Drink lots of water. “Migraine patients need to have at least 1.5 to 2 litres a day—some people more,” says Christine Lay, medical director of Centre for Headache at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. If you’re consuming caffeine, that will make you even more dehydrated. Pack a water bottle with you whenever you leave the house, and drink often at home. Nursing dehydrates you, so pour yourself a big glass of water before sitting down to breastfeed.
“The brain of a migraineur really does better with routine,” says Lay. Irregular sleep patterns—even sleeping in on the weekend—can cause a migraine. But if you’ve got a newborn, you need to grab sleep whenever you can. “There’s nothing wrong with napping with the baby, as long as it’s at a regular time,” says Sian Spacey, director of the University of British Columbia Headache Clinic. Try limiting naps to 30 minutes or less, or, if you’re not too sleep-deprived, spend your baby or toddler’s naptime doing some meditation or mindfulness exercises rather than rushing around trying to get everything done.
You likely limited caffeine when you were pregnant. But after the baby is born and in those early years, many parents rely on coffee to get through the day. Lay recommends no more than two small cups of coffee each day. “A Starbucks medium has almost as much caffeine as eight or nine cans of Coke,” says Lay. Drinking too much caffeine or drinking it later in the day can interrupt your sleep patterns.
Parents are notorious for eating off their kids’ plates and taking care of themselves last, but if you suffer from migraines, you need to make sure you’re eating healthy meals and snacks on a regular basis. “I’m a big fan of including protein at every meal, and even a light protein snack before bed, like hummus and carrots or cottage cheese, is a way to reduce early-morning migraine,” says Lay. She also recommends eating cherries before bed—they’re a natural source of melatonin. She says the melatonin and serotonin in walnuts can “keep your brain happy” by improving sleep quality and regularity.
Quiet, leisurely walks in the woods may be unrealistic for a parent of small kids, but make an effort to get out at least once a day, even in colder weather, for a brisk stroller walk. Lay suggests going somewhere where there is green space, rather than walking on a busy road. “We know that exposure to natural environments is very important for the brain,” she explains. Think of the excursion as a time to put away your phone and relax, or even meditate on nature. “Sometimes when people go for a walk they are busy making lists in their head or chatting with someone—it’s important for you to really think about what you’re hearing, feeling or smelling.”