Editor’s Note: The following article comes as a response to several pregnancy Research Corner questions. It comes from Jan’s fantastic book: "The Natural Way to Better Pregnancy". There are certain references throughout the article to other chapters of the book. We have left these in for those of you who own or want to buy the book. For ordering details, visit Jan’s web site on her author page.
We'd like to think there was very little need for this chapter. We certainly believe that if you faithfully follow all of our recommendations then your use for it will be much less than it might otherwise have been. But we know even if you have done everything absolutely by the book (and even scrupulously attended to preconception health care), a minority of you will still experience some of the discomforts and complications of pregnancy.
There are many natural and effective ways to treat these common conditions and often you will not need to seek out or rely on pharmaceutical or technological solutions. A recent study comparing homoeopathic and conventional therapy in pregnancy and childbirth found little difference in effective outcome, except for fewer haemorrhages and decreased abnormal contractions in those patients who were treated homoeopathically. Herbs, of course, have a long history of use during pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding. They have been the traditional medicines of midwives for as long as we have recorded history. The midwife, whose practice was primarily concerned with pregnancy and childbirth, was often also the community healer, well versed in the "wise woman" herbal lore of her region.
Herbs and other natural remedies work by balancing the system, by bringing it into harmony, and in that they are very different from pharmaceutical preparations, which usually only mask the symptoms of a condition.
Gaining trust in your body and knowledge of and trust in natural remedies while you are pregnant provides very good training for family life. This knowledge and trust will allow you to follow your intuition and use naturopathic remedies, if necessary, during labour and after the birth. Once your child is born, you can also avoid a lot of doctor's visits and the various decongestants, analgesics, antibiotics and other drugs which are commonly prescribed, if you develop some understanding of natural remedies and the ways in which they act.
The Role of Natural Remedies
We believe that natural remedies are able to treat effectively most, if not all, conditions of pregnancy. We also believe that where medical intervention in the form of drugs or surgery is unavoidable, there is still a role for the advice we give here, to minimise risk and aid recovery. We encourage you to seek natural treatments where possible for all health concerns during pregnancy, whether specifically related to pregnancy or not. However, treatment should be carried out with the advice of a health practitioner, trained in some form of natural therapy, who can distinguish between a complaint that is amenable to a natural approach and a condition that may justify medical intervention.
Natural Remedies to Avoid
Generally speaking, it is preferable to avoid taking any medication during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. Although this caution also applies to natural medicines such as herbs, all of the recommendations we give here are absolutely safe and have been shown to be so through long term and traditional usage.
Occasionally, the use of a medicine (natural or otherwise), which would normally be avoided, can be justified in terms of an assessment of the risks versus the benefits. There are also many herbs, the use of which at low dosage and where professionally supervised, may carry no risk, though self medication may be inadvisable. We have given clear indications through the text where this is the case. If you are in any doubt at all or if you just prefer to be reassured, you can always seek professional advice from a health practitioner trained in natural medicine.
Natural Approaches to Treatment
If you haven't yet got the message about the supreme importance of nutrition, then go right back to the beginning! If you attend to your nutritional wellbeing, then your chances of needing to treat any complaints will be substantially reduced. However, some nutrients can be used therapeutically and may be required in greater dosages for certain conditions during pregnancy. Where we have indicated single nutrients or even a range of them as specific treatment for a condition, this in no way changes the need for a continued balanced and comprehensive supplementation and dietary approach. It may, however, be necessary to increase the dosage of a certain nutrient temporarily. Alternatively, you may find that you are already taking the required amount as part of your daily regime.
As we've already recommended, rather than visit a medical doctor, you may prefer to consult with a practitioner trained in herbal medicine (of course, some medical doctors are also herbalists). In this case, medicine is likely to be given as a fluid extract or tincture (liquid preparations), tablets or capsules, and the practitioner will set the appropriate dosage.
If you are self medicating (following the advice given here), it's easier and safer to use herbal infusions or herbal teas. However, to be effective, herbs need to be infused (or the teabag left in the water) for at least 15 minutes. Later in this article, we'll recommend specific herbs for specific complaints. Meanwhile, here's a generic recipe for a herbal infusion.
How to make an infusion:
- For every 30 grams (2 tablespoons) of herb, pour on 600 ml of boiling water.
- Let it steep (infuse) for at least 15 minutes to get the full benefit of the active ingredients of the herb.
- Drink a cupful, three times daily.
- Make a fresh brew every day, use it within 24 hours or refrigerate.
While infusions are not as strongly active in most cases as the preparations you will receive from a herbalist, they can still be very effective and, in some cases, are the preferred forms. Although you will find you can treat yourself easily in instances of mild conditions, any severe or continuing problem requires professional diagnosis and treatment.
