Postpartum Headaches: Everything You Need to Know

Headaches after childbirth can range from very mild to severe, depending on the cause. We'll discuss some of the most important triggers of postpartum headaches.
Postpartum Headaches: Everything You Need to Know

Last update: 24 July, 2021

Headaches during the time after childbirth (a period known as postpartum) are one of the greatest discomforts of this stage. Symptoms can vary in intensity and, in some cases, can become so intense that they interfere with daily life. There are many causes that are capable of triggering postpartum headaches.

In the following article, we’ve summarized the most important ones; some of them as a natural consequence of childbirth or anesthesia and others in the context of some diseases. Are you interested in learning more about postpartum headaches? Keep reading!

What can cause postpartum headaches?

Below, we’ll talk about some of the most common triggers of this symptom, which, in some cases, can also affect other populations.

Tension headaches

A woman sitting on a couch with her hand on her forehead, frowning.
Stress can be a trigger of this condition.

Tension headaches are one of the most common conditions in the general population. For this reason, women can experience them during the immediate postpartum period (i.e., the first 24 hours after delivery). This is logical, considering the causes of this condition.

According to a publication of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, this pain is a consequence of the persistent contraction of the neck muscles.

Although not all mothers suffer from this condition, stress, temperature changes, and staying in uncomfortable positions are factors that could favor the appearance of this clinical condition.

Postpartum headaches: migraines

It’s common to confuse the term migraine with any type of headache. The truth is that migraine headache is a chronic illness and is different from tension headaches. They’re characterized by intense, long-lasting pain (even more than 24 hours) and sometimes involve sensory disturbances called auras.

This is a condition that usually appears as early as adolescence, so, in most cases. mothers will be aware of their diagnosis before delivery.

According to a Mayo Clinic publication, there are many triggers for migraine attacks. The most common are sleep problems, stress, and exposure to certain medications.

In rare cases, a phenomenon known as migralepsy may occur. As this case report discusses, affected patients often have seizures along with pain. This usually leads to hospital admission to determine the causes of the disease.

Elevated blood pressure, one of the causes of postpartum headaches after delivery

Are you familiar with the term preeclampsia? It’s one of the most common complications of pregnancy. It’s characterized by a dangerous and persistent elevation of blood pressure, causing various symptoms such as swelling of the lower limbs, production of foamy urine, and headaches.

According to this scientific review, most cases occur after the first 48 hours after childbirth. Some of these patients may have suffered from preeclampsia during pregnancy, although others may debut after the baby is born. In this case, the condition’s known as postpartum preeclampsia.

This is a condition that usually requires hospital admission. That’s because, even though the pregnancy’s over, it can still cause problems in the mother’s body. Strokes are an example of this, although they tend to be rare.

Postpartum depression

A woman with postpartum depression sitting on her bed and crying.
Without treatment, this health problem can have serious consequences.

Postpartum depression is a condition that can become disabling for some of those who experience it. While its primary symptoms include a sense of profound sadness, somatic or physical symptoms can also occur.

According to a publication in the MSD Handbook, headaches are included among the rare symptoms of this condition. Pain may also encompass other areas of the body, such as the back, which may contribute to the general state of apathy that characterizes this type of depression. Other notable symptoms include fatigue, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, and, ultimately, suicidal ideation.

An adverse effect of anesthesia during labor and delivery

Mothers who require or request the use of epidural anesthesia during labor are usually informed of the possible complications of this procedure. One of them is severe headaches in the postpartum period, something that also happens with patients who require a diagnostic lumbar puncture.

According to a scientific review, post-puncture headaches usually appear in the first five days after the birth of the baby. Patients usually experience some improvement when lying down, while simply walking may be quite uncomfortable.

Postpartum headaches don’t usually go unnoticed

Although it’s common to deal with headaches throughout life, after childbirth, they can become a real nuisance. Not only because of the fact that a woman needs to direct all her attention to her newborn, but also because the symptoms of the aforementioned conditions are usually quite intense.

Fortunately, there are a large number of analgesic medications capable of providing clinical improvement. Although most medications don’t usually cause problems during lactation, it’s always important to have a medical evaluation and instructions.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.