Headaches and Breastfeeding
What is it that causes headaches and breastfeeding and what can be done about it?
Headaches are painful and it can be quite difficult to carry on with your everyday life while your head is pounding. There seems to be an endless list of possible triggers which include stress, dehydration, changes in the weather, allergies, and the list goes on. For some women, headaches or migraines are brought on by hormonal changes and perhaps this is the reason it is more common for women to suffer from headaches than men.
Hormones and Migraine Headaches
It has been proven that estrogen hormone levels can trigger migraine headaches in women. Some women who normally suffer from migraine headaches experience less headaches during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy when levels of estrogen are at the highest.
Examples of lowered estrogen level changes that may trigger migraines include:
Lower estrogen levels during menstruation or monthly period
Oral contraceptive or The Pill
Hormone replacement therapy
Lower levels of estrogen after childbirth
Increased Risk After ChildbirthIn addition to the hormonal changes, there are a number of other reasons why headaches and migraines in particular may appear or worsen after giving birth.
Sleep deprivation is a well-known and powerful trigger for migraines
Stress is another often underestimated trigger
Phonophobia - the worsening of a headache (usually a migraine) that occurs when the sufferer is exposed to loud noises. There is often plenty of that with a new baby!
Less medications available for use - discontinuing the use of your usual medications due to incompatibility with breastfeeding.
Treatment of Headaches for the Breastfeeding Mother
The first line of defense is to identify and avoid potential triggers.
Of course the safest treatment of headaches is non-drug therapy to avoid passing drugs through the milk and onto the baby. Some women are able to treat or subdue their headaches with relaxation therapy and other natural treatments.
While it is better to not use medication while breastfeeding sometimes it is necessary for you in order to function. Some mothers feel better at caring for their babies and families when their headaches are treated. In more severe cases or in the case of migraine headaches it is very important to consult with your doctor or a neurologist . Any use of drugs while breastfeeding should be done with caution and under the supervision of a medical doctor.
The most commonly recommended medication used while breastfeeding and or pregnant is Paracetamol or acetaminophen, and it is usually safe to take for the occasional headache.
Ask a neurologist about headaches and breastfeeding
Breastfeeding mothers may be offered the following treatments by their doctor to treat migraine headaches:
NSAIDS – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including naproxen and ibuprofen (avoid after 30 weeks of pregnancy)
Caffeine – could cause irritability and poor sleeping
Amitriptyline and Fluoxetine – unknown effects, probably safe
Barbiturates – may cause baby to be sleepy and lethargic
Beta-blockers such as propranol and nadolol
Narcotic drugs such as morphine, butorphanol, verapamil, codeine
Treatment to Avoid While Breastfeeding
Do not use Aspirin when breastfeeding.
Ergotamine is known to be harmful and should not be used while breastfeeding.
Triptans including Almotriptan, Eletriptan, Frovatriptan, Rizatriptan, Sumatriptan, and Zolmitriptan - only limited information is available on their safety. You should avoid breastfeeding for 24 hours after taking these drugs.
Headaches and BreastfeedingA very uncommon complaint is headaches and breastfeeding. Though it is very rare, there is a known condition that links headaches and breastfeeding. Some women react to the release of the hormone, oxytocin, with a headache. The hormone, oxytocin, is released and causes the contraction of milk ducts and the “let-down” of breast milk. Oxytocin is the same hormone released during the female orgasm and the same hormone responsible for initiating labor contractions during childbirth. According to Dr. Ruth Lawrence, author of, A Guide for the Medical Profession, breastfeeding headaches may subside while nursing, after the surge of oxytocin has slowed down. The regular headache treatments can be tried to see if anything helps. If nothing helps, then it may be lactation headache and it should go away when you stop nursing.