Whether a woman wants to be pregnant or would prefer not to be, if she's getting unusual around the time she expects her menstrual period, she's likely to want to know whether they might indicate pregnancy. Headaches can be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy, and many women experience them.
The good news for women who would rather not be pregnant--and the frustrating news for those would would--is that headaches don't necessarily have to mean pregnancy. They're very common symptoms of many different things. Menstrual periods cause headaches, injuries and muscle tension can lead to headaches, and some women get headaches for no particular reason at all. However, note Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel in their book, "What To Expect When You're Expecting," headaches are also very common in early pregnancy.
The headaches of early pregnancy are generally the work of rising levels of hormones. As progesterone and hCG levels spike in the first weeks of pregnancy, women's bodies respond with changes in blood flow and blood pressure, which can cause headaches. Further, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center, headaches in the back of the head often arise from muscle tension. Women who are in early pregnancy often don't sleep well, which can cause tightness across the back and shoulders, and back of the head headaches.
A headache in the back of the head as a symptom of early pregnancy may not actually be related to the pregnancy at all, but may instead be related to stress a woman is feeling as she tries to sort through her symptoms. Whether a woman does or does not want to be pregnant, the week or weeks between when she begins to suspect she has conceived and when she can test for pregnancy can be quite stressful. Stress, too, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center, can cause back of the head headaches.
While some women swear by certain indicators of pregnancy as infallible signs, it's best to avoid relying on any one sign of pregnancy as a surefire indicator--unless that sign of pregnancy is a positive pregnancy test. In her book, "Conception, Pregnancy and Birth," Dr. Miriam Stoppard suggests that women showing signs of pregnancy test approximately two weeks after conception, or around the time of a missed period. Women who test negative but continue to suspect they're pregnant should repeat the test in a week.
While most experts agree that over-the-counter drugs in the first weeks of pregnancy are highly unlikely to harm a developing baby--early embryos aren't even connected up to their mother's blood supply yet--if a woman is truly concerned that she may be pregnant, she may wish to avoid certain over-the-counter analgesics as treatments for her headaches. Massage and relaxation can help, note Murkoff and Mazel, and many obstetricians also allow acetaminophen, but it's best to check with a doctor first.
- “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”; Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel; 2008
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Headaches
- “Conception, Pregnancy and Birth”; Miriam Stoppard, M.D.; 2008