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Child & Baby Headache

My three go-tos for mild or infrequent headaches? Water, a nap, or ibuprofen. But what about when our kids get headaches? That can be a little more concerning. And can our baby get a headache? What are the signs and symptoms of a baby headache? What about a baby or child migraine? Or maybe without experiencing any other signs and symptoms, your child has a fever and headache only? And as if symptoms aren’t hard enough to decipher, we’ve got abdominal migraines in children to throw in the mix.

Do babies get headaches?

Headaches in babies are possible. Babies who experience signs and symptoms of a headache or migraine are unable to tell you but yes, our babies can still get headaches! They may be fussier, hold their head while crying, withdraw from regular playing, feed poorly, or sleep more.

Infant migraine symptoms have been linked to babies with colic, especially when there is a history of migraines in mom or dad. Studies have shown that children who experience migraines are more likely to have had colic as a baby when compared to children who don’t have migraines.

What to do for baby’s headache?

  • Continue offering fluids, such as breast milk/formula.
  • Snuggle her in a dark, quiet room. Decreased stimulation helps.
  • Avoid vigorous bouncing or swaying. Rock your love gently.
  • Put a cool washcloth across her forehead.
  • Hang onto your patience, mom and dad. Increased crying is exhausting for all of you, I can empathize. Take turns and take a break when needed – you got this.

Because babies cannot tell us they’re having headaches, always check with their pediatrician if you think something is going on. Even if you’re convinced it is “just” a headache!

Do children get headaches?

Headaches in kids are just as possible as they are in adults. These headaches can be primary and secondary. Primary headaches – meaning they aren’t caused by an underlying disease – are common. Think cluster headaches, tension headaches, and migraines. There is an endless list of conditions that cause secondary headaches, which we will not go into today.

The most common symptoms of cluster headaches, tension headaches, and migraines:

  • Throbbing or pounding head pain. May or may not worsen with exertion.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Stomach ache. (This is more common in kids than adults, especially from the ages of 5-9 years, and is actually considered a subtype of migraines called abdominal migraines. They typically grow out of it but unfortunately, graduate to more typical migraine headaches thereafter.)
  • Extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Pressing tightness in the head or neck muscles.
  • Sharp, stabbing pain on one or both sides of the head.
  • Pain accompanied by teariness, congestion, runny nose, restlessness/agitation.

When to call the doctor when your child has a headache?

  • If it starts after an injury, specifically to the head.
  • If it worsens or becomes more frequent.
  • If it is accompanied by persistent vomiting, visual changes, speech changes, confusion, neck stiffness, or fever.
  • If it changes your babe’s personality.
  • If it causes numbness, weakness, or paralysis on one side of her body or face.
  • If you notice a widespread purple or blood-colored rash on the body.

What can trigger a headache in our child?

  • Dehydration.
  • Lack of sleep. Or too much sleep. (We can’t win, can we?)
  • A poor diet or not eating enough. Don’t skip meals!
  • Stress. Even in our kiddos, stress can wreak havoc and show up in physical distress. Never underestimate the importance of a healthy mind!

What to do for child’s headache?

  • Keep encouraging plenty of fluids to keep them hydrated. Juice can be helpful for a quicker boost of sugar/calories, especially if your kiddo hasn’t eaten in awhile or missed a meal.
  • Have them rest in a dark, quiet room. Put them down for a nap!
  • Reduce stress – find a place where your kiddo can rest for a few minutes.
  • Make sure your child has eaten recently! Offer a healthy snack.
  • Put an ice pack or cold washcloth across their forehead.

What about medications? Will baby aspirin help a headache?

  • If your babe is older than 6 months old, you may give her Tylenol or ibuprofen to help with discomfort and see if her behavior improves.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone under 18 years old. (Aspirin is linked with Reye’s syndrome when given to children, which is a life-threatening condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain. The risks to our kiddos far outweigh the benefits, especially when we have other options.)
  • Babies under 6 months old may not have ibuprofen.
  • Babies under 3 months old should not be medicated without chatting with your pediatrician first.

So what about a severe headache in our child with a fever? If this is related to a cold or the flu, you should see other symptoms such as body aches, runny nose, coughing, etc. If your child has a fever and headache only, it can be a sign of something more serious and you should call the pediatrician right away. Especially if it is accompanied by vomiting or any of the signs listed earlier.

If headaches continue, try keeping a “headache diary” to track the details surrounding each headache (you can make notes in your Kinsa app!): food, drinks, stress level, how long they lasted, medications taken, etc. This is helpful if you want to dive deeper into possible causes.

Headaches can truly alter your daily activities and when recurring, can be really frightening. Especially when it involves our babies who can’t tell us what they’re feeling. Keep up hydration and a healthy diet, and trust your gut. If those basic tools aren’t keeping things under control, it’s time to see an expert.

Blake Wageman

Blake Wageman, RN, BSN has over 14 years of nursing under her belt, primarily focused on NICU babies and, just as importantly, their worried parents.