You will also find many herbal medicines in tablet or capsule form in health food shops, and these should have clear directions (and cautions for pregnancy) on the label. The staff in these shops may also be able to help you, but we recommend strongly that you check all herbal preparations, whatever form they may take, against the list of contra-indicated herbs in Appendix 6.
Information on herbal medicine is very comprehensive and thorough these days. Not only is there a substantial and growing body of scientific research into the constituents and effects of herbs, but there is also the advantage of experience gathered over many centuries of traditional use.
Acupuncture and Acupressure
The uses of acupuncture during pregnancy are many and varied, and in the hands of a skilled practitioner, acupuncture can be an excellent way to treat almost any condition.
For self help, acupressure is the easiest approach. To stimulate an acupressure point, first find the point as accurately as you can, then apply pressure in the appropriate way. Choose from the three methods below, unless specific instructions are given.
- Calming: Cover the point with the palm of the hand, or gently stroke, for about 2 minutes. This method should be used where there is over-activity involved in the condition, such as for stress.
- Tonifying: Apply stationary (or clockwise) pressure for 2 minutes. This pressure can be slowly increased as your tolerance to any discomfort increases (points relating to an organ or condition in need of treatment may often be tender). Pressing too hard straight away can cause you to tense. Gradually increased pressure can be better tolerated, and therefore more easily built up to effective levels. This method should be used for sluggish or depressed conditions.
- Dispersing: Apply moving pressure, such as a circular anticlockwise motion, or a pumping action in and out, on the point. The pressure can be begun fairly deep, and then brought up to the surface. Take care to keep the area relaxed, and increase the pressure on successive treatments as you learn to tolerate it. This method should be used where there is congestion.
This is another very useful way to treat any malady during pregnancy. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, essential oils can be used during massage and on specific areas to relieve quite debilitating conditions. You can also apply the recommended essential oil to your skin yourself or use it in a bath or oil burner. Although in some cultures it's common to orally ingest essential oils as therapy, this is definitely not an option we recommend without expert supervision, and it's better avoided during pregnancy in any case. Please consult the list in Appendix 7 for contra-indicated oils before attempting any form of application.
There are four basic ways of using essential oils, and the dosages given here are appropriate for pregnancy (about half the normal dose).
- Massage Oil - You need a base oil (try sweet almond, grapeseed or any good quality massage oil) to which you can add the essential oil(s) you choose, at approximately one drop per two ml of base oil.
- Bath Oil - You will need a dispersing base so that the oils don't collect in droplets on the top of the bath water. You can buy dispersing bath oil (without aroma) at some shops and add your own sweet smells. You'll only need about six drops of essential oil in an egg-cupful of dispersing oil. If this is not available you could try vodka or full-cream milk as a base.
- Compress Oil - Add a few drops of your chosen oil to a bowl of very hot or ice cold water, then immerse a face cloth, wring it out and apply it over the affected area (usually the abdomen in pregnancy, especially for nausea).
- Vaporisation Oil - Special oil burners are widely available these days, either with a candle or electric current as a heating element. Generally, oils are added to a small amount of water in the bowl of the burner, though sometimes the oil is added directly to the heated surface. You can rig up a simple home-made version by placing a bowl of scented hot water placed over a radiator, and there are also some devices that fit over a light bulb. Other methods include placing a few drops on a hanky or the cover of a pillow. Steam inhalation is very effective, when six drops of the oil are added to a bowl of very hot water and a towel placed over your head, forming a tent containing your head and the bowl. This is particularly useful if you are attempting to affect the respiratory system. Alternatively, six drops can be added to the top of a vaporiser (you can find these at a pharmacy) which can be left on while you sleep.
Homoeopathy works by using minute amounts of herbal or mineral substances to trigger a response in the body, and although the small amounts are not in themselves toxic, the responses they trigger can sometimes be quite powerful (as can the healing effects!).
Homoeopathic remedies are particularly appropriate during pregnancy, and we have recommended their use several times in this book. However, apart from the specific instances we have noted, you should always consult a qualified homoeopath and not attempt to choose remedies for yourself. Where we have given alternatives, the choice of remedy can be made by consulting either a practitioner or a specific homoeopathic materia medica.
Osteopathy, massage, reflexology, yoga, hypnotherapy and many other therapies have a very useful role to play in treatment during pregnancy. Chiropractic, as an alternative to osteopathy, has much to offer, but we would counsel strongly that X-rays are absolutely contra-ondicated in pregnancy (and in the preconception period). Since many chiropractors rely on information gleaned from an X-ray, you will need to be aware of this concern.
Treat Conditions Holistically
Whatever approach you take to treatment, it is always more effective to treat a condition holistically. This means that all aspects of physical and mental health are examined and considered, along with the impact they may be having on the condition causing concern. We feel confident that if you fully implement the recommendations presented here, you will be well on the way to a comprehensive, holistic approach to health and to a successful and trouble free pregnancy, and that the lifestyle, nutritional and environmental changes we have already covered will form a firm basis for the specific remedies which follow.
