Pregnancy and Herbal Medicine

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

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Chamomile – one of Natures (and Herbalists) Little Helpers

Many people these days know the reputation of Chamomilla recutita (chamomile) tea to help relax the body and mind. Chamomile tea bags are commonplace now on all supermarket shelves. Whilst chamomile does indeed have calming, relaxing and gentle sedative properties it is a herb with many more uses too.

At this time of year chamomile is particularly helpful. It has immune stimulating properties and is anti-inflammatory so can often be useful in combination with other herbs for both strengthening the immune system against hayfever and helping with the symptoms.

Chamomile is a slightly bitter herb which helps stimulate normal digestion, it is also carminative due to the essential oil it contains. Both these properties make chamomile an ideal choice if you have had a tummy bug or indigestion after a heavy meal.

Medical Herbalists may use chamomile in combination with other herbs in eczema. Eczema is often associated with the body getting too hot and chamomile helps cool and calm thus addressing the root cause. Chamomile can also be applied topically to hot, itchy skin conditions – creams and bathing herbs are an ideal way to reduce inflammation and relieve itchiness. Chamomile has topically moisturising and healing properties too!

Because chamomile also helps reduce feelings of nausea it can be useful for pregnant women suffering from morning sickness. Experiment drinking it hot, lukewarm or cold to see which you prefer. Make sure, however, that you brew the tea with a lid on the pot or a saucer on top of the cup to help preserve the essential oil.

As a Medical Herbalist I often get asked about ideas to help young babies sleep – we have to be so careful what we give our young ones! Chamomile is a lovely gentle herb for children. Try making a strong infusion of organic chamomile then adding to the baby’s bath to relax them before bedtime. If a mother is breastfeeding then drinking plenty of chamomile tea will ensure it will come through the breast milk and help relax baby too. The added carminative properties may also help with any digestive upsets in baby too. Once children are old enough to drink things other than milk try introducing weak chamomile tea. If started early then most babies will take to the taste of herbs – a bit different to trying to get a fussy five year old to suddenly try herbal tea!! Speaking of digestive upsets in babies, and fussy five year olds do please consult a qualified Medical Herbalist if you need help, its always worth speaking to an expert if you’re not sure.

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist

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