Breastfeeding and Headaches: The Common Causes

1
Breastfeeding and Headaches

What causes a headache when you're breastfeeding?
Headaches have many causes. Jamie Grill/Getty Images

What Is a Headache?

A headache is a feeling of pain, aching, throbbing, or pressure in the head.  There are different types of headaches and different things that can trigger headaches. Headaches can occur at any time. They can even develop during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Nursing women may experience a headache for many reasons. Here are 7 common causes of headaches in breastfeeding women.

2
Delivery Room Anesthesia

Spinal anesthesia and epidurals can cause headaches.
Delivery room anesthesia can cause headaches. BSIP/UIG Getty Images

Spinal Headaches

A headache can develop from the use of an epidural or a spinal block during delivery. If some of the fluid in your spine leaks out during the anesthesia process and the level of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in your body goes down, it can cause a headache. In most cases, no treatment is necessary. A headache should resolve on its own with rest and fluids. However, if a headache continues for longer than a day, your doctor may perform a procedure to help relieve the pain.

3
The Let-Down Reflex

The hormone oxytocin may contribute to lactation headaches.
Some women get headaches while they're breastfeeding. Joel Rodgers/Moment/Getty Images

Lactation Headaches

Some women get a headache while they're breastfeeding. The let-down of breast milk and the release of the hormone oxytocin may be to blame. This type of a headache is called a lactation headache. Sometimes a lactation headache will resolve after a few weeks, but it could continue to occur until you wean your child.  Early weaning is a concern with this type of a headache.

If you suffer from headaches while you're nursing your baby, talk to your doctor. An over-the-counter pain medication such as Tylenol (Acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) may provide some relief.     

4
Breast Engorgement

A headache can develop from breast engorgement.
Breast engorgement can lead to a headache. Alex Bramwell/Moment/Getty Images

Engorgement Headaches

A lactation headache can also develop if your breasts become hard, swollen, and overfull. Oxytocin, the same hormone that is believed to be responsible for let-down headaches, is also associated with breast engorgement. Try to stay ahead of engorgement as much as possible by breastfeeding or pumping very often.     

5
Poor Nutrition

Low blood sugar and dehydration can cause headaches.
To prevent headaches, get enough nutrition and stay hydrated. Tooga/Getty Images

Headaches from Low Blood Sugar and Dehydration

If you don't eat enough, or if you skip meals, your blood sugar levels can drop.  If you don't take in enough fluids each day, you can become dehydrated. Both of these situations can lead to weakness, exhaustion, and headaches. Try to maintain a well-balanced diet, eat at least 3 meals a day along with a variety of healthy snacks, and drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated.

6
Fatigue

Headaches can develop if you don't get enough rest.
Exhaustion can lead to a headache. JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Exhaustion Headaches

New moms are tired and sleep-deprived. Lack of sleep and exhaustion can contribute to the onset of a headache. Try to put up your feet and relax a little, or take a nap when the baby is sleeping. You may be able to ward off the headaches if you can just get enough rest.  

7
Too Much Screen Time

Eye strain is one of the causes of headaches.
Spending too much time looking at a screen can trigger a headache. Catherine Delahaye/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Eye Strain Headaches

Spending too much time reading or looking at the screen of your computer, tablet, or smartphone can tire your eyes and cause a headache. Get enough rest, take frequent breaks from reading, and limit your screen time to reduce the strain on your eyes and help prevent headaches.  If you continue to get headaches from eye strain, see your eye doctor.   

8
Allergies

Headaches can be related to sinus issues and allergies.
Allergies can cause painful sinus pressure and headaches. Tetra Images/Getty Images

Sinus Headaches

Allergies, hay fever, and sinus infections can cause pain and pressure in your head. If you suffer from allergies, or if you think you have an infection, talk to your doctor about treatment.  

9
When To See The Doctor

When headaches are frequent or severe, talk to your doctor.
If your headaches are getting stronger or happening more often, call your doctor. Eric Audras/ONOKY/Getty Images

When to Seek Help

In general, headaches are just part of life and, at some point, we all suffer from them. Although it might be uncomfortable, if you get a headache once in a while, it's usually not a concern.  However, if you're getting headaches more often than you did before your baby was born, or if you are experiencing headaches of greater intensity than you previously experienced, call your doctor. 

Sources:

Agarwal, S., Goel, D., and Sharma, A. Evaluation Of The Factors Which Contribute To The Ocular Complaints In Computer Users. Journal Of Clinical And Diagnostic Research: 2013; 7(2), 331.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

Saada, F., Mannel, R., and Krishnaiengar, S. Subarachnoid Pneumocephalus: A Cause Of Severe Headache As A Result Of Obstetric Epidural Anesthesia (P3. 048). Neurology. 2015; 84(14 Supplement), P3-048.

Continue Reading