication.

Other coping strategies

While you're avoiding anti-migraine medications, you should try to avoid any triggers that may increase the likelihood of an attack. A lot of pregnant women decide to keep a diary, as this can help them spot foods, drinks or environmental factors that cause an attack.

Instead of pain killing medications, you can try other home remedies to ease migraine symptoms. These include:

  • Cold showers
  • Biofeedback
  • Relaxation techniques like yoga
  • Hot or cold towels to the side of the head or neck

You are particularly vulnerable during the first three months of your pregnancy because morning sickness during this period can lead to low blood sugar and dehydration. Eat and drink small amounts often to avoid these problems, which are more likely to trigger a migraine attack.

Millions of American women experience regular migraine attacks, but the risk of symptoms can increase or decrease during pregnancy. For help and advice, talk to your doctor or midwife about ways you can cut the risk of a migraine attack during pregnancy. Visit for more information and advice about your pregnancy.