Headache While Breastfeeding - What You Should Know

Headache While Breastfeeding

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Is breastfeeding your little bundle of joy causing you frequent headaches? You may think that having a headache while breastfeeding is a common issue, but did you know that frequent cases of headaches during breastfeeding can lead to other complications?

If you can relate to either of these questions, consider reading our post and getting some respite. Check out some safe and effective tips that will help rid that nagging headache, even as you continue to breastfeed.

Headache While Breastfeeding – Could It Be A Lactation Headache?

A headache during breastfeeding may seem like a harmless thing, and even though you may feel that simply not being able to get enough sleep or rest while caring for your baby is the reason for a headache, there is more to it than you may think. A breastfeeding headache specifically occurs when your body prepares itself for feeding. For your body to be ready for your newborn’s nutritional requirements, there are a lot of changes that keep happening inside you, even after your baby is born. Add to it the fact that when you are a new and breastfeeding mother, you barely get time to rest, sleep or eat. Moreover, your body also keeps drawing from its reserves to help make more nutrition for your baby. When you put all the above factors together, it is no surprise that you may eventually suffer breastfeeding headaches (1). So, it isn’t simply not enough sleep or rest, and it can hint at an underlying condition.

[ Read: Common Breastfeeding Problems ]

Take a look at some of the reasons that bring about an attack of a headache, especially while you are a breastfeeding mommy:

1. Lifestyle Changes:

  • As a new mother, you probably do not get enough sleep and do not get much time to rest either. As your body works round the clock, your brain does not get the chance to switch off and recharge itself. It is this lack of rest and over-exertion that causes a headache while you are breastfeeding.
  • While you are breastfeeding, it is possible that you may have reduced or given up on your caffeine intake. If you were a regular caffeine drinker before you became pregnant, or before you had your baby, it is possible that your body is used to a certain amount of caffeine on a daily or regular basis. Now that you have cut down on your caffeine intake, your body will go into a deprivation mode, which may show itself in the form of a headache.
  • Being stressed as a new mother can also trigger a headache, as can being exposed to loud noises, a condition that is known as phonophobia. When you have a new baby in the house, you may often have family and visitors dropping in to meet the new bundle. As a result, it could trigger or worsen your headache.

2. Medical Reasons:

  • If you are suffering from post-natal depression, it can trigger a headache, especially while you are nursing.
  • While you breastfeed, your body loses a lot of fluid as most of it goes towards providing nutrition to your baby. If you do not have enough water or fluids, it can lead to dehydration, which can trigger a headache. It is important to keep drinking lots of water in between feeding sessions and through the day and night.
  • If you were on headache medication earlier and had to stop it during your pregnancy and while breastfeeding, it may be another reason you are experiencing such episodes.
  • When your body gets ready to produce breast milk, it also releases the hormone oxytocin as the milk is being let down and causes your milk ducts to contract. It can trigger a headache, but will start to fade once you begin breastfeeding your baby.
  • As you breastfeed your baby, your body releases another hormone known as plasma vasopressin, which can cause your blood vessels to narrow. As a result, you may experience sudden bursts of a headache during the feeding session. Once you finish breastfeeding your baby, you may notice a decrease in the pain.
  • While you are a new mother, your body still goes through a lot of hormonal change and imbalance. The changes in hormones, especially in the hormone known as estrogen can trigger a headache, more so if you have suffered from a migraine in the past.
  • As you spend a lot of your time breastfeeding, the muscles in your neck and shoulder area are always stressed. It may also be another trigger for your headaches.
  • While you were pregnant and during after your delivery, you may have been put on certain medications that could potentially cause headaches as a side effect. Sometimes, the medication and injections that you receive during and right after the birth can also trigger postpartum headaches, that may last well till the time you breastfeed your baby. During the birthing process, you may have been given a spinal or an epidural anesthesia that can also lead to a headache.
  • If you suffer from Hashimoto’s disease, it can also be a major cause of the headaches that you experience while breastfeeding (2).

[ Read: Symptoms Of Migraine While Breastfeeding ]

How Can You Treat Headaches Without Medications While You Are Breastfeeding?

Pregnancy is a delicate time, and you need to be careful. Similarly, you need to be extremely careful while you are breastfeeding, especially about the medications you take, as they may trigger side effects for your baby. While some medicines are considered safe while you are breastfeeding, others should be avoided. Your doctor will be the best person to tell you which are the medicines that you can take while you are breastfeeding and which ones you should avoid.

