29 Apr
2009

Herbs, vitamins and mineral supplements can play an important role in childbirth, preparing the mother’s body for conception, nourishing her throughout the pregnancy, preparing her for the rigours of the birth and, afterwards, assisting with her rapid recovery and with breastfeeding. Of course, care should be taken when ingesting any substance during pregnancy and women should note that several herbs which are of great benefit at particular stages of reproduction can be dangerous to the baby if taken at the wrong time. Follow all instructions carefully and consult a medical practitioner if you have any doubts at all.

Well in advance of conceiving, a woman is advised to give up smoking and drinking, eat well and exercise regularly. A course of the Chinese herb dong quai [Angelica sinensis) will help to tone the female reproductive system. However, the intake of dong quai should cease before conception takes place and the herb should not be taken at any stage during the pregnancy itself. The inclusion of nutritious red clover, nettle or ginseng tea in the diet is safe and beneficial for the woman waiting to conceive. If conception proves difficult, consult a health professional. A supplement of folic acid can help as can an increased intake of Vitamin B2, also known as Riboflavin.

One of the most uncomfortable side effects of early pregnancy is morning sickness, the nausea resulting from the destablisation of the gastric juices. While mild and lasting only a few weeks in most women, the vomiting and resulting loss of nutrients can be debilitating. Ginger is highly effective in reducing nausea in all cases and the tablets, powder or fresh root can be taken safely at this time. A widely prescribed remedy for mild morning sickness is raspberry leaf, taken as a tea or a tablet, and both peppermint and chamomile teas have helped many a pregnant woman face the day. It is recommended that you drink no more than 3 cups daily.

The nutritional demands on the pregnant woman soon increase and care should be taken with the diet to include the consumption of plenty of protein and carbohydrates. The most common nutrients found to be deficient in pregnant women are zinc (from brewers yeast, wheatgerm, green leaf vegetables, eggs and legumes), folic acid (from yeast, green leaf vegetables, nuts, milk, and mushrooms) and calcium (from dairy foods, nuts, green vegetables and fish.) Zinc deficiency is thought to result in increased birth defects and increased stretch marks on the mother. Folic acid, a B Group vitamin, assists with the production of red blood cells. Calcium gives strength to teeth, bones and cartilege. Being rich in a citrate of iron, raspberry leaf tea taken throughout pregnancy helps to prevent miscarriage and strengthen the uterine and pelvic muscles for the birth. It can help control the pain when administered during labour itself, while feverfew will regulate contractions and help to hasten the expulsion of the afterbirth.

During pregnancy, normally healthy women are prone to ailments like indigestion, constipation, fluid retention and backache. Most of these can be safely treated with natural remedies. Take slippery elm for indigestion, psyllium seeds for constipation and seek advice on gentle exercises you can do to relieve backache. Consider a gentle spinal manipulation by a qualified chiropractor if backache is severe.

After the birth, the mother’s milk flow can be increased safely with the help of herbal preparations such as raspberry leaf tea, dill or fennel oil or milk thistle seeds. Raspberry tea is soothing when dabbed on sore nipples.

Some herbs which are uterine stimulants, and others which contain chemicals that will cross the placental barrier, should be avoided in pregnancy. Do not use any of the following unless prescribed by a qualified practitioner. (Some of these are culinary herbs which are safe to use in small amounts in teas and cooking, but should not be taken in therapeutic doses.)

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