Headache While Breastfeeding: Is It Normal?
Breastfeeding is an integral part of motherhood. It can be an intensely satisfying experience for the new mom. However, breastfeeding may involve some amount of discomfort for the mother because of tender nipples and post-delivery aches. Some breastfeeding moms may even experience headaches, at times, while feeding the baby. The list of probable causes for these headaches is a long one, ranging from dehydration and stress to fatigue, weather changes, and allergies. Sometimes, the hormonal changes that take place in a woman after childbirth can also trigger these headaches. If you’ve been troubled yourself with a headache while breastfeeding the information in this article, should help you gain some understanding about it and also provide some ways to cope with it.
What Are Breastfeeding Headaches?
Breastfeeding headaches are also called lactation headaches. Lactating mothers sometimes sense a headache while breastfeeding their baby. Usually, the pain is likely to lessen or stop once the feeding is complete. Some experts believe that the hormone oxytocin may be responsible for triggering these headaches. Oxytocin is a hormone that plays an important role in inducing labour pains during delivery. The hormone also gets released during breastfeeding and is responsible for tightening the milk ducts and facilitating the flow of breast milk. As the baby suckles at the breast, more oxytocin gets released into the body. Some women may react to this surge of oxytocin by experiencing a headache.
What Are the Possible Causes of Headaches While Breastfeeding?
There may be many basic reasons for the occurrence of headaches while breastfeeding. Some of them are listed below, along with the treatment:
1. Post-Delivery Headache
During the first few weeks of delivery, some lactating mothers may experience a drop in the levels of oestrogen, which can cause a dull headache while breastfeeding the baby. Some women also experience depression due to the drop in the oestrogen levels.
Nursing moms may have to resort to medicines, as prescribed by the doctor, to cure lactation headaches if the pain is too severe. To treat breastfeeding headaches caused by post-delivery depression, the doctor may advise counselling and antidepressants.
If you are prone to migraines, then it may become a cause for a headache while breastfeeding, especially within the first few weeks of delivery. Hormonal changes, such as lowering of the oestrogen levels in the body, can trigger a migraine, and breastfeeding moms may experience an intense throbbing sensation on one or both sides of the head. The pain can remain for 2-3 days and may be accompanied by nausea. Other reasons for migraine can be stress, lack of sleep, phonophobia (fear of loud sounds), or genetics.
It is not advisable to consume your usual painkillers or migraine medicines during lactation as they can be harmful to the baby. It is best to consult the doctor who may suggest some safe painkillers that can be taken during breastfeeding, like ibuprofen.
Breastfeeding moms generally feel very thirsty when they start lactating. This is because extra fluids are required to produce milk (breast milk is almost 90% water). Breastfeeding moms may be required to drink more water than what is usually recommended for adults, to meet this increased demand for water while nursing. If they are not drinking adequate amounts of water, dehydration can cause headaches during breastfeeding. Drink at least 3 litres of water a day.
Drinking plenty of water while nursing can take care of the risk of getting dehydrated. Breastfeeding mothers should drink as much water as they can and a little extra to meet the increased needs of their body. It may be a good idea to drink a glass of water before and after nursing to restore the loss of fluids instantly.
Mastitis is an infection of the mammary gland. It can occur when bacteria pass into the breast through the damaged or cracked skin of the nipple. This can cause swelling, pain and redness in the affected breast, which can lead to discomfort while nursing the baby. Some nursing moms may develop mastitis if the milk ducts in their breast get blocked due to poor feeding. Milk may get accumulated in the breast due to restricted flow or release of breast milk through the ducts. Breastfeeding mothers with such a condition may experience fever, chills, and headaches.
Breastfeeding mothers may consult their doctor to learn tips for correct ways of breastfeeding. Nursing moms may like to bear in mind to empty the milk from the breast while nursing entirely. This lowers the chance of developing mastitis. In severe cases, the doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics to treat the inflammation of the breast tissues.
It is very common for women to experience post-delivery fatigue. Taking care of the baby, frequent feeding at night and lack of sleep may compound the problem. Nutrient deficiency in nursing moms may also result in weakness and lethargy. Due to all these reasons, some breastfeeding mothers may experience lactation headaches.
To avoid a fatigue-induced headache, breastfeeding moms should take sufficient rest. It is sensible to nap whenever your baby is sleeping. Lie down with your eyes closed a few times during the day. You can breastfeed the baby while lying on your side instead of sitting. This way, you can relax and not overtire yourself during breastfeeding.
6. Wrong Posture
Some breastfeeding mothers may adopt an incorrect posture while feeding, thereby stressing their muscles. When nursing, some women may sit in an inappropriate posture by bending down too much or holding the shoulders up to manage the weight of holding the baby. This may lead to the straining of the neck and back muscles and can cause a headache.
While nursing, breastfeeding mothers should maintain a proper posture. Opting for gentle massages may also help soothe the stiff and aching neck and shoulder muscles. Doing some stretching exercise to relax the shoulder and neck may also prove helpful. You can even use a breastfeeding pillow if required.
Certain medicines taken by nursing moms may result in a headache as a possible side effect. This may happen if the medicine is taken in higher dosages. For instance, a high dose of vitamin B6 may trigger a headache or sore breasts in some nursing mothers. Sometimes, breastfeeding mothers may also indulge in over-the-counter medication or self-medication, which can produce headache as a side effect.
