6 Ways to Make Parenting Easier When You Have a Migraine

Tonilyn Hornung
Photo credit: JGI/Jamie Grill - Getty Images
Photo credit: JGI/Jamie Grill - Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

My brain is boiling. I’m wearing my oversized sunglasses against the dimmed lights of the family room, hoping my son still recognizes me. My nausea is doing its best to claw its way out of my stomach as I try not to vomit all over the shiny, new Dollar Store craft I’m opening. This project will keep my little guy entertained while I rest. With my husband working and with no backup to back me up, it’s just me, my 6-year-old, and my migraine.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, “Migraine is one of the leading serious health problems affecting women — 85% of chronic migraine suffers are women.” Adult women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men, and they occur most frequently between the ages of 18 and 44 — the prime parenting years. That means, somewhere out there, a mom is trying to parent through a migraine.

Diagnosed with this neurological disorder over 10 years ago, I’m often one of these moms. When my prescribed medication fails, and my migraine attacks, even the smallest of tasks seems insurmountable. Throw in caring for my son, and I’d love to call in sick to a day of parenting, but like other parents who suffer from migraine disease, that isn’t an option.

One major element that separates a migraine from a headache is the “sensorial overload” that accompanies it. “A migraine is a constellation of symptoms that can include light, sound and smell sensitivities; nausea; vomiting; headache; cognitive fog; word-finding difficulties; and auras of all kinds,” says Angel L. Moreno, doctor of nursing practice and nurse practitioner at the UCLA Goldberg Migraine Program in Los Angeles. This is why parents who suffer from these unpredictable attacks benefit from instituting a predictable parenting strategy.

Angie Ebba is the mother of two teenagers. She was diagnosed with migraine at the age of 11 and she’s now in her 40s. “I am lucky that my kids are now old enough they understand," she says. "But there have been many nights we had cereal for dinner or had to change plans because of migraines.” Momming and migraines don’t mix. Rescheduling activities, creating backup plans for your backup plans, and getting to know your pizza delivery person are all ways moms with migraines cope because a migraine is no regular headache. Here are some other handy tools and tricks you have saved away to get you through your migraine-filled day.

Have a backup system you trust.

Lisa Benson, a contributing writer at Migraine.com and mother of a 2-year-old, says the first step in her parenting plan is to ask her husband or a family member for help in caring for her daughter. Having a scenario that includes reaching out for assistance is common among migraineurs. It’s a request that Brian M. Plato, DO, Medical Director of Headache Medicine for the Norton Neuroscience Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, encourages in his patients. Dr. Plato advises moms to “be very open and honest with those in your life regarding the problems you have with migraines. This opens up the conversation to having people who may at times be able to help.”

Keep activities low-key.

Another key to parenting solo is keeping time-consuming tasks down to a minimum. Being out in the bright, smelly, loud world can send pain levels skyrocketing and make a trip to the emergency room inevitable.

And keeping a regular sleep schedule is important in preventative care: People with migraines are between 2 and 8 times more likely to have sleep disorders, according to the American Migraine Foundation, which notes that regular, adequate sleep can lead to fewer headaches. Benson’s next step is to sleep when her toddler sleeps. “I always take advantage of her nap time, and I will go to bed early if I need to,” she says.

Stock up on low-prep dinners.

When you're dealing with a migraine, one thing that's nearly impossible to tackle is getting a meal to the table. Ebba is a fan of having ready-to-go meals, especially ones that her older kids can cook on their own. She also plans ahead and has money set aside for delivery.

Find fuss-free activities.

Jody Gerbig Todd, the mother of 5-year-old triplets, began having migraines more than 20 years ago. Not only does she make sure to have an easy meal prep handy, she takes advantage of local resources to snag some much-needed parenting downtime. “The library now loans out children's read-along audiobooks, which I always have on hand," she says. "They can sit with those for hours.” In order to extend her moments of rest, Todd keeps puzzles her kids have never seen and untouched art supplies for when she has a migraine.

Take time for yourself.

Scoring a break while your children are safely engaged means scoring moments for your own self-care. This pause can look like cuddling with your kid and your heating pad, staying hydrated, or simply breathing deeply. Moreno suggests using hot and/or cold ice when a migraine is coming on. "Applying one to four drops of peppermint essential oil around the scalp has proven helpful in some patients,” he says.

Talk to your doctor about new treatments.

Tools that are being made available now are some that both Moreno and Plato say are revolutionary in this phase of migraine treatment. “This is the most exciting time in my mind in the world of migraine because of these new treatments,” Plato says. CGRPs (calcitonin gene-related peptides) are a new class of treatment that has transformed the migraine field. One study showed that, for those with migraine, this preventive treatment has demonstrated a reduction of migraine headache days per month by 50% or more in 50% of patients who received the full dosage in clinical trials. “New technology is allowing for better understanding of migraine pathophysiology and the development of novel therapies,” Moreno says. If it's been a while since you've checked in with your doctor, you might want to schedule an appointment to discuss these new therapies.

Know that if you’re a mom with migraines, I feel your pain. I know that parenting while managing migraines can feel isolating, but Plato reassures us we’re not alone. “It’s a medical condition and a disease that needs people talking about it to increase awareness,” he says. I’m hopeful that with new treatments becoming available, 6-year-old’s latest prediction might be a reality, “One day Mom, you’ll wake up and no more migraine!” Until then, I totally have my tools ready, and I have a plan.

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