Who Gets Migraines?
It is estimated that a quarter of reproductive-age women have migraines, according to Dr. Meghan Hayes, with Obstetric and Consultative Medicine at Women and Infants' Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. Over 80 percent of women in this demographic have headaches—with tension-type headaches being most common, followed by migraine. "Thus, we see migraines often in pregnant women," Dr. Hayes says.
If you have a prior history of migraine headaches, you're more likely to have migraines during pregnancy. It would be unusual, though—but not unheard of—to have a migraine for the first time during pregnancy. Of course, if the headaches start during pregnancy, they'll likely continue after, according to Dr. Howard Derman, the director of the Headache Clinic at Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston, Texas.
What Causes Migraines?
Headaches early in pregnancy are common, caused by hormonal changes, sleep interruption, and sometimes caffeine withdrawal, Dr. Hayes says. These, however, are most commonly tension-type headaches that will improve with rest, drinking more fluids, relaxation/stress reduction measures, and acetaminophen if needed.
Caffeine withdrawal headaches tend to be migraines, with blood vessel spasm the culprit. But this pain can be avoided. Dr. Hayes says that consuming up to two cups of coffee or an equivalent caffeine source per day is acceptable during pregnancy.
Some women have menstrual migraines that are thought to be triggered by estrogen decline. "Pregnancy, with sustained increase in estrogen levels, may lead to improvement in migraines for these women," Dr. Hayes says. "After delivery, they are likely to experience more frequent and/or severe migraines."