By Ash Stevens
Back in the day, herbal remedies were looked at as “old wives tales.” Today, scientists are studying more and more about herbs. More often than not, they’re finding that the rumored properties and benefits reported by “primitive ancestors” are in fact true. This is great news, because as any mother knows, pregnancy and birth pose some rather unpleasant issues and side effects. So, instead of suffering through it with simple ibuprofen, you can run these herbs by your doc and then stock up your kitchen cupboards.
I go crazy for herbal infusions during pregnancy. Infusions are just like tea, except that they use a larger dose of herbs, and they’re steeped for 4-8 hours or overnight. They offer a high dose of minerals and compounds which make for big health impact. This benefit is especially important to pregnant women because poor diet and nutritional deficiencies are linked to the life-threatening condition pre-eclampsia. Nutrition also has a connection with more minor but potentially agonizing issues like swelling, leg cramps, back aches, and fatigue. Herbal infusions with nutritive herbs give us liquid vitamins we can drink throughout our day. The nutritive herbs can help all sorts of prenatal issues. That’s why pregnant women have sipped them throughout the centuries!
- Red Raspberry Leaf: The raspberry plant’s berries steal the spotlight, but its leaves are the ultimate prize to an expectant mother Red Raspberry Leaf comes with incredible health benefits as it’s rich in calcium (essential to any leg cramp prevention plan), iron (a must for the red blood cells), phosphorus, and potassium, plus vitamins A, B, C, and E. The health benes just get better because it’s high in fragrine — a compound long rumored to strengthen the uterus. RRL’s reputation as a uterine tonic hasn’t received much attention in lab studies, but one study of 108 mothers found that women who had consumed RRL during their pregnancy were less likely to have their water broken artificially, to birth with forceps or vacuum assistance, or to birth by C-section. My own birth experiences have me convinced of RRL’s potential benefits; however, more studies will need to be done to investigate and validate them. But if there’s even the slightest chance that iced tea could promote a healthier and more functional uterus, is there anything to lose?
- Oatstraw & Milky Oats: We know oatmeal makes for a healthy breakfast (or in my case, a healthy-er breakfast as I’m eating oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies at 8 a.m. rather than standard chocolate chip). But as much as health nuts instagram their oatmeal, the oat groat pales in comparison to milky oats and oatstraw. Both parts of the oat plant have vitamins B, C, D, E, K, calcium, magnesium, chromium, and silica. They also double as nervines and galactagogues, so they’re a wonderful herb mothers can use to promote breastmilk and to ward away postpartum blues.
- Nettle: This dainty little plant boasts plentiful levels of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin A, plus noteworthy amounts of potassium and phosphorus. Nettle also packs kidney-supporting compounds and high content of iron and vitamin K, which basically qualifies it as a pregnancy herb all-star. Pregnant mamas have around 40-50 percent more blood volume so that they can transport baby’s nutrients and wastes, so nettle can support blood health via iron and vitamin K, while it’s diuretic-like effect can help out those hard-working kidneys and swollen feet. Nettle may also reduce chances of postpartum hemorrhage, improve hemorrhoids, and stimulate production of breastmilk. There has been controversy over the safety of nettle root, but nettle leaves are generally recognized as safe. As with anything, talk about it with your birth provider.
- Alfalfa: This herb gets used more by livestock than humans, but that’s sure to change once people discover what they’re missing out on. Alfalfa offers vitamins A, C, and K, plus calcium, iron, magnesium, and trace minerals. It’s mineral and compound content make it an outstanding milk enhancer (thus its popularity with livestock). It also enhances the wombs itself. Naturopathic doctor Marisa Marciano explains alfalfa’s amazing health properties, writing that it’s phytoestrogenic activity acts to strengthen and revitalize the reproductive organs.
Anytime I hear or see a woman talking about birth, there’s always this looming sense of fear and uncertainty. It’s safe to say that part of that is due to society’s push for convenience and our abundance of pricey pills and drugs. However, I think a huge part of it comes from the loss of knowledge, once passed from woman to woman, of our natural female processes. There’s also been a loss of control over our own births. All things considered, the modern woman’s fear of pain and birthing is totally understandable. Luckily, change is on the rise as women everywhere are awakening to their needs, and certified nurse midwives are evolving prenatal care. We can create an amazing birth experience for ourselves by finding a quality provider, and hooking ourselves up with a few herbal allies.
