Herbs can be very useful during labor and after birth to ease pain, calm emotions, and help speed recovery. The herbs described below have been use for years by midwives and birthing women.*
- Blue cohosh and black cohosh are two herbs that work synergistically to bring on labor, but do not use them prior to 39 weeks of pregnancy.
- Raspberry leaf (tea or tincture) is one of the best uterine tonic herbs to prepare uterine muscles for an efficient labor. Its astringent action slows bleeding and helps to expel the placenta. Have the tea on hand or make raspberry tea ice cubes to suck on during labor. It can also be taken in pregnancy to prepare uterine muscles for pregnancy.
Many herbs can help ease the pain of contractions:
- Crampbark tincture can be used for uterine cramping during labor, and after birth to eliminate after birth cramping pains.
- Scullcap and catnip relieve pain, as well as calm and relax the body.
- Chamomile helps control pain during labor by relieving tension.
Other herbs help with emotional balance during labor:
- Rescue Remedy, a Bach flower remedy, is excellent for bringing one quickly into focus when under stress or shock during a difficult labor. It can also be put on the baby’s forehead or wrist after a stressful birth.
- A massage oil, enhanced with herbs, will relax the muscles and ease back labor pain. Use relaxing, aromatic herbs such as chamomile, rose, and lavender. Rubbed on the perineum, it helps prevent tearing as the baby crowns and ease swelling and burning.
- Essential oils in a mister can give clarity and focus. Clary Sage gives a sense of well being and combats mental fatigue. During birth it helps focus breathing and calm anxiety. Geranium essential oil balances emotions and works well for perineal massage, as it stimulates circulation. Lavender is calming and strengthening, relieving depression and irritability. Citrus essential oils are clean, refreshing and uplifting. Be sure that essential oils are used in a carrier oil or mister and not applied directly to or on the skin.
- Shepherd’s Purse tincture is the best herb to quickly stop postpartum hemorrhaging. Every midwife should have it with her in case an emergency situation arises. (You can read about how Motherlove founder Kathryn Higgins used this herb after her daughter’s birth here.)
- After the birth, use a sitz bath to soak the perineum, heal any tears, shrink swelling, and slow bleeding. It helps the perineum to heal quickly, and makes walking more comfortable. Herbs to use include yarrow, uva ursi, witch hazel, Shepherd’s Purse, and garlic.
- Fill a plastic squirt bottle with a strong herbal tea of these herbs – or use our sitz bath spray – to squirt on your perineum as you urinate to lessen any burning and heal tears.
- Homeopathic arnica pills, taken every few hours for several days after the birth, help reduce bruising and swelling of the perineal tissue. Be sure you are taking arnica internally only in homeopathic form, as arnica tincture prevents clotting and should not be taken internally.
See our Plants page for photos and more detailed information on several of these herbs.
* This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with your health care provider for medical advice related to any of these products.
Witch Hazel is an herb many mothers come to swear by after pregnancy and childbirth, and we thought we’d take a moment to share some details about this powerful (some mothers might say sanity saving!) plant.
But first, what does this plant have to do with witches? It’s likely an etymological mix-up, stemming from the Middle English term “wiche,” which means pliant or bendable and has nothing to do with witches. Or perhaps the use of the branches of the plant as divining rods is related the name.
Witch hazel is a shrub or small tree growing in the rich soils of the eastern part of the United States. The star shaped leaves become brilliant colors in the fall while the round fruits, which have projections, shoot their seeds several feet as they ripen.
Witch hazel leaves and bark contain astringent tannins which stop internal and external bleeding. Both the bark and leaves are used to treat hemorrhoids, varicose veins, swelling and bruises, and sore nipples. Internally it stops diarrhea, vaginal discharge and excess menses. Witch hazel is an ingredient found in eye drops and many skin ointments. It was used widely by Native Americans for medicinal purposes.
And of course it’s used widely after childbirth to soothe sore perineal muscles, reduce swelling, slow bleeding, and help ease the discomfort of hemorrhoids. Used in a bath, as a spray directly on tissues or on a pad, or as a balm on hemorrhoids, it’s an effective herbal remedy recommended by moms and doctors alike.
Witch Hazel is a key ingredient in our Rhoid Balm, Sitz Bath, Sitzbath Spray, and Sitz Bath Concentrate.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Are you struggling with infertility? Have painful periods or problems with postpartum incontinence?
You’ll want to listen to our latest podcast on Maya Abdominal Therapy.
Tanya spoke with Catherine Gregory, a certified practitioner of the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy. She explained the origins of the therapy, how it can help women for anything from infertility, to painful menstruation, to incontinence and digestion. She explained what it’s like to have the therapy, how women can learn to do it for themselves, and how to find a certified practitioner.
