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Breastfeeding is good for the baby and you too. But it does not mean that it is easy. Postpartum body aches and sore nipples make breastfeeding difficult, and at times you feel as if somebody is pulling your nerves hard. The problem only multiplies if you have some problem like a headache while breastfeeding.
The ache in the head and the pain in the breast can be unnerving. There seems to be no way to get respite from the pain, and you wonder if breastfeeding has to do anything with it.
If lactation headaches have become your stark reality, then read on as MomJunction provides all the information you need about breastfeeding headaches and the ways you can alleviate the condition.
What Are Breastfeeding Headaches?
A headache while breastfeeding, also referred to as a lactation headache, is a chronic headache a woman has every time she breastfeeds her baby. The pain may subside after the feeding session or continue for some time. It seems to occur spontaneously, but there are several underlying reasons for it.
What Can Cause Headache While Nursing?
Here are the probable causes for a lactation headache:
The chronic headaches occur with intense pulsating pain and last for a few minutes to several hours. If you have a history of migraines, then that could be a reason for your lactation headaches. There are several complex reasons, from genetics to lifestyle, for a migraine.
Treatment: If a migraine interferes with nursing, then consult your doctor for appropriate medication that can help you feel better.
2. Postpartum headache:
A postpartum headache is one of the leading causes of a headache during nursing as it affects 30-40% women within the first week of their delivery (1). A drop in the estrogen hormone levels of the body is the primary reason for a postpartum headache and depression, which can cause a dull pain in the head every time you feed the baby.
Treatment: Interestingly, breastfeeding can help alleviate the intensity of a headache since it stabilizes the levels of estrogen in the body (2). However, it does not cure a headache, and you will have to take the medication. The treatment of a lactation headache caused by postpartum depression requires psychoactive drugs and counseling therapy.
Mastitis is the clogging or blockage of milk ducts in the breast due to infection or poor release of milk. The latter case happens if the baby is not fed frequently or is having insufficient feed due to poor latching to the nipple. Milk accumulates within the breast to the point that it blocks the duct, increasing the risk of bacterial infection.
Symptoms of the condition include breast tenderness, fatigue, and headache that could be accompanied by fever (3). There is a dull to sharp breast pain every time the baby suckles or even while pumping milk. Mastitis affects nearly 20% of postpartum women and is most common in the first six weeks after childbirth (4).
Treatment: Timely feeding of the infant, expressing the accumulated milk, and taking an antibiotic with anti-inflammation medication prescribed by a doctor, can all help alleviate discomfort and treat the condition.
Breast milk is 88% water, and the milk is all the baby needs to quench his thirst for the first six months of his life (5). Many mothers feel increasingly thirsty when they begin lactation since they need to meet the increased water requirements of their body. Not drinking enough water can lead to mild to severe dehydration, which can cause frequent headaches (6).
Treatment: Drinking sufficient water is the key to satisfying the additional fluid demand. Experts even recommend keeping a glass of water handy whenever you breastfeed your baby. It helps replenish the body with the lost fluids immediately.
Raising a baby is exhausting since you juggle with multiple tasks. You balance life’s important duties with the responsibility of having a baby, and somewhere in the process, you lose precious hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation is a genuine problem faced during the early parenting years (7).
Poor rest causes fatigue, which leads to a dull chronic headache during activities such as feeding the baby. Your stiff position during breastfeeding can also take a toll on the torso muscles, compounding the feeling of weariness.
Treatment: The best way to prevent a fatigue-related headache is to have ample rest. Speak to your partner about sharing responsibilities or take help from a family member so that you get sufficient sleep.
6. Certain medications:
Sometimes, medicines consumed by the lactating mother can lead to a headache as a side-effect. Even those medications which are safe during breastfeeding can trigger headaches when consumed in high doses. For example, an overdose of vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, can cause a severe headache and breast soreness (8). In such cases, reverting to the doctor’s recommended dosage or selecting a lesser concentration version may provide relief.
Treatment: Medicine should not cause a lactation headache if you consume the drugs prescribed by the doctor and in the recommended quantity. However, if you feel you are sensitive to a drug and it invariably causes a headache, then you must consult your doctor immediately.
7. Sinus and ear infection:
Sinus and ear infections may not directly relate to breastfeeding but are still a cause for a headache that could interfere with breastfeeding. Sinus headaches worsen when you bend forward, which often happens when your baby is breastfeeding. Infections of the ear, especially the middle ear, can cause a headache along with stiff neck that may hinder the nursing activity (9).
Treatment: Relevant antibiotic treatment can help you get relief from the infection. Your doctor will prescribe you an antibiotic that is safe to administer when breastfeeding.
Now you know the reasons behind that excruciating headache every time you breastfeed your baby. You may have treated yourself with painkillers every time you had a headache, but since you are a lactating mother, you need to stay clear of self-medication.
How Do I Treat Lactation Headache?
The treatment of a breastfeeding headache lies in addressing the underlying cause of the condition. Painkillers and some generic drugs can help alleviate the ache and make the mother feel better. However, not all medicines are safe since they may pass into the breast milk, and could harm the baby. Following is a list of medicines considered safe or unsafe for headaches during breastfeeding:
Some of the above medicines are available without a doctor’s prescription but consult a doctor before consuming any drug. The quantity of medicine that transfers into your breast milk will depend on the type of drug compound and its concentration, among other things. Your doctor will consider these factors before prescribing you a medicine for a lactation headache so that you and your baby stay safe.
There is a safer option too, something you can do at home.
Safe Home Remedies For Lactation Headache
You can follow some home remedies to get relief from a headache during breastfeeding. These do not impact your baby anyway:
- Massage: This stress-buster can help reduce the intensity of different pains including headaches. You can hire the services of a professional masseuse or just ask your partner for a gentle head massage for pain relief. It can make you feel relaxed when feeding your baby.
- Drink plenty of water: Keeping yourself hydrated is the best way to prevent headaches that are caused by dehydration. Drinking a glass of water extra will have no harm and instead make you feel fresh.
- Warm water bath: Soaking in a tub of warm water helps release tension from strained muscles of the body. It also relaxes your body, thus making you feel rejuvenated.
- Eat food rich in riboflavin: Evidence suggests that eating food rich in riboflavin, also called vitamin B2, can reduce the intensity of headaches especially those caused by migraines (10). Many common food items, such as spinach, lettuce, apples, and milk, are naturally rich in riboflavin.
- Good sleep: There is nothing more soothing to the nerves than a sound sleep. Ensure you get your share of sleep every day by maintaining a breastfeeding schedule that lets your baby get all the nursing without you sacrificing your sleep.