Headaches during pregnancy

Headaches can come in many forms. It can affect any area of the head, face and / or neck. It can occur as a migraine, tension-type headache, or cluster headache.



  • Research suggests that 39% of women will experience headaches during or just after pregnancy.
  • Tension headaches are thought to be the most common type of headache associated with pregnancy. These headaches are often described as a tight band around the head.
  • A migraine headache can start off as a dull ache but then gradually worsens and can become a sharp or throbbing pain. Migraines are also associated with light and noise sensitivity, dizziness and or nausea.
  • Cluster headaches are less common and often described as a “stabbing” pain, typically on one side of the head and around the eye. Occasionally other symptoms include; nasal congestion and watery eyes.


  • The exact cause of a headache during pregnancy may vary based on the trimester.
  • Increase in hormones (or sudden drop in hormones following birth) is usually the main reason behind headaches in or after pregnancy.
  • Stress.
  • Lack of Sleep (can change depending on the trimester).
  • Dehydration, often associated with nausea and or vomiting.
  • Hunger, often associated with nausea and or vomiting.
  • Caffeine Withdrawal.
  • Poor posture – causing stress to the neck muscles that attach to the skull (usually causes low, dull headaches in the back of the head).
  • Blood pressure issues.


Here is what the evidence says about the treatment options:


Yogaevidence is available for the short-term efficacy of yoga in improving headache frequency, headache duration, and pain intensity in patients suffering from tension-type headaches.

There are lots of Online Yoga programmes available, have a look at our Top 5 here (and why we love them)!  You can also read our blog on how yoga can help in other ways.



Acupunctureevidence suggests that acupuncture can be helpful in the treatment of migraine-type headaches and therefore could be a good option if you are struggling with headaches in general. If you would like to try acupuncture you would need to book in with your local physiotherapist who is AACP registered.



MagnesiumStudies have found that patients with cluster headaches and classic or common migraine, especially menstrual migraine, have low levels of magnesium. THIS study found that magnesium can help in the treatment of headaches but THIS study reported that there is not enough high-quality evidence to show that dietary magnesium supplementation during pregnancy is beneficial. Another study looked at the effects of magnesium on pregnancy outcomes and found that a supplement during pregnancy is also likely to decrease probability occurrence of many complications of pregnancy. Magnesium sounds like a good option but be sure to speak to your healthcare provider before taking any additional supplements.



AromatherapyOne study reported that local topical treatment with peppermint oil over the temples has proven to be significantly more effective than placebo in controlled studies when treating cluster-type headaches, although this was quite a small-scale study. We like THIS oil as it is a roller application so quick and simple to use.


Gingerevidence suggests that the use of ginger can help with headaches and is safe to use in pregnancy. Ginger comes in many forms, we like THESE tea bags that can help headaches and nausea and also THESE  tablets have good reviews.


Exerciseevidence has been found for the effectiveness of exercise in the treatment of headaches. THIS study concluded that exercise may be an option for the treatment of migraines in patients who do not benefit from or do not want to take daily medication. Another large study including more than 92,000 people showed that a low level of physical activity was clearly associated with an increased risk of headaches.


Pilates – Another form of exercise that is effective and safe during pregnancy and can help with stress, anxiety and muscle tension, is Pilates. Have a look at our Top 5 online Pilates programmes here.


What symptoms to watch out for:

Preeclampsia is often associated with a headache that will not go away. Some other symptoms include:
  • changes in vision, such as blurred vision or seeing spots
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sudden weight gain
  • pain in the upper stomach or abdomen
  • difficulty breathing
  • swelling in the face or hands
Regular check-ups with your midwife should help spot the signs of preeclampsia early but contact your healthcare provider if any of these symptoms increase before your scheduled appointment.
There are other symptoms to watch for when it comes to headaches and neck pain. See your healthcare practitioner or go to A&E if you have any of the following symptoms:
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with your speech or swallowing
  • Any episodes of fainting
  • Any double vision
  • Fever / chills and a new headache / sensitivity to light
  • Pain worse when lying flat / at night
  • Neck pain following trauma – i.e. a car accident
  • Numbness / pins and needles in your arms and or legs
  • Weakness or loss of control of your arms and or legs
  • Any form of incontinence that comes with the neck pain
  • Night sweats (common in pregnancy but mention if you are concerned about your neck pain also)
  • Weight loss

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Please Note:
Although the posts on this site are written by fully qualified Physiotherapists, the advice is of a generalist nature and could not take into account the particular physical or medical condition of individual audience members. The information given is meant to be practical and informative but is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. The information available is not meant to replace any relationship that exists between an audience member and their GP, hospital specialist or other healthcare professional. If you are after individual advice or you are concerned about any of your symptoms you must consult your own therapist or healthcare provider.

About The Author

Abigail Taylor qualified as a Physiotherapist in 2005. She has a special interest in Women’s health Physiotherapy and research. Abigail is the founder of ‘Pain in the Bump’ which she developed whilst on her maternity leave with her second baby.