Time and again I am asked if Herbal Medicine can help in pregnancy. However, all too often I am asked far too late. The usual enquiry is for Rubus idaeus (raspberry leaf) tea – but if I’m honest (and I usually am!!) to start drinking this a couple of days before your due date will have little or no effect on the birth. (More about this later though!)
Herbs have been used to help women with pregnancy and childbirth since the beginning of time. It is widely recognised that women as far back as the Anglo-Saxon period (and before) made use of the properties of the herbs around them. I would not, however, advocate that nowadays pregnant women begin searching their local hedgerows for herbs they have heard about!!
By far the most effective way to ensure a smooth pregnancy and birth is plenty of forward planning. Most people are familiar with the pre, and during pregnancy advice of taking folic acid, giving up smoking and alcohol, replacing refined foods with natural wholefoods, eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (preferably organic) and making sure your body is hydrated with lots of water. It is also important to include adequate protein (again organic is best if your budget permits) – poultry and fish; dairy and soya products; nuts and seeds; beans, pulses and grains are all good sources. Not to forget the EFAs (essential fatty acids) we all hear so much about these days. The seeds of Linum usitatissimum, commonly known as linseed or flaxseed, are a good natural source of EFAs and have the added advantage of being a gentle bulk laxative – very useful if you are suffering from constipation too. Some other simple and safe remedies can be taken to help alleviate minor but niggling problems:
- Chamomilla recutita (german chamomile) tea is a digestive herb with anti-emetic properties, and thus may help with both morning sickness and heartburn. Its relaxant action may be helpful for those stressful moments too!!
- The distilled water of Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) is anti-inflammatory, cooling and astringent. This can be used topically to alleviate the pain and itching associated with haemorrhoids.
Now back to forward planning as this is particularly important when taking herbal remedies too. Rubus idaeus (raspberry leaves) are a commonly recommended uterine tonic. Not just Medical Herbalists, but many midwives and doctors suggest this tea to their patients. Its astringent tonic effect helps to tone the uterine muscle in preparation for the birth. It will have the maximum benefit if taken during the last two to three months of pregnancy.
There are many other herbs that can help during pregnancy and childbirth. Both common and not so common symptoms may be alleviated by the correct use of herbs – I have mentioned such things as digestive problems, haemorrhoids and constipation but more complicated complaints such as kidney infection, fluid retention, and symptoms associated with stress and anxiety can all be helped after consultation with a fully qualified Medical Herbalist. Frequently I get asked for specific herbs like Mitchella repens (squaw vine) or Cimicifuga racemosa (black cohosh). Both these, and many others, are effective herbs but it is absolutely vital they are used correctly – the dosage and timing of introduction for these herbs is paramount to their safety, so, always get professional advice.
Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist