Headache While Breastfeeding: All You Need To Know

Image: Shutterstock

Breastfeeding is good for the baby and you too. But it does not mean that it is easy. Postpartum aches and pains can make breastfeeding difficult, and at times you feel as if somebody is pulling your nerves hard. The problem only multiplies if you have some problem like a headache while breastfeeding.

The ache in the head and the pain in the breast can be unnerving. There seems to be no way to get respite from the pain, and you wonder if breastfeeding has to do anything with it.

If lactation headaches have become your stark reality, then read on as MomJunction provides all the information you need about breastfeeding headaches and the ways you can alleviate the condition.

What Are Breastfeeding Headaches?

A breastfeeding headache occurs during let-down of the milk. The headache can persist throughout the duration of the feed although it usually improves quickly. It is thought to occur due to a rise in oxytocin levels in the body. There are other causes of headaches that are not directly related to breastfeeding but are troublesome for the already tired mother.

What Can Cause Headache While Nursing?

Here are the probable causes for a lactation headache:

1. Migraine:

If you had migraines prior to becoming a mother, then the migraines might worsen in the postpartum period. This can be due to changes in medication or simply the added stress of transitioning into your new role as a mother.

Treatment: If a migraine interferes with nursing, then consult your doctor for appropriate medication that can help you feel better.

[ Read: Migraine During Breastfeeding ]

2. Postpartum depression:

Post-natal depression is a relatively common condition affecting 1 in 4 women in the first 12 months after giving birth. Feelings of hopelessness, sadness and being overwhelmed can be accompanied by chronic dull headaches that refuse to go away. If you are concerned that you may be suffering with PPD, then get some familial and professional support.

Treatment: Interestingly, breastfeeding can help alleviate the intensity of a headache since it stabilizes the levels of estrogen in the body (1). However, it does not cure a headache, and you may need to take medication.

3. Mastitis:

Mastitis is the clogging or blockage of milk ducts in the breast due to infection or poor release of milk. The latter case happens if the baby is not fed frequently or is having insufficient feed due to poor latching to the nipple. Milk accumulates within the breast to the point that it blocks the duct, increasing the risk of bacterial infection.

Symptoms of the condition include breast tenderness, fatigue, and headache that could be accompanied by fever (2). There is a dull to sharp breast pain every time the baby suckles or even while pumping milk. Mastitis affects nearly 20% of postpartum women and is most common in the first six weeks after childbirth (3).

Treatment: If you are concerned that you might have mastitis (red, hot, inflamed and painful breasts), particularly if you have a fever, you should consult your medical practitioner as you may need antibiotics. Remember to get plenty of rest and stay well hydrated.

4. Dehydration:

Breast milk is 88% water, and the milk is all the baby needs to quench his thirst for the first six months of his life (4). Many mothers feel increasingly thirsty when they begin lactation since they need to meet the increased water requirements of their body. Not drinking enough water can lead to mild to severe dehydration, which can cause frequent headaches (5).

Treatment: Drinking sufficient water is the key to satisfying the additional fluid demand. Experts even recommend keeping a glass of water handy whenever you breastfeed your baby. It helps replenish the body with the lost fluids immediately.

5. Fatigue:

Raising a baby is exhausting since you juggle with multiple tasks. You balance life’s important duties with the responsibility of having a baby, and somewhere in the process, you lose precious hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation is a genuine problem faced during the early parenting years (4).

Mothers can try different breastfeeding positions to take rest whilst feeding. The ‘laid-back nursing position’ and side-lying help the mothers relax whilst the baby is feeding.

Treatment: The best way to prevent a fatigue-related headache is to have ample rest. Speak to your partner about sharing responsibilities or take help from a family member so that you get sufficient sleep.

You may have treated yourself with painkillers every time you had a headache, but since you are a lactating mother, you need to avoid self-medication.

[ Read: Sinus Infection While Breastfeeding ]

What is the Treatment For Lactation Headache?

The treatment of a breastfeeding headache lies in addressing the underlying cause of the condition. Painkillers such as paracetamol can help alleviate the ache and make the mother feel better. Seek the advice of a medical practitioner if paracetamol, rest and increased intake of fluids fail to provide relief.

[ Read: Antibiotics While Breastfeeding ]

Safe Home Remedies For Lactation Headache

You can follow some home remedies to get relief from a headache during breastfeeding. These do not impact your baby anyway:

  1. Massage: This stress-buster can help reduce the intensity of different pains including headaches. You can hire the services of a professional masseuse or just ask your partner for a gentle head massage for pain relief. It can make you feel relaxed when feeding your baby.
  1. Drink plenty of water: Keeping yourself hydrated is the best way to prevent headaches that are caused by dehydration. Drinking a glass of water extra will have no harm and instead make you feel fresh.
  1. Warm water bath: Soaking in a tub of warm water helps release tension from strained muscles of the body. It also relaxes your body, thus making you feel rejuvenated.
  1. Eat food rich in riboflavin: Evidence suggests that eating food rich in riboflavin, also called vitamin B2, can reduce the intensity of headaches especially those caused by migraines (5). Many common food items, such as spinach, lettuce, apples, and milk, are naturally rich in riboflavin.
  1. Good sleep: There is nothing more soothing to the nerves than a sound sleep. Sleep when your baby sleeps. Even a short nap of ten minutes can help you feel fresh.

Aren’t these home remedies simple and safe? This way you can avoid oral medication if the pain is mild.

However, if a headache is chronic and severe, then consult a doctor to rule out any other serious causes. Follow the treatment schedule carefully to rule out any side-effects on your baby.

Have any information to share about a lactation headache? Do let us know by leaving us a comment below.

Recommended Articles:

The following two tabs change content below.

Joanne Aubrey

Joanne Aubrey is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), nurse, and a proud mom to three children. She is a member of the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) and Lactation Consultants of Great Britain (LCGB). Aubrey works internationally, supporting women to achieve their breastfeeding goals. With five years of experience, she specializes in maternal and infant health and lactation.... more

Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo is a zoologist-botanist turned writer with over 8 years of experience in content writing, content marketing, and copywriting. He has also done an MBA in marketing and human resources and worked in the domains of market research and e-commerce. Rohit writes topics related to health, wellness and development of babies. His articles featured on several notable websites, including... more