Postpartum Headache: Causes, Types, Treatment & Prevention

Postpartum Headache
Postpartum Headache

Postpartum headaches are common amongst women who have just experienced the intense emotion and physical labor of birthing a child. They’re not talked about very often, but they’re perfectly normal – although, as we all understand, not ideal.

They can be caused by dehydration, anesthesia, changes in hormones, changes in your sleep patterns, and much, much more.

By outlining your headaches direct causes, types, treatments, and prevention strategies, we hope to give you a much better idea of how you can tackle them head-on.

So let’s get started.

What Exactly Is a Postpartum Headache?

Postpartum headaches are brought on by all of the physiological and biological changes happening in the female body during labor, however, they can also be a product of external forces that influence a woman’s post-labor lifestyle.

Typical migraine triggers, for example, stress and the skipping of meals, can make biological postpartum headaches that much worse. New parents also have to be on-call for their newborn child every day and night. This means that they do not always have the privilege of a good night’s sleep or a quiet environment to nap in.

We’ve put together a comprehensive list of causes for postpartum headaches:

  • Simply going through the mental and physical exhaustion of labor
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Malnutrition and dehydration
  • Hormone levels dropping
  • Weight loss
  • History of migraines (personal, but also familial)

How To Alleviate Immediate Discomfort

Short term solutions to your postpartum headaches include:

  1. Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications
  2. Drinking lots of water to combat dehydration
  3. Rest, relaxation, and sleep

But these remedies don’t always work. Sometimes the headaches can become severe, last for days, and remain unhealed by those measures.

If this is the case, you should definitely contact your doctor.

When should I contact my doctor?

You should get in touch with a medical professional if…

  • Your headache is accompanied by a slight to severe fever
  • You have a headache that begins, or gets worse, with sexual activity
  • Your headache comes in pulsing waves, increasing in their severity
  • Your headache comes after you have physically exerted yourself
  • Your headache is accompanied by stiffness in the neck and upper back
  • Rest, relaxation, hydration, and over-the-counter medication isn’t working
  • You have a headache that lasts longer than 24 hours

Specific Types of Headaches that Derive from the Birthing Process

1. Migraines

Common symptoms of migraines include a throbbing, pulsing sensation on one side of the brain, nausea, and vomiting, and an acute sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights.

2. Tension-Type Headaches

Tension-type headaches differ from migraines in several ways. First off, migraines are usually much more crippling and harder to function with. Tension-type headaches are felt on both sides of the brain, as opposed to just one, and the sensation feels more like a tightening or a pressure than a pulse or throb.

For migraines, as for tension-type headaches, doctors usually provide over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or general pain medications, lots of water and other fluids, and of course adequate sleep and rest.

3. Spinal Headaches

There are also spinal headaches, which frequently occur in new mothers who were treated with an epidural for anesthesia during labor. Spinal headaches are also called “post-lumbar puncture headaches.” They require a lot more attention and special, unique kinds of treatment.

Patients suffering from spinal headaches may have to be treated with an IV fluid, coffee and caffeinated products, and/or a blood patch.

If you’ve never heard of a blood patch before, it’s essentially a procedure where your own blood is injected back to you right at the site of the epidural. It is a kind of surgery that narrows the hole made by the epidural, limiting the fluid that leaks from your spine.

Secondary Postpartum Headaches

When it comes to postpartum headaches, there are both primary and secondary classifications and causes.

Primary postpartum headaches encompass everything that we have delved into thus far. They are headaches that result directly from the birthing process, and that are triggered by birth and birth alone.

Secondary postpartum headaches, on the other hand, are a little different. These kinds of headaches are a result of a pre-existing medical condition and are either brought out or intensified by the birthing of your child.

One of the most severe is Preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia is a medical condition in which your high blood pressure may lead to an increase of proteins in your urine. In extreme situations, it can induce seizures or comas. In dire cases, preeclampsia can be fatal.

If you experience high blood pressure, less of a need to use the bathroom, shortness of breath, changes in your vision, and/or pain in your abdomen, you should contact a medical professional immediately.

If any of your postpartum headache symptoms seem even a little abnormal, it’s much better to contact your doctor right away (to avoid any further complications) and be safe than sorry.

Preventing Postpartum Headaches

It’s said that one in four women experiences postpartum headaches within the first two weeks of giving birth, and just under half the number of women who give birth will experience migraines within 30 days of going into labor.

That’s millions of women every year suffering from postpartum headaches.

Despite the large number of women affected by postpartum headaches every single year, doctors are still struggling to understand exactly what causes them and how they can be combatted. There isn’t very much research or data available.

That being said, there are a few things you can do to prevent postpartum headaches. By getting the right amount of sleep and rest (both before and after labor), drinking lots of water at all times, eating well, and finding lots of ways to relax before and after the birth of your child, you will reduce the chances of dealing with these kinds of ailments.

Conclusion

Educating yourself on the symptoms, and possible dangers, of postpartum headaches, will help you keep yourself safe, informed, and healthy during and after the birthing process. We hope this article has been helpful in outlining some of the causes, treatments, and more. Happy birthing!

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