Natural Pregnancy and Baby Care Part I
In the midwifery side of my practice, I see a lot of patients who struggle with common pregnancy, postpartum, and newborn ailments that I am generally able to effectively treat using naturopathic remedies. As with anything else, there's nothing wrong with appropriately used conventional treatments, but many of these common complaints are easily managed with natural treatments that are considered lower intervention and less imposing on a pregnant mom's or new baby's system. In this column I will cover pregnancy and postpartum, with newborn ailments to follow in December. Before self-treating any of these conditions, please discuss them with your care provider (doctor or midwife) to rule out anything more serious.
Heartburn/Indigestion – Most women complain of heartburn or indigestion at some point during the course of their pregnancy. I typically tell people to eat more frequent, small meals, trying to avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. The esophageal sphincter is more relaxed during pregnancy so it's important to allow food to be properly digested before laying down and thus encouraging reflux. Peppermint can also cause the sphincter to relax, so try to avoid peppermint tea around bedtime. Papaya enzymes can help digestion immensely, as can DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice root). Licorice is not generally recommended in pregnancy, as it can potentially increase blood pressure but the offending ingredient, glycyrrhizin, is removed in DGL, thus making it safe to consume during pregnancy. TUMS can be effective, but may contain trace amounts of aluminum, in addition to artificial colour and flavour.
Constipation – Digestion is slower during pregnancy, so it's common to have constipation from time to time. Staying well hydrated (an important lesson if you plan to breastfeed as well) may be enough to improve constipation, as well as exercise, and additional fiber. The best (easiest) sources of fiber to add is that found in fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains such as rice and quinoa. Magnesium citrate can also help to keep things moving, and as a “side effect” may also improve sleep and decrease leg cramps and restless legs. Psyllium based fibre supplements can actually lead to more GI distress in some people.
Hip Pain/Sciatica – In pregnancy, the hormone relaxin is released, causing connective tissue to become more relaxed to make room for all the shifts that need to occur. One of the common effects of this is sciatica, hip pain, low back pain, or pubic bone pain as the pelvis begins to shift and open up. Supplemental lecithin (also found in eggs) can help with joint pain, but it's not uncommon to need something a little more, such as acupuncture or chiropractic, to help manage the pain. If you go to an acupuncturist or chiropractor, it's advisable to ensure that they know you are pregnant and are comfortable treating pregnant women.
Morning Sickness – One of the most discussed and poorly treated conditions of pregnancy, morning sickness affects the vast majority of my patients and for most, is just put up with until it subsides after the end of the first trimester. For some, it's more severe and persists beyond 12 weeks, making their daily lives impossible. Ginger is the most effective natural treatment we have for morning sickness, in many forms. Ginger tea, ginger beer, ginger capsules, ginger chews, etc. Try and find a form that works for you. Also important is eating frequently, and including a little protein and fat in all your meals and snacks.
Hemorrhoids – The key to avoiding hemorrhoids is avoiding constipation, but it's a natural side effect of pregnancy and childbirth for some women regardless. Increasing hydration and avoiding constipating foods can help, as well as homeopathic suppositories, witch hazel pads (Tucks), and horse chestnut ointment.
Anemia – Anemia is important to treat in pregnancy because untreated, it can result in a higher risk of hemorrhage during childbirth, and make it much more difficult to recover postpartum. I typically recommend supplementing with food when appropriate, but I usually also recommend a supplement such as liquid iron supplementation (to reduce secondary constipation), and high mineral herbal tinctures.
Engorgement/Plugged Ducts/Mastitis – The key to avoiding all three of these very uncomfortable conditions is frequent, effective breastfeeding. While this may be the ideal, it's not always possible and it may not be enough. I often recommend increased hydration, massaging with feeding to ensure uniform drainage, and monitoring body temperature. If additional support is needed, homeopathic phytolacca is often effective, as are frozen cabbage leaves applied to the breasts. Sounds crazy, I know, and your house will smell like cooked cabbage when you're done but it works. Very well.
This is just a short list of the questions I get from pregnant women and new parents. Sometimes I feel like I just spend my days saying, “that's normal” but just because something is normal, I don't assume that it's not painful, uncomfortable, or disruptive. Hopefully from this list you'll find at least one thing that will help ease your discomfort, in January I will continue with a list for newborns.