- Crampbark: As the name suggests, this herb offers a lady some much-appreciated help with menstrual cramps. Being an antispasmodic, Crampbark is able to relieve tension and spasms of the muscle — especially in smooth muscles like the uterus. Amazingly, Crampbark can reduce muscle tension without inhibiting muscle function, so it can soothe postpartum contractions and menstrual cramps while allowing them to continue their important work. This is heavenly news for birthing moms, because afterbirth pains can be more painful than birth contractions (and they get more intense with every birth). Spare yourself the pain by fitting Crampbark in your birth bag. I know I will be!
- Shepherd’s Purse: You’ve probably never heard of this herb before, but it has been a staple in midwifery kits for ages. Shepherd’s Purse is classified as a styptic and astringent, meaning it has the ability to constrict blood vessels and tighten tissues. According to testimonials by midwives and mothers, this makes it a powerful aid for postpartum hemorrhaging.
- Skullcap: The name “Skullcap” sounds more like an herbal poison than a birth aid, but this pretty flowered plant blossoms with potential. Naturopathic doctors and herbalists like Dr. Marisa Marciano will prescribe it for anxiety and nervous tension (hello childbirth), exhaustion and depression (the initiation of new motherhood), and even addiction (for when you’re living off Starbucks IVs to get through a sleepless, seemingly-never ending teething phase). Skullcap’s amazing benefits arise from its properties as a relaxing nervine (calms and nourishes the nervous system to promote a peaceful mood), an anxiolytic (anxiety alleviator), and spasmolytic (muscle spasm reliever). What does all this mean for pregnant women? A more peaceful labor, less pain during and after birth, amazing bonding, a more relaxed mental/emotional state, and postpartum emotional support. Skullcap is absolutely worth running by your birth provider.
The time after birth includes healing, postpartum contractions, and hormonal changes. If that’s not fun enough, ladies get to do it all while adjusting to a totally different lifestyle known as parenthood. Many moms are juggling all of this while managing cooking, cleaning, and work. Today’s world doesn’t allow for the recovery, baby bonding, maternal support, and transitioning of other cultures and times past. Until mamas get the recognition and healing they deserve, we have herbs that can help us get by.
- Comfrey: This anti-inflammatory is loaded with healing allantoin, making it an herbal brew that’s worthy of any postpartum sitz bath, padsicle, or peri bottle. Herbalist Susun Weed recommends comfrey sitz baths for overall vaginal health. She prescribes it for the notorious vaginal dryness of breastfeeding and postpartum hormones, and it’s one of her top recommendations for healing after birth. Weed says comfrey is a personal favorite of hers because it promotes strong, flexible, healthy, and functional vaginal tissues. What postpartum woo-woo couldn’t use that? Other great herbs for postpartum sprays, sitz baths, and healing postpartum herbal steams include calendula, lavender, witch hazel, goldenseal, and plantain.
- Yarrow: The lovely yarrow is an antispasmodic with an affinity for the female reproductive system. It has been used to treat the heavy bleeding and intense pains of dysmenorrhea and endometriosis. A uterine stimulant, yarrow is also used to provoke menstruation, increase circulation to the uterus, and to promote its overall health and function. It’s so effective, herbalists will use it along with hormone-balancing herbs to treat ovulation dysfunction. Another cramp-soothing, uterus-loving herb is Lady’s Mantle. It’s also a soothing healer, so it’s a wonderful addition to sitz baths. Consider pairing yarrow or Lady’s Mantle with a belly bind.
- Ashwagandha: Don’t let the intimidation of pronouncing this herb stop you from shopping for it. To put it simply, ashwagandha is an adaptogen that helps our bodies deal with stress more simply and gracefully. In the lab, scientists have seen that ashwagandha can boost brain health, support hormones and adrenals, and improve mood and energy. The early days (errr, months) of mothering a newborn are brimming with sleeplessness, hormonal dips, and the mental/emotional challenges of modern motherhood. I don’t know a new mom out there that would say no to a little boost with brain power, hormones, mood, and energy. Ashwagandha is one herb that I personally wouldn’t go without.
Want to learn more? Read some of the great herb books out there, like Rosemary Gladstar’s book Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, Dr. Sharol Tigner’s Herbal Medicine From The Heart Of The Earth, Rosalee de la Foret’s Alchemy Of Herbs, Kathi Keville’s Women’s Herbs: Women’s Health, and Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal For The Childbearing Year.
Ash Stevens is a gardener, a writer, and a fan of all things green. Her love for health and sustainability began with her journey into motherhood, and it’s grown exponentially ever since. She’s passionate about living a healthy lifestyle through gardening, cooking, and spending time outdoors. If she isn’t writing or reading up on exciting green trends, she’s probably playing Connect Four or swimming in the river with the kids. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.