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Preventing Prenatal Migraines

You're ready for queasiness and backaches, but migraines? Veterans of these debilitating headaches, which usually affect one side of the head and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound, often experience a respite when they're expecting. Others, however, find that their headaches worsen, and some mothers-to-be experience migraines for the first time, says William Young, M.D., a neurologist at the Jefferson Headache Center, in Philadelphia.

Doctors aren't certain why pregnancy prompts migraines (fluctuating estrogen levels are a prime suspect), but they do know the tendency is temporary. Unfortunately, migraines are especially difficult to treat during pregnancy, because most standard drug remedies are considered too risky, says Dr. Young. For instance, even though ibuprofen is considered safe to use occasionally, if it's taken in the third trimester, it can interfere with blood clotting -- a particular problem if you have a cesarean or episiotomy. So what can you do?

Sleep It Off Lie in a dark room with a cold washcloth draped over your forehead.

Avoid Triggers Certain foods or environments bring on migraines, so note what you ate or did before your last attack. Triggers include chocolate, MSG, aged cheese, cured meat, caffeine, and cigarette smoke. Bright lights, stress, and disruptions in your sleeping or eating patterns can also induce a headache.

Loosen Up Many headache specialists see the value in biofeedback, a way to control pain that involves deep breathing and visualization. Self-hypnosis and progressive muscle relaxation can also help relieve migraines and are perfectly safe, according to Seymour Diamond, M.D., executive chairman of the National Headache Foundation, in Chicago.