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How to Treat Migraines Safely During Pregnancy

Bright lights, loud noises and obnoxious smells are your worst enemies when you are pregnant and suffering from a migraine. It’s as if you cannot seal yourself off from the world enough to escape the intense pounding in your head and sickness in your growing belly. Those who have had migraines know treating one is difficult; then add to the list being pregnant and your options are well, limited.

The culprits to blame are usually lack of rest, certain food triggers or not enough water. Estrogen has been found to cause migraine headaches as well. Many women who suffer constantly from migraine headaches find they follow a pattern with their menstrual cycle. If you are one of these women, it’s been suggested that pregnancy actually eases migraine headache symptoms because estrogen patterns change during pregnancy. However, there is no end all be all. Let’s face it, many women suffer from migraine headaches during pregnancy whether they have or have not had them before. Although preventing them would be best, many anti-migraine medicines have been found to cause birth defects.

Absolutely your baby is your number one concern; however, the discomfort you feel is almost unbearable. You know you can not use many, effective migraine treatments as they are harmful to the baby. Therefore, what are you to do? Life doesn’t stand still while you are pregnant and you shouldn’t either. Below are 7 safe ways to treat your migraine during pregnancy so you can get back to living your life.

3  Pain Relievers

When it comes to what you can and what you can not take during pregnancy, it’s down right confusing. Not to worry, this guide will walk you through the common, as well as innovative, pain relievers available to pregnant mom’s suffering from migraines and if they are safe or not.

Acetaminophen, or Tylenol in layman’s terms, is considered generally safe during pregnancy and can be taken to alleviate your migraine headache.

One of those which are not safe is Aspirin. It has been linked to miscarriages in the first trimester, blood pressure issues during the last trimester and excess blood loss for mothers if taken too close to delivery.

Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) is another popular over-the-counter medicine. Generally, there has not been enough controlled human testing to say these types of pain relievers are safe during pregnancy and should not be taken to help during a migraine headache.

Lastly, narcotics need to be avoided at all costs during pregnancy as they can be addictive to not only mom, but baby as well.

However, should you be someone who suffers from recurring migraine headaches along with nausea and vomiting, some relatively safe medications includebeta-blockers and calcium channel blockers. Always see a qualified migraine specialist so as to be 100% sure the dosage is safe for baby.

As far as preventing migraines,Cefaly is the first product safe for those 18 years or older which has finally been FDA approved to help in doing just that- preventing migraines. It’s a head-band like device that gives electrical pulses through the skin on your forehead to stimulate a nerve associated with migraine headaches. It’s only used once a day for 20 minutes and patients stated you feel a massaging or tingly sensation when it’s on.

However, as always speak to your health care provider before taking any pain relievers. Also, health care offices can give you a list of medications that are safe for each week during your pregnancy.

2 Rest, rest and more rest

If you’re aching back, heavy eyelids and swollen feet aren’t enough to make you sit down, a migraine headache sure will. If you are currently suffering from a migraine, sit down now. Sitting, resting, sleeping, napping and all around relaxing is the first thing you should be doing to alleviate your symptoms.

1. Sleep Schedule

Create a set bedtime and stick to it. Most of the time women are so tired in the first trimester this isn’t a problem. Their body naturally puts itself to sleep sometimes before the sun has even set.

However, many people also can trigger a migraine by getting too much sleep. The problem of how much is too much is easily solved by setting a sleep schedule. Mark W Green, director of the Center for Headache and Pain Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine said, “People who are sleep-deprived get more migraines, so you need to keep sleep very regular to break the cycle. This means going to sleep at the same time and getting up at the same time every single day."

2. During a Migraine

What do you do if you already have a migraine? Sleep may sound like a great way to treat a migraine, but can be difficult to make happen when your head is pounding so loudly it’s as if a herd of buffalo are racing across your forehead. Therefore, Mark Green suggests resting in a pitch black room with two pillows behind your head for extra cushioning. Drinking a relaxing cup of tea may also help sooth you into slumber. Below is a recipe from The Natural Pregnancy Book:

Relaxing Tea recipe(by Aviva Jill Romm, M.D.The Natural Pregnancy Book.)

  • 1 tsp. of chamomile (only one cup of chamomile a day during the 1st trimester)
  • 1 tsp. of lemon balm
  • ½ tsp. of lavender
  • ½ tsp. of fennel seeds

Steep in a cup of hot water (covered) and drink hot. You can add milk and honey for flavor. (Check with your healthcare provider before using any "herbal remedies".) 