Conditions of the Digestive System
If you commence pregnancy suffering from food allergies, if your blood sugar levels are unstable, if your liver isn't in good health and working well or if you are deficient in various nutrients such as vitamin B6, chromium, zinc or magnesium, you will almost certainly suffer from nausea or even vomiting.
So called "morning" sickness can strike at any time of the day, and if you feel constantly nauseated, you won't feel like preparing or eating nutritious meals. If you're actually vomiting, then it is virtually impossible for you to ensure an adequate nutrient intake during the critical early weeks of embryonic development. Unfortunately, by the time the nausea and vomiting abate, it might not be possible for the foetus to make up the deficits, although good nutritional status before pregnancy begins will be of enormous benefit in offsetting these problems.
Quite clearly, it's very important to minimise or prevent morning sickness because optimal nutrient intake in the first trimester is of supreme importance. Attending to food allergies, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), liver function and nutritional status before conception is one way to prevent morning sickness. But if you're already pregnant, don't just head for the handbasin hoping the nausea and vomiting will eventually go away, although most cases do resolve by the end of the first trimester. If you adopt the attitude that morning sickness is inevitable, your baby could miss out on essential nutrients. While this may not cause severe congenital defects, it could cause subtle long term health problems in your child.
Overall, between 50 and 90 percent (depending on which study you look at) of pregnant women experience some form of morning sickness, and it's more common in first pregnancies, although there is also a repeating pattern from one pregnancy to the next. A small minority of women, about seven in every 2,000, suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum (excessive vomiting), which is much more likely in women who are epileptic. This severe condition can lead to dehydration and can directly threaten the health of both mother and baby. Hospitalisation may be necessary, with intravenous feeding and anti-emetic drugs, leading to a liquid diet. Most cases are, however, more easily controlled, and the nausea (which usually commences anywhere between two and eight weeks of pregnancy) normally resolves naturally by 12 to 14 weeks. However, in the case of twins, where hormone levels are particularly high, it may last considerably longer.
Some women are definitely more susceptible than others, and there are a variety of possible causes including:
- Poor liver function, as the liver has to process extremely high levels of hormones during pregnancy
- Poor blood sugar metabolism, as blood sugar levels fluctuate much more widely during pregnancy
- Poor nutritional status, especially of vitamin B6, magnesium or chromium (which controls blood sugar metabolism)
- Food allergies, which affect the ability to digest foods
- Stimulation of the centre for nausea control in the brain stem by HCG (the hormone produced in pregnancy)
- Relative relaxation of muscle tissue in the digestive tract
- Excess acid in stomach
- Enhanced sense of smell
- Stress or fatigue
There are other reasons not necessarily associated with pregnancy for nausea, which may need to be investigated. Food poisoning, tension, hepatitis, gastritis, intestinal blockage, ulcer or a variety of diseases may be responsible. There are also more serious conditions, such as ectopic pregnancy or eclampsia (the final stages of toxaemia), which can result in nausea or vomiting. We will look at these in more detail later.
It can be difficult to differentiate between the possible causes of nausea and vomiting, but unless they become severe, they are not usually cause for concern. However, a sudden change such as an abrupt loss of symptoms before the end of the first trimester or an inexplicable bout of vomiting later in pregnancy, after a symptom-free period, should be checked with a medical practitioner. Also, if vomiting occurs more than two or three times daily and doesn't respond to self help or natural remedies, then medical help should be sought.
Usually, however, morning sickness can be naturally alleviated. Here are some ideas.
Eat little and often. Appropriate foods for snacking include protein and complex carbohydrates, especially almonds, which are good for controlling blood sugar levels. It's important to eat before you are hungry, as when your stomach is empty, the acid it produces has nothing to digest except its own lining. Also once you are hungry, you may well start to experience fatigue and nausea, and the motivation to prepare or eat nutritious food will be undermined by the desire to lie down or vomit. Eating frequently also stops your blood sugar levels sinking so low that you reach for the nearest white flour or sugar-laden food to give you a temporary boost. This sort of food is not really helpful as, after the boost, your energy levels will fall to even lower depths. Dry biscuits or toast, which are often recommended, are only useful if they are made of whole grains.
Eat protein last thing at night (e.g., nuts, fish, whole grains, yoghurt). Protein rich foods take longer to digest, and keep blood sugar levels stable until morning. (Levels which fall during the night have given rise to the term "morning" sickness.) As it's not a good idea to overload your stomach just before you sleep, make this just a small snack.
Avoid fats, sugars, acidic foods and foods to which you know you are sensitive or allergic. Also avoid the sight, smell or taste of foods that trigger nausea, and try to avoid passive smoking.
