Migraine During and After Pregnancy

How a persistent mom of two pursued an effective migraine treatment when her migraine attacks increased after pregnancy

New mom Rachel Bennetts-Wu was vacationing with her young daughter and family when her first migraine attack in years hit. She took an over the counter medication, like she used to, but the pain persisted. She had to sleep it off.

“I remember thinking that this was reminiscent of the headaches I had as a child,” she says. “It just didn’t feel like a normal headache. That was scary because I didn’t want to have to deal with that again.”

Rachel’s journey with migraine began when she was about 9 years old. Her mom, who worked as a physician’s assistant, recognized her attacks as migraine, although Rachel did not receive a diagnosis then. Her mom also helped Rachel identify and avoid her migraine triggers: dehydration and hunger.

Rachel’s migraine became more manageable as she got older. But it made a painful return after she gave birth to her two daughters. She decided to seek out a neurologist and headache specialist who helped her with pain management and diagnosed her with chronic migraine and vestibular migraine.

Rachel shares her story of persistence, parenting through pain and finding her voice as a migraine advocate.

The Effect of Pregnancy on Migraine Attacks

Rachel Bennets WuAs a child, Rachel seemed to experience migraine attacks during weekends and before exciting events, like a birthday party or sports competitions. As Rachel matured and went through puberty, she found some relief from migraine.

Rachel did not experience migraine during pregnancy. However, during the first trimester of her pregnancies, Rachel experienced severe morning sickness, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, which caused her to become very dehydrated. She later found out that hyperemesis gravidarum, as well as motion sickness, is more common in females with migraine.

Although she got relief from migraine attacks during pregnancy, it was temporary. “Once I quit nursing and my period started again, [the migraine attacks] were back full force,” she wrote. Rachel’s usual way of treating them—a painkiller and overnight sleep—no longer worked.

During an attack, Rachel often has to retreat to a dark room alone to try to sleep off her migraine. “In adulthood, the disease has robbed me of ordinary moments with my daughters, just precious time that I could have been hearing about their day or interacting with them,” Rachel says.

The pain can make even the smallest things feels like a chore. “Things that are supposed to be fun, such as conversations with my kids about their day or playing a board game felt more like going through the motions when I was in pain,” she says. “I wasn’t present and I wasn’t myself, and that was heartbreaking.”

Migraine also affected her work life. Rachel didn’t feel like she could be fully present, mentally and physically. She ultimately left her job to focus on her health. Eventually, she transitioned to a more flexible career in freelance writing that can accommodate days when she isn’t feeling well.

Persistence Pays Off

Rachel Bennetts Wu with FamilyRachel persistently sought a treatment that would reduce her migraine attacks and improve her quality of life. She first tried various types of triptans: pills and nasal sprays, but none of them worked for her. Then, she discovered a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in powder form that more consistently provided relief from her symptoms.

Later, she moved on to onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox®), which in combination with oral medications, reduced her headache days from 12-15 a month to six. While this was an improvement, Rachel began experiencing attacks of vestibular migraine that came with vertigo and dizziness. So she continued to pursue treatment options, such as CGRP-based  medications, lifestyle changes like avoiding certain “trigger foods” and regular chiropractic care that focused on the upper neck.

Trial-and-error was the name of the game, but Rachel’s persistence has paid off. She continues to experiment with different medications and other tools like magnesium supplements,  massage therapy and topical CBD. But Rachel is now down to four headache days a month, and her vestibular migraine attacks are gone.

Her advice to others is to make sure you have a qualified headache specialist on your team and be your own biggest advocate. “It’s not always easy and you’ll definitely get discouraged along the way, but stay persistent and don’t give up,” she says.

Similarly, the American Migraine Foundation encourages you to find a provider and work together to make a migraine treatment plan that works for you. You should talk to your provider before trying any new treatments and work with them to monitor your progress.

Rachel Bennetts-Wu in the desert with children

Sharing Her Story

Rachel believes it’s important to share her story. “The migraine journey is not an easy one for anyone who has to go through it and can often feel so isolating,” she says. “My hope is that through sharing my own journey, I can help someone along the way.”

Because of her experience, Rachel urges other people with migraine to visit a neurologist who is also a headache specialist. She credits visiting a specialist with being able to try new treatments and find one that works. She turns to her doctor, online support groups, scientific articles and others’ stories for information to manage her migraine, and relies on her husband, family and close friends for support.

Rachel encourages others to talk about migraine with friends, family and co-workers to bring awareness to the disease. “We just need to share our stories,” she says. “It’s an invisible disease, so people just don’t see it or realize the impact it has on people’s lives… The more we talk about it, the less stigma there will be.”

The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. To help us with our mission, share your story today to show the world what migraine looks like and how it affects people every day. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.