1 Water Works Wonders

Water really does work wonders with treating a migraine. A good goal to shoot for is to drink 2-3 quarts (8-12 cups) of water daily in order to avoid getting them at all. Again, being pregnant means you need to be thinking of that little one at all times. During these hot summer months, a filtered water bottle should be your best friend. Dehydration has been shown to cause migraine headaches and in fact, one large study in the journal Neurology showed that the risk of migraines jumps nearly 8 percent for every nine-degree rise in temperature.

Migraine sufferers are even more sensitive to the effects of dehydration and staying hydrated becomes a number one concern. Why does dehydration cause migraines to surface? Researchers say dehydrationcauses blood volume to drop which in turn causes less blood and oxygen flow to the brain and dilated blood vessels. Also, some experts suggest that a loss of electrolytes makes nerves in the brain produce pain signals.

An interesting study also published in the Neurology journal did a test with those who frequently get migraines. One group was given a placebo medication while the other group was told to drink 1.5 liters, or six cups, more water daily than they normally drank. The findings were concrete. Those who drank more water during those two weeks experienced on average 21 fewer hours of pain.

However, there are other ways to use water to treat your migraines during pregnancy. One way is to take an Epsom salt bath or put a wet washcloth over your head and eyes while resting. One homeopathic physical therapy option known to help safely treat migraines is to put your feet in a bucket of very hot water while putting an ice compress on the back of your neck. This will draw the blood down to the feet and away from your head; thus eliminating your pounding headache. Water really does work wonders!

Diet and Triggers

Most OB’s will educate you on the value of eating protein while being pregnant. Interestingly enough, the same is very true for those of you pregnant mommas suffering from migraines as well. The value of eating small, otherwise known as ‘mini-meals’ that include lean protein will aid in treating your migraine, and keep future migraines at bay.

Although there is no scientific evidence that certain foods trigger migraines, there are a few which many agree do in fact bring on a migraine. It is important to note everyone’s bodies are different; however it’s equally important to list out these most common migraine enemies. They include:

  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
  • Caffeine (Caffeine can help stop a migraine when it starts, but if you don’t drink the same amount every day, caffeine withdrawal can trigger a migraine.)
  • Chocolate
  • Cultured dairy products, such as yogurt
  • Broad beans, such as fava beans
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Nitrates and nitrites, which are found in processed meats such as bacon and cold cuts
  • Sulfites, which are found in wine
  • Tyramine, which is found in aged cheeses and meats, and fermented beverages
  • Yellow Dye Number 6, which is used in Doritos, Mountain Dew, and Peeps

During a lecture at Harvard Medical School, nutritionist Sandra Allonen said “There are no specific dietary recommendations for migraine sufferers” or magical foods to prevent migraines. She did say keeping blood sugar steady throughout the day can be important. A couple ways to do this is when you feel your blood sugar is low (otherwise known as feeling faint, hungry a drop in energy, etc) grab a handful of almonds or drink a glass of milk.

Also, Allonen emphasized that the connection between food and migraines is a very individual one. Every person is different as well as their triggers. Not a lot of research is unfortunately being done on how diet affects migraines. Therefore, there is no one better than yourself to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to food. It can be agreed on, however, that keeping your blood sugar steady by supplementing with small meals and snacks which include protein throughout the day will help in keeping migraines at bay.

Relaxation Techniques

Pregnancy brings with it so many unknowns and variables. However, one thing that every single pregnant woman is told now and then is to sit down, put your feet up and relax. Again, this is wonderful advice if you are also suffering from a migraine. Relax and read through these heart-rate dropping techniques…

Meditation

As we’ve said, migraines are caused by increased blood flow to vessels near the brain causing pain to develop. Therefore, relaxation techniques such as mediation will help slow your breathing, thus taking your heart rate down and finally slowing the rush of blood to those vessels. In fact, Headache magazine did a small study where their findings suggest meditation can decrease the intensity and duration of migraines by 3 hours. Those in the study meditated for about 30 minutes per day and had 1.4 fewer migraines per month. Lead study author Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD said, “They were able to have a sense of personal control over their migraines.”

