With some advance planning, child care can feel a lot less stressful.

If you’re a parent living with chronic migraine, you know all too well how challenging it can be to care for your children when you don’t feel well. Chronic migraine is fairly common, occurring in 3% to 5% of the people in the United States.

People with chronic migraine have 15 or more headache days per month for more than 3 months. On at least 8 of these days, the headaches meet the criteria for a migraine. During a migraine episode, people may experience:

  • intense pain
  • pain that’s often on one side of the head, but may be on both sides
  • throbbing, pounding, or pulsating pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sensitivity to light, sound, or smells
  • pain that gets worse with physical activity

Physical activity, loud noises, lack of sleep, and meals eaten on the run are all part of parenting. They can also be migraine triggers.

“Chronic migraine can affect your ability to care for your family,” says Reena Shah, MD, associate professor of neurology and rehabilitation medicine at the University of Cincinnati and a headache specialist at UC Health in Cincinnati, Ohio. “It can be hard to perform daily activities. Just getting out of bed in the morning to help your kids get ready for school is difficult.”

Even activities such as going to your child’s sporting events can be challenging since heat and bright sun can trigger a migraine episode, Shah says.

There are effective ways to help you manage your chronic migraine. Making some lifestyle changes can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine episodes. And planning ahead can help you be prepared on those days a migraine attack does strike. Here are some tips that may help.

You may be aware of your migraine triggers, such as certain scents or changes in the weather. But when you become a parent, you may be exposed to new triggers in your home, such as loud noises, changes in your sleep schedule, and excessive stress.

Consider using an app to track your migraine triggers so you can stay ahead of them.

Be proactive by getting some projects set up and ready to go before a migraine headache strikes.

On a non-migraine day, assemble some quiet kids’ activities like puzzles, coloring books, or crafts. Keep this activity box somewhere your child is easily able to reach so they can pull it out when a migraine attack is making it hard for you to deal with everyday parenting activities.

This also gives you the opportunity to spend time with your child doing quiet activities rather than those that may be more likely to worsen your migraine symptoms.

Consider putting together a migraine toolkit stocked with remedies to help you manage your symptoms during a migraine episode. While everyone manages migraine differently, your kit might include such essentials as:

  • pain relief medication
  • anti-nausea medication
  • a water bottle
  • an eye mask
  • an ice pack
  • earplugs
  • a card with your doctor’s information on it

Your chronic migraine may also affect your kids. Children tend to pick up on their parent’s mood and can tell if they’re not feeling well.

Teenagers whose parents have chronic migraine tend to be more anxious, according to some research. Some teens whose parents have chronic migraine have reported having headaches themselves.

To help your child or teenager understand why you sometimes have to sit out an activity, have an honest but reassuring talk on a non-migraine day. “This helps your child understand why you aren’t always able to do certain things with them,” said Shah.

Tell your child what a migraine headache feels like and what helps you manage the discomfort. Consider using age-appropriate language that won’t frighten your child. For instance, you may want to describe a migraine episode as “strong” rather than “bad.” This is also a good opportunity to talk with your child about how they could help when you have a migraine attack.

Lack of sleep can be a migraine trigger, and good sleep is a key part of migraine management. But getting enough shut-eye can be hard when you’re a parent.

You can’t control your baby’s penchant for wanting to be fed at 2 a.m., but you can help set the stage for a relaxing sleep. Screen time tends to activate the brain, so avoid using electronics like tablets or watching TV for 2 hours before bedtime. Try to have a relaxing bedtime routine, and keep your bedroom cool and dark.

“A change in routine can trigger a migraine, so try to keep as close to the same bedtime and wake time as you can,” said Shah. This can be hard with nocturnal little ones, but it’s certainly worth a try, even if it only works some of the time.

RA 2020 review of studies shows that regular exercise may help reduce the frequency and duration of migraine attacks. This could be because exercise raises levels of beta-endorphins, which are stress- and pain-reducing chemicals in your body.

The recommended amount of exercise is 30 to 50 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 3 to 5 days a week.

Grab your kids and go for a walk, take them on a bike ride, or consider planting a garden with your little ones. Caring for flowers and plants gets you moving and is a rewarding activity to do with your kids.

For some people, exercise may trigger a migraine attack. This may be due to overexertion. If this is the case for you, you may want to choose gentle, low impact activities over more strenuous ones. You can also talk with your doctor about ways to exercise safely.

Stress is a common migraine trigger. You can’t avoid stress completely, especially if you’re a parent. But practicing mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques, and breathing techniques may help you reduce or manage it. To help you get started, try apps like Headspace and Calm.

Staying hydrated and nourished is important, as dehydration and low blood sugar may trigger a migraine headache.

Leisurely meals may be off the table when you have young kids. But you can aim to eat regular meals throughout the day. Drink plenty of water and avoid fasting. Focus on meals that are high in protein and fiber and low in processed ingredients.

Some people find that certain foods and drinks, such as alcohol, caffeine, aged cheeses, or processed meats, can trigger a migraine headache. Keeping a headache diary can help you determine which foods, if any, are triggers for you.

When you’re feeling well, shop for, cook, and freeze some meals. On days when you have a migraine attack, pull one of your made-in-advance dishes out of the freezer and pop it into the oven or microwave.

Try to make these meals as kid-friendly as possible so that your family can all eat the same meal and you don’t have to cook a separate dish for picky eaters.

Treatment for chronic migraine often includes acute medication, which is taken at the onset of a migraine episode to help relieve symptoms, and preventive medication, which can help prevent future episodes.

“Many new medications for migraine have come out in the last 10 years that are truly life changing for many people,” says Shah. “There are also injections given once a month or every 3 months that can help.”

Shah recommends working with your doctor to create a plan for both acute and preventive treatments. “You need an acute treatment option for when migraine hits,” she says. “And if the migraine is interfering with your life, a preventive treatment can help.”

If you’re in the midst of a migraine attack, symptoms such as headache, nausea, fatigue, and sensitivity to light or noise can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, including parental duties.

Making lifestyle changes, such as reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and following your treatment plan, may help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks so you can have more non-migraine time to spend with your child.

You may not be able to prevent all migraine attacks, however. Planning quiet activities you can do with your child and making meals ahead of time are some of the steps you can take to prepare for days you’re dealing with a migraine episode.