Eat before getting up in the morning and then allow yourself time to begin your day slowly. Train your older children to come to you (rather than you to them) and see if you can organise breakfast in bed. Perhaps your husband can be persuaded to serve the breakfast and attend to the children's needs (if you achieve this, can we borrow him sometime?).
Take plenty of fluids (especially if you are losing them through vomiting). You may also find it easier to take your food in liquid form, such as soups (avoid over cooking and do most of the preparation in the food processor), soya milkshakes and vegetable juices.
Try powdered or micellised (water soluble) supplements rather than tablets or capsules, and experiment with increasing the dosages of vitamins B5 and B6, chromium, zinc, magnesium and vitamin K. We recommend 50-100 mg of vitamins B5 and B6 daily as a good general dosage level, but up to 400 mg of B6 daily can be taken in the first trimester. However, we recommend professional supervision of doses over 250 mg, since high doses of B6 can cause peripheral neuropathy (tingling in the extremities). Remember that B6 (like folic acid) should always be taken with the rest of the B-complex range of which it is a part. Although the higher doses, which may be necessary to alleviate nausea, are safe, prolonged use throughout pregnancy can result in withdrawal symptoms in the newborn. Chromium is particularly good when sugar cravings are strong. Magnesium and vitamin K given orally can be effective, especially if given with vitamin C. If vomiting is excessive, these nutrients can be given by injection.
Digestive remedies include the celloids (or tissue salts) potassium chloride, sodium phosphate (if reflux is experienced) and all bitter herbs, though these should not be used in excess. Herbal remedies such as Meadowsweet and Chamomile (these two herbs to be used in low dosage only), Aniseed and Peppermint will be particularly helpful if other digestive problems are experienced. Digestive enzymes or papaya fruit (which contains the enzyme papain) are also helpful.
Specific herbs for nausea include Black Horehound, Meadowsweet, Wild Yam, Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Aniseed, Squaw Vine and Peach Leaves. Raspberry is good for nausea which extends into the second trimester. These can be taken in fluid extract, tablet or capsule form. High doses or protracted use of Black Horehound, Raspberry and Squaw Vine are not recommended, and Meadowsweet should be avoided if you are allergic or sensitive to salicylates.
Liver treatments can be very effective in combating morning sickness. Herbs to use here include Fringetree, Globe Artichoke, Bupleurum and Dandelion Root. Burdock and St Mary's Thistle are very effective, but should be used with caution, under professional supervision. Dandelion Root can also be taken as a tea or coffee substitute (but make sure powdered preparations don't include sugar).
Herbal teas, which can alleviate symptoms once nausea starts are Ginger, Peppermint, Spearmint, Aniseed, Clove, Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Meadowsweet and Raspberry. Don't drink excessive amounts of ginger or clove tea, as they can overly stimulate the circulation in your reproductive system. Chamomile, Meadowsweet and Raspberry should also be used in moderation.
Root Ginger can be peeled and sucked, and the juice of a lemon, squeezed into water, can also be helpful.
Umeboshi plums and miso soup, two Japanese foods that are used in macrobiotic diets, have a good reputation as remedies.
Get lots of sleep to avoid fatigue, and if nausea prevents sleep, see Chapter 10 for some ideas to help beat insomnia.
Rub some Lavender essential oil on your abdomen (mixed with massage oil, see page 209). Make sure this is Lavendula officianalis, L. augustifolia, L. spika or L. intermedia and not one of the contra-indicated species listed in Appendix 7. Other suitable oils include Ginger, Grapefruit, Lime, Mandarin, Petitgrain, Sweet Orange, Chamomile and Tangerine.
The homoeopathic remedies, Chelidonium 6x and Pulsatilla 6x (in equal parts) act on the liver and have been shown to reduce nausea in 90 per cent of cases. These are very easy to take, and can be combined with Ipecac 200c if you are vomiting. Sepia and Nux Vomica may also help.
Surround yourself with sweet-smelling oils to offset your heightened sensitivity to offensive odours. Try Lavender, Petitgrain, Spearmint, Lemon, Coriander or Bergamot. Use them in burners and they will create a healthy, therapeutic aroma.
The celloid sodium sulphate is a good liver treatment.
The Chinese herbal formula Bamboo and Hoelen is good for nausea in pregnancy. Chinese herbs may come as granules which can be wrapped in rice paper and chewed if you are too nauseated to swallow them directly.
Some Australian Bush Flower essences have been found to be helpful for morning sickness. Dog Rose combats fear, Crowea and Paw Paw help digestion, Dagger Hakea helps detoxification through the liver, and She Oak helps to balance the hormones.
Hypnotherapy and reflexology can also be extremely helpful. Although you will need to consult a practitioner, he or she may be able to show you how to use these treatments for self-help as well (see Contacts and Resources).
