Short on time? Then the key things to know are:
- Main causes of postpartum headaches include: hormone fluctuations, dehydration, fatigue, low blood sugar, breastfeeding, blood pressure changes
- In extreme cases, postpartum headaches can be due to pre-eclampsia, or a dural-tap headache following a spinal or epidural anaesthesia
- Dizziness can occur immediately following delivery due to fatigue, blood loss and from lying down for a prolonged period of time - a lot of women will feel quite dizzy getting up for the first time, especially after a caesarean section
- Postpartum vertigo, also known as positional vertigo, can make women feel dizzy with movement and is only brought on when the head is in certain positions
- Postpartum nausea can be caused by pretty much everything to do with pregnancy and giving birth! It is very common to experience some kind of nausea postnatally
Headaches are unfortunately a common part of life for most women, and can often be due to our fluctuating hormones on a monthly basis.
Given the crazy amount of hormones that surge through your system when you’ve just had a baby, it’s safe to say that headaches, dizziness and nausea are all common after pregnancy.
Fortunately there are things you can do to help with these postpartum symptoms. Here we share causes, treatments and when to seek help.
Headaches after pregnancy
Headaches are very common in the first six weeks after childbirth. Known as ‘postpartum headaches’, they are typically due to the sudden change in oestrogen levels after delivery.
What are the main causes of postpartum headaches?
Becoming a mother for the first time, or once again, is a new and exciting time. But it doesn’t come without it’s stresses! It’s highly likely that you’ll feel anxious, tired and dehydrated - all common causes of tension headaches and migraines.
The most common causes of headaches after pregnancy are:
- Hormones: As your levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop dramatically following birth, this can cause you to experience headaches in the immediate postpartum period.
- Dehydration: During labour and birth it is very common for women to become dehydrated. It is important to try to replenish your fluid levels as soon as possible, this includes water and isotonic drinks.
- Fatigue: Unfortunately during the first few days following giving birth, you might find you develop headaches simply from not getting enough sleep. Also birth can be quite strenuous and on occasions, can feel like your body has just completed a marathon. This is perfectly normal, but this level of endurance might cause some headaches. Allow yourself plenty of time to rest and recover from whatever type of delivery you had.
- Low blood sugar: Again after giving birth, breastfeeding and recovering might take more out of your system than you can ever imagine, leaving your blood sugar reserves a little depleted and therefore causing headaches. Eating little and often ensures your blood sugar levels remain steady.
- Breastfeeding: The act of breastfeeding itself does not cause headaches in the postnatal period, but breastfeeding often goes hand in hand with fatigue, hormone changes and dehydration. Plenty of water and snacks are essential throughout your breastfeeding journey.
- Blood pressure: If for any reason your blood pressure is unstable this can cause postpartum headaches and dizziness. If your blood pressure is low, this may cause dizziness and may make you feel a little faint. If your blood pressure is riding a little higher than normal, this may cause a frontal headache. If this is the case this needs to be addressed by either your Midwife or GP and you may need medication to help resolve this.
Causes of severe headaches
In rare cases, postpartum headaches can be a sign of more serious conditions:
- Preeclampsia: In extreme cases a persistent headache may be a symptom of preeclampsia. This can occur during pregnancy or in the postpartum period and would need investigation. If you are suffering from a persistent headache that is not resolved by adequate hydration and simple analgesia like paracetamol, then seek advice from your Midwife or GP.
- Dural-tap: If you have had a spinal or epidural anaesthesia there is a very small risk of developing a dural-tap (between 0.5-1% chance). This dural tap (a miniscule puncture in the tissue that covers the spinal cord) can cause a headache usually within the first 24 hours post delivery. This is a severe headache which causes women to be intolerant of light and movement. Most patients are still in hospital when this occurs and would therefore receive immediate treatment. If such a headache develops at home seek medical advice immediately.
Dizziness after pregnancy
It is very common to experience some level of dizziness immediately following birth. Birth can take its toll on your body and as we mentioned before it may feel like you’ve been through a serious endurance event.
Causes of postpartum dizziness
Some women may feel a little dizzy getting up for the first time, more often than not due to a mixture of fatigue and blood loss. It is also worth bearing in mind that you have just lost almost a stone in weight since you last stood up!
Take these first few steps slowly and carefully and make sure there is a healthcare professional present. Getting up for the first time following a caesarean section can also make you feel dizzy, but again make sure a healthcare professional is present before you take these first tentative steps.
If you have suffered significant blood loss during your delivery (usually 500mls+) it is possible that your haemoglobin level may be low. This can also make you feel quite dizzy in the postpartum period until your haemoglobin levels return to normal. You may need iron supplements or a high iron diet following birth to rectify this. Even if you did not sustain a significant blood loss during your birth, it is worth ensuring that you get a decent amount of iron in your diet to aid your postnatal recovery.
Vertigo is a severe form of dizziness that can affect you when your head moves into certain positions. It is very rare to develop vertigo in the postnatal period, but it can happen.
If you find that everything around you is spinning and your balance is affected, lie down and remain as still as possible. It is advisable to try and move as little as possible, moving your head slowly and carefully and avoid standing up for long periods of time. If you suffer from these symptoms we recommend that you seek medical advice.
Nausea after pregnancy is another common symptom, due to various reasons:
- Hormones: The main culprits are again those wonderful hormones of ours. There is no immediate resolution to nausea due to hormonal changes, but it is likely to pass with simple analgesia such as paracetamol and shouldn’t last for a prolonged period of time
- Medicine: Any medical intervention of any kind, during and after giving birth can also make you feel nauseous.
- Fatigue: Throw in a couple of nights with little to no sleep and again, the nausea is likely to hit. Our best advice is to keep eating, little and often when you can. Even through the night, be sure to have plenty of water to hand and a bedtime snack, as your blood sugar levels may drop during the night, causing either nausea or headaches. New parents are notoriously bad at resting and whilst ‘sleep when your baby is sleeping’ is one of the most disregarded pieces of advice, it can be really beneficial for your mental and physical health to take some rest, or even dare we say it, a nap!
Want to talk to someone about your postnatal recovery? Book an appointment to speak to a midwife online at a time that suits you.
Kate, Naytal Midwife
Kate has been a Midwife within the NHS for more than 15 years and supports women to work harmoniously with their bodies and tune into their intuitions.