As if giving birth, sleep deprivation and difficulty breastfeeding weren't challenging enough, you might also get to delight in the joy of postpartum headaches.
They never said having a baby was easy, but sometimes it feels like you can't catch a break.
With hormone changes, missing meals and struggling to find time to even drink a glass of water, it's not surprising that you don't feel your best.
Postpartum women can experience throbbing headaches or postpartum migraines with a varied set of causes.
It's good to understand why these occur, and what to be cautious of.
Many women might feel quite concerned when experiencing an intense headache in the first few weeks of delivering their baby, but they're actually quite common.
In fact, around 39 per cent of mothers can experience headaches in the first week after delivery.
Migraines can be quite debilitating so, while you walk the chaotic but rewarding path of motherhood, let's get to know about postpartum headaches, potential causes and what to do if you have one.
What are postpartum headaches?
Postpartum headaches refer to an increase in or the appearance of headaches in people who have just had a baby.
The timeframe for these headaches is usually within the first six weeks.
As they are relatively common, especially in the first week, you might overlook them.
However, your headache could point to another health problem, so it's best to be aware of any warning signs.
Types of postpartum headaches
A postpartum headache diagnosis might be confirmed by healthcare professionals if you experience headaches within the first six weeks of delivering your baby.
Whilst there are a few causes of postpartum headaches, there are also a variety of treatments that medical professionals will take into consideration upon further medical diagnosis.
Postpartum headaches can be set into two categories:
- Primary headaches
- Secondary headaches
A primary headache refers to the headache itself being the main problem. Migraines or tension headaches are included in this category.
Although they feel very intense, tension headaches can feel like a tight band around your head (what joy!), they can be treated with over-the-counter medication.
A secondary headache is a symptom of another health problem. An example of a secondary headache would be a sinus headache or acute sinusitis, which is caused by inflammation in your sinus.
What causes postpartum headaches?
Most mothers who experience postpartum headaches experience them within the first week.
Primary headaches can be caused by a few things such as hormonal changes or other factors that many new mums will experience like:
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of water
- Low blood sugar
- Personal or family history of migraines
- Sensitivity to light
Headache triggers that cannot be attributed to the causes above mean that you should seek professional medical advice, especially when it could point to a serious underlying medical condition.
Causes of secondary headaches vary in severity and include:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Post lumbar puncture/spinal headache
- Brain tumour
Epidural headache after birth
Whilst headaches after giving birth are quite common, headaches caused by an epidural injection can be quite unique and intense.
They are made worse by sitting up or standing and are often experienced at the front or back of the head.
This type of secondary headache occurs when a needle, used for an epidural, injects a local anaesthetic outside of the dura (the bag of fluid that connects your brain and spinal cord).
This can cause a hole that cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) can come out through.
When too much CSF leaks out, you experience a headache as there's less pressure on the fluid around your brain.
Low blood pressure is what causes the headache.
Increasing your fluid intake, lying still and taking some pain relief as guided by a medical professional are advised.
The hole can seal in the dura in a few weeks but if the headache is left without medical treatment, it could turn more severe with bleeding around the brain.
Of course, this would be incredibly dangerous and scary so it's always best to be medically reviewed as soon as possible if you're experiencing a headache after birth.
This can be treated with an epidural blood patch that involves injecting your blood into the dura as this helps seal the hole.
The blood then clots, helping to close the hole up relatively quickly.
Some mothers abstain from an epidural due to the potential risk, but the risk of an epidural headache is very low, at about one in 500 procedures.
Constant headache after birth
Constant headaches or severe headaches after giving birth to your beautiful baby should prompt a full physical examination from your doctor immediately.
It can be extremely debilitating to put up with persistent headaches and medical intervention can get you back on track — even if it just calls for some pain medication!
If you experience a migraine, tension-type headaches or a stiff neck for a long time, chances are something else is triggering it and it's not just the natural changes to your body and environmental factors.
For headaches experienced in the three weeks postpartum, make sure you check in with yourself and take it easy.
If it's sporadic, it might just be a primary headache but if they persist, medical advice is required.
As always, it's best to seek medical advice and get checked out can put your mind at ease, which in itself could even help stop your headache.
Reduced stress is a way to manage your headaches.
Headaches in the three months postpartum should trigger a trip to the doctor.
It could point to something more severe.
While stress and lack of sleep from caring for a new baby can definitely be a cause for headaches, if you are experiencing constant headaches three months into life as a mum, it's best to get this checked out to see if there isn't anything else that could be causing it.
Symptoms like loss of vision could mean something more severe is going on and you should seek medical attention as soon as you can.
How to treat postpartum headaches
As postpartum headaches are quite common, you can usually manage the symptoms on your own.
This can include:
- Reducing stress
- Trying pain medications
- Getting more sleep (we know, this might be semi-impossible for a while)
- Keeping your fluids up (IV fluids if you're able to, but that means a trip to the doctor)
- Getting your nutrients and vitamins
- Getting a massage
- Taking a break in a dark, noise-free room (again, we know this might be hard to achieve with a baby)
- Ice pack
Taking time for yourself (when possible!) is key and if you're looking after yourself, time with your baby will be far more relaxing.
When to seek medical assistance?
Headaches, whether primary or secondary headaches, should be closely monitored. If the headache persists or feels so intense, dizziness or impacted vision, it's best to contact your doctor.
Whilst they might feel like warning signs, it might just be a migraine — but, it's better to know for sure.
Being medically reviewed might sound like a big deal for a headache, but there's no point putting up with pain if you don't have to.
The postpartum period is nutritionally demanding and it's important to nourish yourself, which in turn, can help stave off headaches.
With Kin's Postnatal Vitamins, you can ensure that you're nutritional needs are being supported.
With just one capsule a day, it's easy to up your vitamins around the chaos and bliss of motherhood.