One fairly eccentric remedy, which may seem unusual, is the tongue pull. This yoga exercise sometimes works when nothing else seems to do the trick. Grasp your tongue using a dry, clean cloth and pull it straight out, until it feels quite strained and uncomfortable, then hold it for half a minute.
Some helpful acupressure oints to relieve morning sickness are as follows: (Instructions on how to stimulate an acupressure point are given earlier in this chapter.)
- Conception Vessel 24: In the depression between the point of the chin and the lower lip on the midline.
- Gall Bladder 34: Bend your leg at a right angle (90 degrees). Catch your kneecap between your index finger and thumb. The middle finger is on the outside of your shin bone, and Gall Bladder 34 is at the tip of this finger, on the outside of the tibia.
- Liver 2: Between the large and second toes, slightly up from the edge of the web and closer to the big toe.
Other helpful acupressure points are Stomach 36, Stomach 45 and Pericardium 6 (see pages 163-164). You can find wrist bands, sold for travel sickness, to stimulate Pericardium 6, which is the most commonly used spot, and you can, of course, also get treatment from a trained acupuncturist.
Heartburn and Indigestion
It's reassuring to know that heartburn has nothing to do with your heart, though the sensation is felt close to the heart area, which is how the term arose. In pregnancy the greater incidence of both heartburn and indigestion is caused by the action of increased levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These have a softening effect on the digestive tract and one of the consequences is that the valve at the top of the stomach relaxes and allows stomach acids to rise into the oesophagus. This part of your digestive tract is not immune to acidity, and this gives rise to an uncomfortable burning sensation and sometimes results in regurgitation of sour fluid. The smooth muscle in the colon is also relaxed, leading to increased 'transit time', which in turn gives rise to bloating and indigestion. As long as constipation, which can lead to an accumulation of toxins, isn't also a problem (see next section), this increased transit time can actually benefit the baby through increased absorption of nutrients. Later in pregnancy, these symptoms can be exacerbated by the pressure exerted on your stomach and diaphragm by your growing baby.
About half of all pregnant women experience heartburn and indigestion, and it can be quite debilitating. Here's a list of do's and don'ts, in which you will find many recommendations that are similar to those in the section on morning sickness.
- Eat little and often, snack on nuts (especially almonds), chew well and eat slowly, sit upright when eating (and afterwards while digesting).
- Use digestive aids after meals. Try Peppermint, Spearmint, Fennel, Lemon Balm, Chamomile or Aniseed teas, or chew on (organic) orange and apple peel, dried pineapple or papaya. Papaya is a rich source of digestive enzymes, which you can also buy as a supplement.
- Try Slippery Elm powder, acidophilus powder, yoghurt, soya milk or mucilaginous herbs such as Chickweed or Marshmallow, which help to soothe the digestive tract.
- Try "bitter tonic" herbs to aid digestion (but use in low dosage only, and see list of contra-indicated herbs in Appendix 6) or Meadowsweet (but take care if you're allergic to salicylates, which are at high levels in this herb, and use in low dosage only).
- Try increasing your intake of B-complex vitamins.
- Take a slow walk after meals.
- Sleep propped up on some pillows if attacks happen at night.
- Drink lots of fluids between meals.
- Try osteopathy, reflexology or acupuncture (for practitioner referrals, see Contacts and Resources).
- Use aromatherapy oils. Peppermint is a favourite, and Sandalwood works well too. Both of these should be used with caution and not in excess.
- Use alkalising foods and remedies. Cider vinegar (1 tablespoon twice daily, before meals) can be very helpful, and so can the celloid (or tissue salt) sodium phosphate. Some naturally based alkalising powders can be found in health food shops, but check the "Don't" list for other medications.
- Make sure you are taking regular Garlic (as a supplement as well as in your food).
- Try the homoeopathic remedies Kali Mur, Nux Vomica, Pulsatilla, Calc Carb, Mag Carb, Mag Phos or Nat Phos. Remember your homoeopath is the best person to choose the appropriate remedy.
- Don't put on too much weight or wear tight clothes.
- Don't drink with meals.
- Don't eat fatty, highly seasoned or spicy foods or drink cold fruit juices if these cause problems.
- Don't smoke or drink coffee (as if you would even think of it!).
- Don't eat lying down.
- Don't bend from the waist or lie flat on your back.
- Don't eat too late in the evening (although, if suffering from morning sickness, you may still need a very small snack at this time).
- Don't use antacids if at all possible, and especially avoid those containing aluminium or high levels of sodium.
