Headache While Breastfeeding: All You Need To Know

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Breastfeeding has proven beneficial effects on both the baby and the mother. However, a headache while breastfeeding may cause discomfort. Body pains after childbirth are normal but may make breastfeeding a difficult experience for new mothers. Lactating mothers may often feel a pulling sensation on their nerves during nursing, and the problem aggravates if a headache accompanies it. You may be skeptical about what is causing the headache and if it is directly related to breastfeeding. If you are constantly being affected by lactation headaches, continue reading this post as we provide you with all the required information about headaches when breastfeeding and suggest ways to deal with the condition.

What Are Breastfeeding Headaches?

A breastfeeding headache occurs during the 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 of 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.

Did you know?
Using Aspirin when breastfeeding is considered unsafe as it is thought to cause Reye’s syndrome in babies. Reye’s syndrome is a serious condition that causes vomiting, seizures, and sleepiness, in babies (8).

2. Postpartum depression:

Postpartum depression may be accompanied by chronic headaches

Image: iStock

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:

Not drinking enough water during breastfeeding may cause headaches

Image: Shutterstock

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 (6).

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.

Quick fact
Preeclampsia can also cause headaches with blurry vision or light sensitivity, swelling in hands and face (edema), and shortness of breath (9).

What is the Treatment For Lactation Headache?

Painkillers help alleviate headaches while breastfeeding

Image: Shutterstock

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.

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.

    A gentle head massage may provide effective pain relief

    Image: iStock

  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 (7). Many common food items, such as spinach, lettuce, apples, and milk, are naturally rich in riboflavin.

    Having food rich in riboflavin may reduce headaches

    Image: Shutterstock

  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.

Infographic: What Can Cause Headache When Nursing And Ways To Treat It

There are several potential causes of headaches during breastfeeding. Read about a few common ones in the following infographic and know how to alleviate them. If your headaches persist or get severe, it may be necessary to speak with a healthcare provider for further advice and treatment. Remember to take care of yourself and prioritize your health.

common causes of lactation headaches and their remedies [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
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