Yoga

Another relaxation technique growing more popular each year is yoga. Yoga was incorporated with meditation in the above study, helping to bring about such amazing results. Also, they both are similar in controlling your breath. In yoga, you are taught how to breathe and thus again your heart rate slows as well as the blood going to your throbbing head. Pregnancy yoga classes are also extremely popular. If you haven’t yet, sign up for one and ask specifically about poses which can help reduce or prevent your migraines from occurring.

Biofeedback

Bio-what?? I know, this sounds so scientific; however, it is a very effective, safe way to learn how to treat migraines. Biofeedback is like it sounds: Its feedback about you from yourself. Makes perfect sense, right? Sensors are placed on your forehead which provides feedback on muscle tension, brain-wave activity, respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. A therapist monitors the feedback these sensors provide, and then uses relaxation techniques to calm you and ease your pain. After a while, you will learn which techniques work and which ones don’t. Effectively the goal is, through simple relaxation, and eventually without needing the biofeedback machine, you will learn how to overcome migraine symptoms immediately and thus shorten the symptoms dramatically.

Alternative Therapy

After speaking with your OBGYN or visiting your family doctor, I know you’ve learned how limited their options are to help you whilst pregnant and in migraine pain. However, there are plenty of alternative options to treating your migraine with a licensed doctor, other than the ones you’ve already seen.

Acupuncturist

Although acupuncture may sound frightening to some, it has very few side effects. Many pregnant women use this alternative to drug therapy for a number of common pregnancy complaints including migraine headaches.

In a study done by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 500 people were given traditional Chinese acupuncture and found instead of an average six days a month of suffering migraine headaches, they only had three. Three months after the study these participants still reported less migraine days, frequency and intensity.

Massage Therapist

Find a qualified, reputable and recommended massage therapist who specializes in pregnancy massage to ease your migraines. Head, neck and shoulder massages temporarily will relieve pain for some people while massages in general release serotonin into your body which will also help the pain subside.

In a study with 47 migraine sufferers in 2006, some were taken at random and given massages. Those who received massages reported fewer migraines and that they slept better during those weeks.

Chiropractor

Many people visit chiropractors for headache relief as one of the common causes of a headache is a misaligned spine. Keep in mind that during pregnancy, one does put on weight, then your posture is altered to compensate for the weight and finally, let’s face it, our pelvic bones are going through quite the change too. All of these changes can and will put your spine out of place, otherwise known as being ‘misaligned’.

Having your neck, back and pelvis adjusted is completely safe for you and baby. Also, besides helping with your migraine, seeing a chiropractor during pregnancy can help your pelvic bones widen to allow the baby to get into the proper position and thus lowering your chances of a cesarean birth, it reduces nausea in patients as well as providing relief for common neck and back pain. 

Out-of-the-box approaches

One day you will be back to your prior self. You can take any medications you want to treat your migraine without fear of harming your baby. But for now, here are some more safe approaches to treat your pain while you are selflessly taking one for the team. Way to go mom J

Aromatherapy

Although many smells can induce nausea during pregnancy, aromatherapy has been known to alleviate migraine pain. Simply put two drops of peppermint oil on a tissue and breathe it in periodically. Or rub one drop into your temples on either side of your forehead.

Reflexology

Reflexology is similar to meditation. It involves closing your eyes and using your imagination.Specifically for migraine headaches, you close your eyes and imagine the top of the toe is the front of your head and the under part of your toe is the back of your head. Your reflexology point for migraine pain on your right temple for instance would be the top point on your right big toe closest to the next toe.If you have a headache at the base of your skull, the reflexology point will be on the underside of your big toe in the middle. Then, press this area until you feel a very tender spot on your toe. Press this spot as firmly as you can handle it until it no longer hurts. It may be best to have someone do this for you. Lastly, repeat four or five times until your headache has subsided.

Miscellaneous

Put a tea towel soaked in warm water on your forehead. Tea is known to help reduce swelling, which is what is happening in your blood vessels. Another tip if you don’t have any tea is to make a rice sock compress. Take an old sock, fill it three quarters of the way with rice and then tie a double knot to seal the rice in. Wrap it in a damp towel and microwave for one to two minutes. Be careful while removing it from the microwave as it can and will burn you. Wait a few minutes and then place it over your eyes in a dark room.

Lastly, a combination of many of these different techniques may be your perfect potion to eliminating those nasty migraines. Every woman and every pregnancy will be different. Remember, it’s about the end result- and he/she will be ever so thankful for your careful care these next nine or so months!

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