Constipation and Haemorrhoids
- Constipation is common during pregnancy because of the action of hormones which decrease the motility of the gut and, later on, because the expanding uterus puts pressure on the bowel. However, there is a lot you can do to alleviate constipation, and if you keep it under control, haemorrhoids will be less likely to bother you, though these can be troublesome if you let your nutrient status drop. There is a greater risk of haemorrhoids during pregnancy because of the increased volume of blood and the weakening of muscle tone. Here are some tips.
- Eat little and often, chew well, eat slowly.
- Eat focusing on high fibre foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, preferably with the skin left on (though in this case they must be organically grown), whole grains, legumes and one to two tablespoons of olive oil daily.
- Drink plenty of water; eight to 12 glasses of purified water can not only prevent constipation, but can also help to keep the body free of toxins.
- Exercise regularly. Yoga can be especially helpful.
- Take acidophilus and bifidus and/or Slippery Elm powder, which keep the gut healthy. Bulking agents such as bran or psyllium husks are preferable to laxatives.
- Keep up a regular 1-2 grams daily dose of vitamin C (good for constipation) with plenty of bioflavonoids (especially Rutin), which strengthen the capillary walls. Other important nutrients are potassium, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B6 and E.
- Try the celloids (or tissue salts) magnesium phosphate (for constipation), calcium fluoride and silica (for haemorrhoids).
- Empty your bowels regularly, whenever you feel the urge, and try squatting over, rather than sitting on, the toilet.
- Practise your pelvic floor exercises (see Chapter 9).
- Use massage in a clockwise direction over the abdomen (you can add essential oils such as Mandarin or Orange), or up the stomach meridian which runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip to just below the knee, to keep the bowels regular. You can also try reflexology, massaging the foot arches in a clockwise direction, a massage of the lower back with relaxing essential oils such as Lavender or Bergamot, or osteopathy (for practitioner referrals, see Contacts and Resources).
- Try homoeopathic remedies. For constipation some helpful remedies are Nux Vomica, Nat Mur, Byronia and Sepia. For haemorrhoids try Arnica, Calc Fluor, Nux Vomica, Sepia or Sulphur. Hamamelis (Witch Hazel) can also be taken in homoeopathic form. As we've mentioned before, the correct choice of homoeopathic remedy is usually best left to a qualified practitioner.
- Sit in hot and cold sitz baths (alternating) to relieve the discomfort of haemorrhoids, and try adding salt and/or astringent herbs such as Witch Hazel, Comfrey, Periwinkle, Oak Bark, Plantain or lemon juice.
- Use herbal ointments on the haemorrhoids, especially if they itch or bleed. Comfrey, Yellow Dock Root, Witch Hazel or Plantain will help. You could also try lemon juice, a local compress of essential oils such as Cypress, Frankincense, Lavender or Myrrh, or of grated potato or Slippery Elm. Baking soda can also relieve the itching, and icepacks the pain! Fresh garlic and/or ginger can also be mashed up and used as a local compress.
- Keep your bowels open with herbs such as Dandelion Root, Fennel or Marshmallow Root. Butternut is a very gentle laxative but others, such as Senna, should only be used in small doses and if the problem has become intractable. Prunes, though rather high in sugar, are another emergency treatment.
- Take herbs such as Hawthorn, Ginkgo (both of these herbs in low dosage only) and Bilberry, which are high in bioflavonoids (for capillary strength) and support good circulation.
- Don't strain on the toilet or let yourself go for more than one day without a bowel motion.
- Don't take laxatives or mineral oils.
- Don't worry about increased flatulence (common with high levels of fibre).
- Don't eat refined foods (such as white bread) or too many eggs. Red meat also takes longer to digest than fish and vegetables, and may increase constipation.
- Don't drink coffee or tea (except herbal), as they are diuretics and reduce your fluid content.
- Don't take inorganic iron supplements. In fact, don't take iron supplements at all if need is not proven (but do have a blood test to ascertain levels).
- Don't use haemorrhoid ointments that contain local anaesthetics or mercury (which can be absorbed and may harm the foetus).
Some helpful acupressure points to relieve haemorrhoids and constipation are as follows:
- Triple Heater 6: This point is on the forearm, between the two bones, at four fingers' distance from the bend of the wrist, on the outer side. Use a clockwise motion.
- The other helpful acupressure point is Gall Bladder 34 (see earlier in this chapter).
Food cravings indicate nutrient imbalances and are sometimes an indication of a specific requirement. Often, however, a craving can be for a food to which you have an allergy or sensitivity, so check how you feel after the food--better or worse?
If you crave chocolate, you need more magnesium. If you crave sugar, it may indicate a deficiency of chromium or magnesium. If you crave any strong tastes, especially sweet or salty foods, your zinc levels are suspect.
Bitter herbs can reduce sugar cravings though they should be treated with caution during pregnancy. Dandelion Root is a popular remedy, but there is a specific herb, Gymnema, which stops sugar cravings in their tracks. A few drops in a little water should do the trick. You can swish it around in your mouth, and then spit it out.
Some women crave quite bizarre substances in pregnancy, other than foodstuffs. This phenomenon is called 'pica', and indicates a severe nutritional lack.
Conditions of the Urinary System
About half of all pregnant women experience the problem of incontinence, which results from the pressure of the enlarging uterus on the bladder, and the loosening of the pelvic floor muscles. It then becomes difficult to stop urine leaking when extra pressure is applied--through laughing, coughing, bending over or exercising. Now you certainly can't afford to stop laughing or exercising, so try these remedies.
- Keep up your pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises (see Chapter 9).
- Empty your bladder often.
- Avoid heavy lifting.
- Avoid constipation.
- Try Horsetail herb tea (a rich source of silica) to strengthen your bladder, but don't drink excessive amounts of this tea in pregnancy. Nettle tea is also a good source of silica.
- The Ayurvedic (Indian) herb Crataeva is an excellent bladder tonic. Although we know of no studies or texts giving cautions about the use of this herb in pregnancy, there may be some hormonal action, so keep your dosage low.
- Take the celloids (or tissue salts) silica, calcium fluoride and ferrum phosphate.
- The homoeopathic remedies Causticum and Sepia can be helpful.
- Urinary tract infections
During pregnancy you are vulnerable to urinary tract infections, which are likely to become serious and more common in the last trimester. There are two reasons for this--first, the urinary tract dilates and urine can stagnate, and second, the kidneys come under more stress during pregnancy when they have to cleanse a greatly increased volume of blood. Urinary tract infections of the bladder (cystitis), urethra and kidneys need to be promptly treated. The gentle healing approach of herbal remedies is infinitely preferable to antibiotic therapy, and extremely effective. However, there are some herbs which, although safe in low dosages and for short periods of time (for acute conditions), need to be used with care (and under professional supervision). See the lists of contra-indicated remedies in Appendix 6.
With urinary tract infections, prevention is better than cure. Here's some advice.
- Wear loose cotton underwear and avoid tights.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- After going to the toilet, wipe from front to back.
- Wash well before intercourse, use lubrication and adopt positions that won't irritate the urethra during intercourse, and urinate directly after intercourse.
- Avoid irritating chemicals in the bath (even some essential oils can be problematic).
- Empty your bladder well and frequently.
- Avoid all forms of sugar.
- Eat 'live' yoghurt, parsley and garlic (but avoid excessive amounts of parsley).
- Keep up your supplementation of vitamin C and bioflavonoids, beta-carotene, zinc and vitamin B6 (with B-complex).
- Take Nettle tea as a regular drink.
If, despite your care, you experience greatly increased urination, an urge to urinate when there is no real need, burning on urination or offensive smelling urine, then look to the remedies below, which are preferable to antibiotics. However don't wait too long before seeking advice as, if these remedies don't bring relief within a day or two, it's important to stop the infection before your kidneys are involved. It's also important to start treatment as soon as you notice the warning symptoms.
- Drink plenty of unsweetened cranberry juice. Take one glass every hour for up to 10 hours.
- Barley water can be very soothing, but we don't mean the sweetened cordial! Boil pearl barley in plenty of water, drain off the water and drink. Flavour with some lemon juice.
- Take 500 mg of vitamin C every hour (with bioflavonoids).
- Try reflexology, osteopathy.
- Try homoeopathic remedies (e.g. Apis, Belladonna, Nux Vomica).
- Try aromatherapy, with Bergamot, Lavender or Sandalwood.
- The celloid (or tissue salt) ferrum phos (iron phosphate) helps fight infection and inflammation.
- Herbal medicine is very effective. Echinacea and Garlic will help to increase the immune response. Herbs specifically recommended for the urinary tract are Crataeva, Couch Grass, Clivers, Corn Silk (use with care and for short periods only), Buchu (herbs teas and low doses are safe), Uva Ursi (not for more than 3-4 days), Marshmallow and Liquorice (small doses for short periods only and not if you're suffering from high blood pressure).
Fluid Retention (Edema)
Fluid retention is a problem for many mums to be, especially in the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, when half of the extra three to six litres of fluid common to pregnancy is retained. It's not a serious problem, unless accompanied by elevated blood pressure or protein in the urine (for which you can test with a simple dipstick from the pharmacy). If either of these conditions exist, the fluid retention may be a forerunner to toxaemia (see 'Conditions of the cardio-vascular system' later in this chapter). Another easy self-help test is to see if the impression made by finger pressure around the ankle remains indented. If so, you should have your urine and blood pressure checked. Swelling is much less likely to be of concern if it is restricted to the evenings; if it's earlier in the day, visit your health
practitioner. Fluid retention is uncomfortable, and can cause problems with vision and contact lens tolerance. Here's what you can do.