It can be difficult to feed your baby or take care of him while you are breastfeeding him. Hence it is very important that you treat your headache so that you are comfortable and can concentrate on feeding him. Here are a few ways that you can treat your headache that may occur while you are breastfeeding, but make sure that you first speak to a doctor before trying out any of the following:

  • It is understandable that you may not want to take strong medications for headaches while you are breastfeeding your baby. Instead, you can ask your doctor if it is okay to take any mild pain relievers that are safe to be taken while you are breastfeeding. In most cases, your doctor may suggest you take an Ibuprofen or an Acetaminophen, which are safe to take during the breastfeeding period.
  • If you have not got much sleep or rest of late, you should try and get some now. Try to lie down along with your baby while you feed, instead of sitting. As your baby keeps feeding and then falls asleep, you too can take a quick nap. However, refrain from falling asleep while your baby is still breastfeeding, as it may lead to sudden choking accidents, especially if your baby cannot let go of the nipple. If you feel you will fall asleep the moment you lie down, breastfeed your baby while you are sitting, and once your baby falls asleep, both of you can lie down and get some rest.
  • Staying hydrated while you are breastfeeding will prevent your body from getting into dehydration mode, which is often a major yet much-ignored reason for your headaches to appear. Keep drinking water through the day. Also, to add some more additional fluids to your body, get into a water drinking routine. Keep a jug or bottle of water near your bed or the space that you breastfeed your baby. Make it a habit of drinking at least a glass of water just before you start feeding your baby, and then another glass right after you have finished feeding your baby. You can also extend the rule to diaper time, bath time and even sleep time, to add more and more instances of drinking water through the day and night.
  • If you are suffering from postpartum thyroid disorders, your doctor will suggest treatment that will be safe to be use while you are breastfeeding your baby. One of the most common forms of treatment that your doctor may suggest that you use during the time that you are breastfeeding your baby is to use synthetic thyroid hormones.
  • It is not unusual for new mothers to go through postnatal depression, and stress and depression can often trigger headaches. You may be worried that taking antidepressants can cause some adverse effects on your baby, as the drugs may pass into the blood stream and then reach your baby through the breastmilk. Speak to your doctor about your concerns and look for alternative therapies that will help you reduce and get rid of the depression.

[ Read: Antidepressants While Breastfeeding ]

How Can You Prevent Headaches While Breastfeeding?

Prevention is better than cure, and the saying could not be truer for when you are breastfeeding. While you are a nursing mother, you want to try and stay away from medication that can help treat your headaches, which can sometimes be quite difficult. However, if you take a few precautionary measures instead, you may be able to reduce or hold off the advent of a headache trigger. Here are a few tips that can help you prevent the onset of a headache while nursing your new baby:

  • Even though you may want to do it all, hold off trying to do everything on your own, as it will only make you more stressed and fatigued. Both stress and exertion can lead to a headache, so try and use the time to rest instead. Ask your partner or your family members to contribute to the various chores at home. Hire an additional help for a few months if possible, especially for the first few months after delivery when you know you will breastfeed your baby.
  • Eat on time and do not stay for too long without eating anything, as being hungry can also give you a headache. If you feel that you do not have enough time and have to sit with your baby instead, keep some healthy snacks near at hand. It will help you to grab a few quick bites even when you are short on time and may not have the chance to sit down to a proper meal.
  • Make sure that you eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet. You may want to lose weight fast now that you have had your baby, but the fact is that your body needs all the more nutrition at this stage. Your body has gone through some massive changes during pregnancy and after the birth and is still in a recuperating and healing stage now that your baby has been born. In the months that you will breastfeed your baby, your body will still work overtime to make sure that it can make the right amount of nutrients for your baby. It can place additional stress on your body, and eating right will ensure that you get the right amount of energy and that your overall health is in good shape. Have three main meals in the day and aim for a few small meals in between. Cut out the junk and instead go for fresh fruits, vegetables, and even juices. Eating right will add the right amount of vitamins and minerals to your body and also keep you hydrated, preventing headaches.
  • You may suffer from postnatal depression, or may just be feeling a little low. Whatever the situation, there is nothing to feel ashamed of or to feel as if it is something wrong that you need to snap out of on your own. Depression can be a powerful trigger for a headache, and not doing anything about it will only make your headaches more frequent and worse. The moment you feel something amiss or that you aren’t happy or as positive as earlier, speak to your partner and your doctor about it. Going to therapy groups or group sessions can often help you feel better as you can connect with other mothers and see how they cope with the same.
  • Avoid being in places that have too much light or a lot of noises, as these can trigger a headache. If you are in a room that has windows, and bright sun light comes in, you can try to draw the curtains in the day and avoid any direct exposure to bright light. Sometimes, if you are sensitive to light, it can also be a powerful trigger for headaches. Also, try and keep the noise levels low so that it does not trigger your headache.
  • While you are breastfeeding your baby, make sure that you first empty one breast and then offer the other one to your baby. If your breasts are not empty, they can also trigger a headache. In case you feel that your baby is not emptying the breast fully before moving on to the other, you can massage your breasts yourself and take out the remaining milk. If you wish, you can also store them in a milk bottle and store them in the fridge, so that you can use it for your baby’s next feed.

