The room was dark, no easy feat as the sun was still out.
Using plastic hair clips to close curtains and stuffing towels where the light snuck in, I dug deep into my parenting bag o’ tricks to take my newborn’s nap time to the next level. And while at first glance, you might think I am just a resourceful mama trying to keep my baby asleep, the truth is something much more difficult to face:
I am a mother who suffers from migraines.
Although some parents might experience postpartum headaches after having a baby, a migraine is much more than just a headache. Migraines are actually a debilitating neurological disorder that, according to the Migraine Research Foundation, affects 1-4 million women in the United States.
I am one of these women, but because I am also a mother, managing my migraines gets a little trickier. Here’s how I cope and how I get rid of a migraine with a baby.
“My migraines center around hormonal changes, but I have other triggers like lack of sleep and not eating on a regular schedule—basically, everything parenting a newborn brings with it."
What is a Migraine?
The CDC defines migraine as “an intense pulsing or throbbing pain in one area of the head.” After 15 years, I know that when my migraine pain ramps up to 11 on a scale of 1-10, it feels like I have a mini hibachi grill attached to my brain. Sensitivity to sound, light, and the slightest movement sends me to a dark room where pretending to be a sloth is my only defense against an agony that sometimes sends me to the emergency room.
My migraines center around hormonal changes, but I have other triggers like lack of sleep and not eating on a regular schedule—basically, everything parenting a newborn brings with it. So far, I’d taken a hot shower and my medication. If I couldn’t get my migraine under control, then my newborn wouldn’t be the only one spitting up or vomiting after lunch.
“I know that when my migraine pain ramps up to 11 on a scale of 1-10, it feels like I have a mini hibachi grill attached to my brain."
What a Migraine with a Baby is Like
Describing what a migraine with a baby feels like is difficult, because the process to getting a migraine can being hours before the full-blown pain actually hits. For instance, that day, in my baby’s bedroom, I’d felt the painful twinges vibrating in my head all morning and I was hoping the darkness would stop it from starting when I started the nap time ritual.
First, the ginormous words of his picture book went blurry. Then, in the darkness, when I moved to the rocking phase of our routine, I panicked. The back-and-forth motion of the rocking chair caused my hibachi grill to fire up. I tried to push through my head pain—but I couldn’t.
My mom guilt surfaced when I interrupted my husband’s afternoon plans asking for backup. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to change his schedule because of my head—and it wouldn’t be the last.
How to Get Rid of a Migraine
There isn’t always a simple fix to get rid of a migraine, but there are some strategies than can help. Here are five tips you can try the next time you need to get rid of a migraine:
Sleep + support
Lisa Benson, a mother and a contributing writer at Migraine.com, has dealt with migraines since childhood. When it came to navigating them while caring for her newborn, she asked family members to step in and help when possible. This allowed her to sleep through an attack and gather her parenting strength.
As a preventative measure, Benson also found sleeping when her infant slept helpful. “I tried to do that as much as possible, which meant the house was a complete wreck and I missed out on fun things,” she says.
Stash snacks to stave off an attack
When caring for migraines and your newborn, Angel L. Moreno, DNP, nurse practitioner at the UCLA Goldberg Migraine Program in Los Angeles explains, “The best defense is a good offense.”
He says sleeping when your child sleeps, drinking the same amount of caffeine at the same time every day, and eating at regular intervals can assist in managing migraine triggers.
“I stashed water bottles and energy bars next to me,” Benson says. Having snacks within reach, keeping pre-made meals handy, and adding your favorite take-out to your speed dial are all tools to add to your migraine relief kit.
“Having snacks within reach, keeping pre-made meals handy, and adding your favorite take-out to your speed dial are all tools to add to your migraine relief kit."
Stop pain in its tracks whenever possible
On days when you feel a migraine starting, it’s a good idea to have reliable strategies to prevent pain from escalating. Moreno suggests therapies like hot and cold packs, gentle stretching, and resting in a quiet, dark room.
Check out different methods and find one that feels best to you. “All these things help bring down the sensorial inputs that are contributing to the excitation of the nervous system that can then lead to migraine,” Moreno says.
Julie Sells’ migraines began in her teen years. Now in her 30s, she experiences them 2-3 times a week. In an effort to keep their frequency low while parenting her infant, she tried to take an hour or so of downtime when practical.
Sells found healing modalities like acupuncture and massage super helpful. “Self-care is paramount. We’re also teaching our kids how to take time out and rest,” Sells says.
Take prescription medications
Sells also explains that backup isn’t always an option when experiencing a full-on migraine, so she makes sure to take her doctor-prescribed relief medications. “I’d take my medication, keep going, and wait for a nap time or bedtime,” Sells says.
Taking relief medications like Triptans or Gepants is one way to stop head pain from unpacking the hot, heavy anvil inside your head. And for breastfeeding mamas, Moreno says talk to your doctor because there are certain medications you can use without fear.
When to Talk to a Doctor about Migraines
This brings up a good point—when is the best time to speak to a doctor about migraines?
According to Moreno, if you’re having a migraine attack more than twice a week for more than two to three weeks, it’s time to visit a doctor. Benson also suggests having medical support ready before becoming pregnant if you can.
“It doesn’t have to be traditional medicine if that’s not your preference, but establishing a plan before giving birth is a great way to start,” she says. Having a plan in motion can eliminate extra stressors when trying to juggle all that goes with parenting an infant.
Momming while migraining brought with it obstacles I never saw coming. However, I’ve found the best support in my doctor, my family, and my backup moves whenever my chronic migraines take hold. Knowing I have this reliable support in place keeps me afloat during those painful migraine days.
It helps remind me that I will make it through because I’m doing the best I can, for both me and my baby.
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Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN…