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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.
What Are Breastfeeding Headaches?
Breastfeeding headaches are also called lactation headaches. Lactating mothers may sense a headache while breastfeeding their baby. 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. Oxytocin also gets released during breastfeeding and is responsible for tightening the milk ducts and facilitating the flow of breast milk from the breast to the baby. 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?
There may be many basic reasons for the occurrence of headaches while breastfeeding. Some of them are listed below:
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 headache and depression. Due to this, breastfeeding moms can feel a dull ache in the head while nursing the baby.
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, like 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 stretch up to even 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 for the baby. It is best to consult the doctor who may suggest some safe painkillers that can be taken during breastfeeding like ibuprofen, naproxen, fluoxetine, etc.
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 of water while nursing. If they are not drinking adequate amounts of water, dehydration can cause headaches during breastfeeding.
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 effected 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 entirely empty the milk from the breast while nursing. This lowers the chance of developing mastitis. 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. During nursing, some women may be looking and bending down too much or holding the shoulders up to manage the weight of holding the baby. This may lead to the straining of neck and back muscles and can cause a headache.
While nursing, breastfeeding mothers may like to take care to maintain a proper posture. Opting for gentle massages may also help soothe the stiff and aching muscles. Doing some stretching exercise to relax the shoulder and neck may also prove helpful.
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 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 providing you relief from the pain, you may refer to your doctor for a change of prescription.
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 the following medicines to treat lactation headaches:
|Safe Medicines||Unsafe Medicines|
|Paracetamol or acetaminophen||Aspirin|
|NSAIDS like ibuprofen and naproxen||Antihistamines|
|Naproxen||Fluoxetine and Amitriptyline|
|Codeine, verapamil, butorphanol||Dihydroergotamine|
The above-listed medicines may be taken only after consulting your doctor. Self-medication must be avoided as it can lead to unnecessary complications later.
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 suitably 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 is 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.
It is essential to detect the probable reasons for the 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.
Breastfeeding can bring immense joy to the mother, but it can prove challenging if she 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.