Pregnancy Hormones and Headaches

If I told you that pregnancy hormones tend to make pregnant women a bit touchy, your reaction would go in one of two ways. The first reaction would be a rolling of the eyes with a “well, duh!’ type of expression. The second reaction would be a very huffy and emphatic ‘no they don’t, you’re hormonal!’ Now from those reactions guess which one represents the non-bun-in-the-oven populace? Whether you want to admit it or not pregnancy is all about the hormones. They swing, they weep, they rage, but mostly they increase.

Why On Earth?!

Now, why on earth would the female system insist on creating such a potent cocktail of craze-inducing hormones in this the most magical time of a woman’s life? Well, each hormone has a job to do during the pregnancy or delivery and low levels or missing hormones can endanger the normal, healthy processes involved in gestation and childbirth. In my prenatal classes most of my students are able to name only three reproductive hormones: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Of the three one is thought of as being mainly a man’s hormone, but believe it or not the weaker sex does have levels of testosterone present in their systems at varied levels most of the time. Of course testosterone is just one of the minor hormones, and by no means plays the leading role.

Keeping The Reproductive System On Track

Estrogen and Progesterone keep the entire female reproductive system in balance and on track. During pregnancy progesterone plays the major roll keeping pregnancy rolling smoothly along, while estrogen takes the back seat. Progesterone is not alone in this effort however. For the first 10 weeks before the placenta is nicely formed and producing high levels of progesterone, the hCG hormone stands in, protecting the fertilized egg and supporting the new pregnancy until progesterone levels rise.

As an expectant mother you can thank the hCG hormone for many things: a positive home pregnancy test (home tests use hCG levels to diagnose pregnancy) and sustaining pregnancy for the first few weeks as well as other not-so-great things like morning sickness and fatigue. Most women, if they stopped to think about it, would have a love-hate view of the hCG hormone.

The Star Pregnancy Hormones

Estrogen might not be the star player in pregnancy, but it does not mean that it fades into nothingness. Estrogen levels also rise during pregnancy. The general increase in womanly hormones across the board is what creates the possibility of touchy mommies to be. Other lesser known pregnancy hormones like relaxin, play a major role in labor, but begin their work during pregnancy. Relaxin hormones help to relax the joints and increase space.

This is great for childbirth as this little hormone helps make your normally rigid inflexible pelvis open to its widest expanse allowing baby to leave the womb and enter your arms. These hormones also create breast milk, colostrum, change the color of your skin, prohibit preterm labor, relax your uterine muscles allowing them to stretch as baby grows and a million other things baby demands.

You’ll Look Back And Laugh!

Just remember, you will someday look back and laugh at those times your family was afraid of you. For the time being get some extra rest and let friends and family know what treats are most likely to appease you until the baby arrives and your hormones return more or less to normal.

Pregnancy Headache Coping Tips

A pregnancy headache can range from uncomfortable to down right painful, especially if they are migraines. But never fear, there are tips that will help you get relief and comfort. The most common types of headaches experienced during pregnancy are tension headaches. Tension headaches have been described by some as a tightening pressure on both sides of the head. Migraines are less common than tension headaches during pregnancy and they are far more painful. Migraines can sometimes be accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and blurred vision.

Causes of Pregnancy Headaches

Unfortunately, the occasional headache during pregnancy is quite common among expecting mothers. Some of the culprits include:

  • hormone changes
  • lack of sleep
  • changes in blood circulation
  • dehydration
  • low blood sugar
  • stress
  • certain foods
  • bad posture

Manage the Pain of a Pregnancy Headache

Just because headaches during pregnancy are common, it doesn’t mean you have to throw your hands up in defeat. There are ways to manage and reduce the frequency of headaches. When you get a pregnancy headache, place a cold or warm compress on the base of your neck or on the sides of your head to relieve tension and pressure. Taking a warm bath or shower can relax your muscles and relieve the stress that contributes to tension headaches.

If you are suffering with a migraine, try lying in a dark, quiet room with an ice pack on your forehead and temples. Give yourself a neck and shoulder massage. Massage can relieve tension, improve circulation and loosen knotted muscles. If you can spare the cash to pay for a back massage, that’s even better. If you do get a professional massage, make sure the masseuse is licensed to administer pregnancy massages.

It’s best to stay away from all medicines when you’re pregnant. However, in some instances, especially when you suffer with debilitating migraines, medications may not be avoidable. If this is the case, talk to your doctor so she can help you decide which medication poses the least risk to your unborn fetus. Never take any medicines, including over the counter meds, without the consent of your physician.

Pregnancy Headache Prevention

If you want to reduce the likelihood of getting a headache during pregnancy, eat small, healthy frequent meals and limit your intake of simple carbohydrates like white bread, sugar, white rice and white crackers. Simple carbohydrates digest rapidly in the bloodstream and cause your blood sugar levels to spike. An anti-headache diet should consist mostly of whole grains, lean meats, fish, eggs, poultry, vegetables, fruits, legumes and dry beans.

Maintain good posture throughout pregnancy. This can be hard to do, especially in the last trimester when your center of gravity is the worst. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. It is recommended that you drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily – more if you’re physically active or consume large amounts of caffeine. If you suffer with migraines, stay away from trigger foods such as MSG, aged cheese, nitrates, preserved meats (hot dogs, bologna, smoked sausage, etc.) artificial sweeteners, sulfites and alcohol. Finally, if you relax and kick your feet up more, you can reduce stress and lower your chances of suffering with headaches during pregnancy. If your pregnancy headache is accompanied by blurry vision, pain in the abdomen, or swelling of the hands and face, contact your doctor immediately.

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