How Has Breastfeeding Affected My Headaches and Migraine?

Breastfeeding is a unique experience. Some women find it easy, while others struggle to get their infant to latch or don't produce enough milk. I've been in both groups. I nursed my first for 13 months, and my second is still going strong at 10 months old. I didn't know what to expect during lactation, but I discovered one pleasantly surprising side effect: I do not have cluster headaches while breastfeeding.

Have my migraine and cluster headaches been triggered by hormones?

I've written about my experience with cluster headaches during pregnancy and status migraines during miscarriages and menses. However, breastfeeding causes a lull of sorts in your hormone levels that may play a role in the blissfully pain-free year I've had. According to the American Migraine Foundation, lactation keeps your estrogen levels stable and low.1

Cluster headaches are known to flare up whenever there is a change in seasons, sleep, or hormones. Yet, the lack of sleep on nights I nurse every two hours never leads to an attack (like last night). I may feel foggy and tired, but my head feels fine.

What freedoms has breastfeeding given me?

Both of my breastfeeding experiences have given me extra freedom with my health. While I may be tethered to my baby every couple of hours (let's be honest, it's 24/7), I don't worry about my treatments. Usually, I carry a vial of sumatriptan and a tiny syringe in case I have an attack at the grocery store or park. The only medication in my purse right now is an EpiPen for my child's food allergies.

My cluster headache cycles come on in the spring and fall. In a regular year, I would be careful of making plans. I didn't have those concerns this year, though. I went on a three-day trip with just one sumatriptan injection and no oxygen tank, and nothing bad happened! Flying is another risk of mine because I tend to get an attack once the plane stabilizes in the air, but this year? This year, I flew across the country with my baby and didn't get a single twinge of discomfort.

I know this freedom will end, but I am living it to the fullest while I can.

What are my plans for weaning?

My first child self-weaned at 13 months old on Christmas Eve. It was harder on me than her. I wasn't just saying goodbye to this special bond I had with my baby; weaning opened the floodgates for cluster headaches to resurface. I woke up two or three weeks later with a cluster headache attack, signaling the start of an eight-week cycle. 

I don't know how long my youngest will want to breastfeed, but I don't plan to hang up my nursing bra any time soon. When they do, I'll lug the oxygen tank out of the closet and restock the fridge with injections to fight the inevitable return of cluster headaches.

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