- Drink more. Although this seems contradictory, it will flush out your kidneys and create a diuretic effect.
- Keep your weight under control, exercise to keep your circulation healthy, but stay cool.
- Wear flat, comfortable shoes; avoid standing for long periods.
- Keep your feet up when you rest (which you should try to do regularly). Put a pillow under your legs and feet when you sleep at night.
- Do some foot exercises. Bend feet up and down; rotate them clockwise and anti-clockwise.
- Raise the bottom of your bed to improve the circulation to the upper half of your body.
- Massage your legs (towards the heart) but take care if you have any varicose veins. Support hose may be helpful.
- Apply a bruised or steamed cabbage leaf to the afflicted area.
- Eat small but regular amounts of parsley in your food, and salt your food to taste. It's important to avoid excess salt, so you need to be sure that your need for salt is not depraved. Adequate zinc is essential to keep your sense of taste healthy. If you do use salt, make sure it's in modest amounts and only use sea, rock or Celtic salts. Your diet should also be high in good quality protein.
- Make sure you have adequate levels of vitamin B6, magnesium and vitamin E (for circulation).
- Try homoeopathic remedies, for example, Nat Mur, Apis or Phosphorus. Your homoeopath can help you choose.
- Try reflexology for the lymphatic system.
- Use the celloids (or tissue salts) sodium sulphate or magnesium phosphate.
- Try herb teas--gentle diuretics like Dandelion Leaf and Couch Grass are appropriate at this time.
- The essential oil to use now is Geranium (short-term use only).
Some helpful acupressure points to relieve fluid retention are as follows:
- Use dispersing pressure on these points. This is a moving pressure, with a counter-clockwise motion, which can be begun fairly deep, and then brought to the surface. Done twice weekly, this can act as a preventative.
- Gall Bladder 41: On the foot, at the peak of the angle formed by the bone of the little toe and the fourth toe.
- Bladder 39: On the crease behind the knee just inside the tendon on the outside of the leg.
- Gall Bladder 36: One thumb width lower than halfway between the fold of the knee and the ankle, on the inner side, just in front of the fibula.
Preventative Kidney Support
In Chinese medicine, it is traditional to treat the kidney meridian at the end of the first and second trimesters, to obtain extra energy. It is also thought that this can help to clear problems you may have inherited from your own mother. From a Western perspective, the health of the kidneys in pregnancy is of prime importance--to deal with the excess blood volume, and to avoid edema, fatigue and toxaemia.
The spleen is working overtime during pregnancy to produce extra blood (especially if any bleeding is occurring) and, according to Chinese thought, draws energy from the kidneys. There are some preventative remedies (set out below) which can be useful to employ throughout pregnancy to avoid these problems and support the adrenals (attached to the kidneys) in order to combat stress.
Acupuncture is a well-known Chinese preventative measure. (Once your acupuncturist has chosen the appropriate points, you may also choose to apply pressure yourself on a regular basis.) A favourite point is Kidney 9 (see below).
Nettle tea is a great tonic herb for pregnancy, and the tea can be safely drunk on a regular basis (1-2 cups daily). As well as supporting the kidneys and being high in nutrients, nettle tea helps protect against diabetes, poor digestion, fluid retention, incontinence (because it contains silica), anaemia (it's high in organic iron), hypertension, kidney stones, hair loss, leg cramps (it's high in easily absorbable calcium and magnesium), painful childbirth (because of the calcium and magnesium), hypoglycaemia and a slow metabolic rate. What more could you ask? Well, in addition to providing vitamins A, C and D, chlorophyll, copper and phosphorus, it's a superb source of vitamin K and increases available haemoglobin (thereby decreasing the chance of post-partum haemorrhage), tightens and strengthens blood vessels (helping to prevent varicose veins and haemorrhoids), helps maintain arterial elasticity and improves venous resilience. It also increases the richness and amount of breast milk and is a uterine tonic!
- The herb Withania is both a general and specific tonic for pregnancy, with a particular supportive action for the adrenals. This herb also has a sedative aspect and supports the immune system, as well as being an excellent tonic in tiring or stressful conditions.
- Another useful herb is Bupleurum, which is a tonic to the kidneys and liver, an anti-inflammatory and a diuretic.
- Clivers is a herb which is gentle to the kidneys, and helps the lymph to flow.
- Reflexology can be very supportive through pregnancy.
- Eat plenty of cucumber (which also relieves constipation).
Some helpful acupressure points and reflexology for preventative kidney support are as follows:
- Kidney 9: On the inside of the leg, at the base of the calf muscle.
- Reflexology area for treatment of the kidneys: On the sole of the foot.
Part 2 of this series will cover natural treatments and remedies for conditions of the Cardiovascular, Musculoskeletal and Nervous systems during pregnancy.