As anyone who suffers with them knows, a migraine is so much more than just a headache. They vary hugely from one person to another but common features include a throbbing headache, nausea, visual disturbances, neck pain and sensitivity to lights, sounds and smells. Migraines can be episodic, just happening from time to time, or chronic, happening for more than 15 days a month. As you would Imagine from the list of symptoms, parenting with migraines isn’t easy, however with 14.7% of the world’s population (that’s one in seven people) estimated to suffer, millions of parents are doing it everyday. Here’s how I cope, along with some tips to manage parenting with migraines.
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I suffer from hormonal migraines which in recent years have moved from being episodic to chronic. I generally have two weeks before and during my period where I have a migraine pretty much constantly. Some months I also get one when I ovulate. I usually know when it’s coming because I get a stiff neck. After that the headache starts, usually a pounding on one side of my head. If I don’t treat it I then move on the nausea, followed by vomiting. I have migraine without aura so don’t suffer from visual disturbances. Untreated, or if the treatment doesn’t work (rare thank goodness), the pain is unbareable. The only way to manage it is to lay completely still in a dark room. Movement is one of the worst things for me and that makes life very difficult. I’ve experienced migraines since my early teens so have been having them for around 25 years now. At some points I’ve had less and some points (like now) I’ve had more but they’ve never gone away.
Parenting with Migraines
Pregnancy with migraines was tough. Some people find their migraines stop during pregnancy, unfortunately that wasn’t the case for me. They were particularly bad in my first trimester when I was also suffering with morning sickness. The only thing I could take was paracetamol which basically has no effect at all.
The migraines continued after I gave birth. I found the early years of parenting really hard and migraines didn’t help. My GP told me I couldn’t take my migraine medication while breastfeeding however I couldn’t breastfeed with a migraine (not without being sick on the poor baby anyway) so this posed a problem. I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding so I expressed milk and froze it so that when I had a migraine I could take my medication and then feed the baby expressed milk.
Some of the hardest days of parenting with migraines came during the baby and toddler years. As every Mum knows, you don’t get sick days. While my migraine medication usually worked well, the times that it didn’t were unbearable. The smell of nappies, the crying baby, the physical exertion of looking after small people who can’t do anything for themselves was unbearable. I’m very lucky that my Mum lives close by and was willing to help when things were really bad.
Now that my children are 6 and 8 parenting with migraines isn’t quite so bad. It’s still hard but generally they can play by themselves while I go and lay down and wait for my tablets to work.
The worst part of parenting with migraines for me is the guilt. My kids certainly don’t get the best of me when I have a migraine. Even when my medication has stopped the pain, I’m still sensitive to noise so they hear “Stop shouting!” far more often than I’d like them to. There’s also been plenty of times when we’ve had to change our plans because a migraine as struck. It’s not just the kids I feel guilty about, it’s my husband too. I imagine he dreads my migraines nearly as much as I do. They make me pretty unpleasant to be around, not to mention he gets stuck looking after the children. I also rely on my Mum for emergency support far more than I’d like to. Luckily they are both brilliant and even the kids seem to understand that Mummy isn’t feeling well.
If you suffer from migraines and haven’t seen your GP in a few years I would suggest a visit. Parenting with migraines is hard but there are medications that can help. I’ve been taking triptans for about ten years and they are my saviour. I’ve changed which one I take a few times over the years as new improved versions have come out. I can’t imagine coping with parenting without them. Now that my migraines are chronic I’m also taking preventative medications. I started with Pizotofen but found it left me so tired I was literally crying with exhaustion at the thought of looking after the kids. I’m now taking Propranolol, which is a beta blocker. So far it’s proving very effective in stopping my migraines however we’re just playing around with the dosage to get the best results whilst minimising the side effects.
Sources of Support
It’s hard for people who don’t have migraines to really understand how bad the pain is and how much it effects your life. There are some great Facebook Groups which can help you feel less alone, both UK Migraine Support and Advice Group and Chronic Migraine Awareness UK & ROI are excellent. The UK Migraine Trust website has lots of useful information including the different types of migraine and the different medication that can be prescribed.
If your migraines are hormonal like mine then the book “The Woman’s Guide to Managing Migraine*” is fantastic. It gives really clear explanations of the different treatment options and also considers what might be best for an individual based on their circumstances and other conditions they suffer from. It also suggests some “mini preventatives” that can just be used around the time of your period as well as non pharmaceutical treatment options
It’s also worth saying that if you GP isn’t helpful, try another. In any professional you’ll find some people who are better at their jobs than others and Doctors are no different.
Tips for Parenting with Migraines
- If there is support available, use it. No one benefits from your suffering so if there is a partner, a grandparent or a friend willing to look afte your children then ask them. I know it can seem like you’re asking too much but people are often glad to be able to do something practical to help.
- See your GP. Even if they have been no help in the past, keep trying because new medications are being approved for migraine treatment all the time. If you’re getting more than a few migraines a month then you can try a preventative.
- Use whatever you need to get through it. If your children end up watching CBeebies all day or playing with tablets non stop because you can’t function, that is fine. As long as they are safe, you just have to get through it as best you can.
- If you want to try and avoid that, have a special box of things they can do by themselves that you only get out when you have a migraine. Add new things from time to time to keep it novel.
- On the same note, it’s useful to have some easy snacks and meals in all the time in case you aren’t up to cooking.
Parenting with migraines is challenging but there are ways to make it more bareable. There will be days where you just have to get through the day and not worry about being a perfect parent, and that’s ok. Self care is important for all parents and migraine sufferers even more so. If you need to use Cbeebies as a babysitter sometimes, so be it.
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