It is always sensible to take medicines in the recommended measure as prescribed by the doctor. Breastfeeding mothers should avoid self-medication, even to treat mild headaches. If you think a certain medicine is not suiting you or isn’t providing you relief from the pain, you may refer to your doctor for a change of prescription.
8. Excessive Screen Time
Mothers who are always on their computers, mobiles or tablets are more prone to getting a headache when breastfeeding. Straining the optic nerves is not a great idea when your body is already going through a lot while breastfeeding.
Try to avoid screen time, or limit it as much as possible. The nursing mothers who work from home and have no option must take breaks at regular intervals to rest their eyes and consume healthy meals through the day.
9. Sinusitis and Allergies
A sinus infection and allergies can also cause headaches. Their intensity could peak up when the mother is breastfeeding as she is already losing fluids.
A regular healthy diet and an intake of fluids is a must to provide some relief. However, if the infection is severe and you need medical attention, you must consult your doctor immediately.
10. Breast Engorgement
When breasts become engorged, you may experience headaches. Engorged breasts become hard, swollen, and overfull, and swelling sometimes extends into the armpit.
Feed your baby or pump your breasts to reduce engorgement. Between feedings, a cold compress can be used to relieve pain and swelling.
We have already mentioned above that breastfeeding mothers should avoid taking medications; however, in severe cases, their doctors may prescribe them safe medication. Some safe and unsafe medicines are mentioned below. Please remember that this information is for your knowledge only, and you shouldn’t, under any circumstance, self-medicate during breastfeeding as it could affect your baby’s health.
Medicines That Help With Lactation Headache
It is imperative to bear in mind to take safe headache medicine while breastfeeding to prevent any adverse effects on the baby. Nursing mothers may be advised medicines to treat lactation headaches only after consulting with a doctor. However, you can use home remedies which are much safer!
Home Remedies for Headaches During Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding moms can try some home remedies for treating mild headaches in case they wish to avoid oral medications.
- Drink Adequate Water: Breastfeeding moms should make it a point to drink lots of water every day to keep themselves appropriately hydrated.
- Massage: Nursing mothers can go in for gentle massages to relax the aching muscles and de-stress themselves.
- Sufficient Rest: Breastfeeding mothers should ensure that they get proper rest and sleep to increase their energy and combat fatigue.
- Right Diet: Experts recommend that consuming the right food like apples, lettuce, and spinach (which are rich in riboflavin) can bring relief from headaches.
- Low Caffeine Intake: Breastfeeding moms may like to keep a check on the consumption of caffeine as it can worsen the headache.
- Warm Baths: Relaxing in a tub of warm water may be a great way to soothe and calm the stressed muscles.
- Avoid Skipping Meals: Sometimes, hunger can trigger a headache. So, it is important to eat on time and not skip meals.
- Meditation: Breastfeeding moms can try meditation, deep breathing, and listening to comforting music to reduce stress.
- Good Sleep: Try and get sufficient sleep by sleeping when your baby sleeps.
Some of you might even wonder if there is a way to prevent headaches during breastfeeding. Read on to know more.
Prevention of Headache During Breastfeeding
There are means to prevent headache during breastfeeding. It is, however, essential to detect the probable reasons for headache during breastfeeding. If you keep in mind the likely triggers, suitable steps may be taken to avoid them. But if you continue to experience severe headache while breastfeeding, you may opt for safe painkillers after consulting a doctor or neurologist.
1. Can Headache Medications While Breastfeeding Affect Milk Supply?
Certain headache medications used while breastfeeding can potentially impact milk supply or cause drowsiness in the nursing infant. Consult your doctor before taking any medication to ensure the safety of both mother and baby.
2. Can Full Breasts Cause Headaches?
Headaches and breastfeeding can be linked to breast engorgement. It means the breasts are full of milk, which makes them hard, tight, and painful, and when not treated on time, it can cause inflammation or infection, which can cause headaches.
3. Can a Nursing Mom Experience Cluster Headaches, and What Are the Causes and Treatment for It?
While cluster headaches in breastfeeding mothers are uncommon, they can be triggered by factors like lack of sleep. However, seeking medical advice before treating or medicating cluster headaches during breastfeeding is crucial, as some medications may enter the breast milk and impact the nursing infant.
Breastfeeding can prove challenging if the nursing mother is troubled with headaches. Resorting to medication to treat headaches while breastfeeding should not be the first choice as the effects can pass on to the baby through the breast milk. Breastfeeding moms may try safe home remedies instead to treat the headaches. Extreme caution should be exercised while taking any medication, and no medication must be taken without consulting a doctor.
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2. Mastitis; cancer.org; https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/breast-cancer/non-cancerous-breast-conditions/mastitis.html
3. Headaches and Dehydration; headaches.org; https://headaches.org/headaches-and-dehydration/
4. Sleep Deprivation and Breastfeeding; healthychildren.org; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Sleep-Deprivation-and-Breastfeeding.aspx
5. WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT MIGRAINE WHILE BREASTFEEDING; americanmigrainefoundation.org; https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/what-to-know-about-migraine-while-breastfeeding/