How pregnancy affects those living with migraine.
Pregnancy can be an exciting time in a person’s life, and a time full of changes. While many women begin to experience migraine attacks during puberty, there are several phases of a woman’s life where her migraine may change—including during pregnancy, as migraine and hormones are believed to be connected.
“For most women, pregnancy is helpful for migraine,” says Matthew Robbins, MD, FAHS, Associate Professor of Neurology at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. “In pregnancy, as estrogen levels steadily increase, many women report improved migraine. We don’t know for sure if there is a connection. There may be other factors at play here. But many people do see a link between rising estrogen levels—especially during the second and third trimester—and improvement in headache frequency.”
But while getting pregnant may improve migraine for some women, others experience worsened symptoms as they carry a child. To learn more about how migraine impacts people, we asked our Move Against Migraine (MAM) group about their experiences during pregnancy.
How Did Pregnancy Affect Your Migraine Symptoms and Frequency?
Pregnancy Improved Migraine Attacks
While pregnant, many women experience fewer migraine attacks and decreased migraine intensity. MAM member Phoebe says, “Pregnancy and breastfeeding made some things better,” as her number of monthly attacks decreased.
In contrast to menstruating women, pregnant women have high non-cycling levels of estrogen. This is especially true during the second and third trimester, which are associated with reduced severity and frequency of headaches. MAM member Karen’s her first pregnancy was the only 9 months of her adult life where she didn’t experience migraine. MAM member Jennifer also saw significant migraine improvements when she was pregnant. “If it were possible, I would be pregnant all the time so I wouldn’t have migraine,” Jennifer says.
Pregnancy Made it Worse
For some women, however, migraine does not improve after getting pregnant. Group member Sherry said she experienced migraine with aura every day of her last trimester. Changes in attack severity and frequency may be related to a change in a person’s migraine treatment plan. This includes the discontinuation of medications or disrupted sleep patterns. MAM member Rachel says her first pregnancy was a relief from migraine. Her second and third, however, were “nightmares.” Another member, Kris, had no changes in her migraine before, during or after pregnancy. This further illustrates that migraine can vary from mother to mother, and even from pregnancy to pregnancy.
If you live with migraine and are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, it is important to talk with your doctors. There are some limitations on which medications are safe to use when pregnant. A headache provider can help create a migraine action plan, review current medications and work with your OB. They may also ask you to try new treatments that are safer during pregnancy (such as nerve blocks). For help finding a headache specialist near you, check out our Find a Doctor tool.
Move Against Migraine
As families prepare to welcome a new member into their family, finding support from mothers who have experience balancing migraine and pregnancy can be extremely helpful. This support can be found within our Move Against Migraine community on Facebook.
MAM is open to those living with migraine and their loved ones. The group is focused around advocacy, access to resources and connecting with others. Through the movement, we aim to make it easier for those living with severe head pain to find the information and help they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives. We invite you to join our community on Facebook for regular Live videos, the latest research and updated information. Learn more about Move Against Migraine.
Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.