[ Read: Safe Medicines While Breastfeeding ]

Headache Medicine While Breastfeeding – What You Should Know:

To avoid medication, you may want to try alternate methods that can cure your headache while breastfeeding. But sometimes, if nothing works, and you still have a punishing headache, it can interfere with your breastfeeding routine and also lead to other health complications. In such cases, it is important that you speak to your doctor and ask for a more effective mode of treatment.

While you are breastfeeding your baby, your doctor will suggest you some medicines or other forms of treatment that are considered safe to be used while nursing (3). Your doctor may offer you the following suggestions:

1. NSAIDs:

NSAIDs or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen are safe to take while you are nursing your baby (4).

2. Caffeine:

If you were earlier addicted to caffeine and had suddenly given up, your body may go into dehydration mode, and you may suffer from withdrawal symptoms such as a head-splitting headache. Your doctor may ask you to get you back to having a few cups of caffeine a day. Make sure to check how much you can safely take without causing any harm to your baby.

[ Read: Side Effects Of Caffeine While Breastfeeding ]

3. Amitriptyline And Fluoxetine:

There are no known side effects and are considered safe (5).

4. Barbiturates:

In some cases, they may result in lethargy and sleepiness in your baby (6).

5. Beta-Blockers:

Medicines such as propranol and nadolol that are usually considered safe headache medicine while breastfeeding and do not have any known side effects (7).

6. Narcotic Drugs:

Drugs such as codeine, verapamil, butorphanol, and morphine are considered safe to be used while you are breastfeeding and have no known side effects (8).

[ Read: Is It Safe To Take Painkillers While Breastfeeding ]

What Medications Should You Avoid While You Are Breastfeeding?

When you ask your doctor for a medication to help treat headache, always make sure that you inform that you are breastfeeding your baby. There are certain medications that are extremely unsafe and should be avoided while you are breastfeeding. Here are some medications that you should stay away from while you are breastfeeding your little one:

1. Aspirin:

Aspirin can mix with your breast milk and reach your baby, which can be a potential cause of concern. There is not much medical or scientific data that supports the use of aspirin while you are breastfeeding. In fact, most doctors and medical practitioners suggest that you should avoid taking aspirin while you are breastfeeding (9).

2. Antihistamines:

Even though it is usually considered safe to use antihistamines while you are breastfeeding, there is not enough medical or scientific data to support the same. There is not much data to give a clear indication of how much dosage you can safely take while you are breastfeeding, so it is always better to avoid taking the same (10).

3. Ergotamine:

Not much is known about the harmful effects of using ergotamine while breastfeeding on the baby, but there are cases of some side effects. The medical community feels it is safe to avoid using ergotamine while you are breastfeeding, to avoid any threat of a side effect. As there is no guideline that confirms the safe use of the medication while you are breastfeeding, or sheds any light on its dosage, it is best that you do not take the same (11).

4. Triptans:

Triptans are a type of drug that include the following types of drugs – Almotriptan, Frovatriptan, Zolmitriptan, Rizatriptan, Sumatriptan, and Eletriptan. As with the other types of drugs mentioned in the points above, there is not much medical or scientific data available on why exactly the particular types of drugs are not considered safe while you are breastfeeding. It is better to avoid the use of the same, as the side effects that they may cause to your baby are not fully known. However, in case your doctor does recommend you take the same, make sure you keep a 24-hour gap before taking these medications and breastfeeding your baby. Alternatively, you can pump your milk till about just before you are about to take the medication so that your baby can have the same while you stay off from feeding.

[ Read: Heartburn While Breastfeeding ]

Handling a newborn baby while you have a headache can be a very difficult and uncomfortable situation. So make sure you try out all the precautionary tips to avoid one, and in case you still get a headache, take immediate steps to get rid of it. Speak to your doctor and tell him about your symptoms. He is the best person to prescribe you treatment.

How many of you suffered from a lactation headache? Did the doctor prescribe you any of the above-mentioned medications? What line of treatment did you follow? Please post your stories in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you.

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Debolina Raja

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  • neha

    I often suffered with headaches while breastfeeding my baby, but by following the routine of drinking sufficient water, that is keeping myself hydrated helped me to over come my headaches. Also getting sufficient sleep and rest keeps headaches at bay. My family helped me a lot initially so that i can catch up on my sleep.