You can listen to the podcast with the player below, with Quicktime, or by downloading it from our free iTunes store.
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When you run, when you sneeze, when you lift something heavy…
Millions of women experience stress incontinence after having a baby. And millions more will develop incontinence as they age. But there’s a lot you can do about it, and our podcast discussion this month is all about that.
Tanya spoke with Tasha Mulligan, physical therapist and personal trainer, and creator of the Hab-It: Pelvic Floor DVD. She’s passionate about helping women like herself rehab their pelvic floors and reverse stress incontinence.
They spoke about how the pelvic floor is related to incontinence, how to properly do Kegels, how rehabbing your pelvic floor is about much more than Kegels, and answered lots of your questions!
You can listen to this interview with the player below, listen with Quicktime, or download the podcast at our free iTunes store!
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Did you have IV fluids during your labor and birth? Did your baby lose a lot of weight in the early days of breastfeeding? Did your ankles look more like cankles?
A growing body of research is making connections between these things, and it’s important that moms understand these connections for ourselves.
Getting IV fluids during labor is quite common. Why? For epidurals, for labor induction or augmentation, for a cesarean section, and for group b strep antibiotics, even for exhaustion. Many women get fluids for several of these reasons, adding up to a remarkable amount by the time the baby arrives.
What happens next is the subject of a number of recent studies:
- A 2010 study found“intrapartum fluid administration can cause fetal volume expansion and greater fluid loss after birth.”
- A 2011 study found that “timing and amounts of maternal IV fluids appear correlated to neonatal output and newborn weight loss.”
- And a 2012 study found that “maternal average IV ml per hour positively correlated with infant maximum weight loss.”
What these studies have found is something that some providers have suspected for some time: having lots of fluid on board at birth can make a baby look like she’s losing too much weight. In other words, some babies are born with extra fluid because of all of the fluids their mothers have received. Their birth weights are inflated by this fluid, and when they shed it they may appear to be losing too much weight.
When babies’ birth weights are inflated by excess fluid, they are at greater risk of the interventions that come with large weight loss: supplementation, and in some cases low milk supply and eventual early weaning. It’s significant enough that one of the above studies concludes that babies’ birth weights should be considered their weights at 24 hours in order to avoid this inflation and resulting breastfeeding problems.
There are other breastfeeding problems which result from large amounts of IV fluids given in labor: breast edema and delayed milk coming in.
When you’ve had a lot of IV fluids in labor, the fluid can collect in certain areas, including your breasts. This fluid retention is called edema, and while it may be mistaken for engorgement, it’s quite different. It can be very painful, and make it quite difficult for your baby to latch on and remove milk. When milk isn’t removed, over time it can result in milk production problems. Fortunately, there is something you can do to relieve breast edema and make it easier for the baby to latch on: reverse pressure softening.
Having lots of fluid in labor is also a risk factor for your milk coming in late. This can lead to other problems, like your baby becoming very sleepy, jaundice, poor feeding, supplementation, and later low supply. That’s why milk coming in late is associated with early weaning.
What can you do to avoid getting a lot of fluids in labor? Plan for a breastfeeding-friendly birth, with providers who have a good track record of low-intervention births, good labor support, use of non-pharmacological pain relief methods, ability to move around, and other factors associated with low-intervention births. And if you run into any of the above problems, be sure to seek help from a qualified breastfeeding support person.
Have you heard terms like “baby-led breastfeeding,” or “laid back breastfeeding” used to describe certain methods of breastfeeding? Wondering what they mean?
A new book does a nice job of clarifying these concepts and describing how to use them to make breastfeeding easy and comfortable.
Baby-Led Breastfeeding, by the authors of Baby-Led Weaning (see our podcast with author Gilll Rapley on this method of introducing solid foods), is a new breastfeeding reference book based on the newest understanding of our babies’ oldest behaviors.
Baby-led breastfeeding is about understanding and following a baby’s innate feeding instincts. It means working with – and not against – these instincts to make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable for you both.
Some feeding instincts the authors describe include:
“[At birth,] drawn by the unique scent produced by the glands around your nipples (which is similar to the smell of your amniotic fluid), your baby will instinctively press her feet and knees into you and push herself toward your breast. This instinct fades gradually in the first few weeks.”
“When they are near the breast, babies bob their head around and use their hands in a kneading action to orientate themselves and figure out how to best approach the nipple. This behavior is a crucial part of the feeding because it allows babies to get to the breast and position themselves so that they can attach easily.”
“When he can feel or smell that he is near the nipple, a baby will naturally start to open his mouth and stretch his tongue forward. This is known as rooting, and it’s part of his preparation for scooping up the breast to feed.”
“[A lying back position] is the position that will make best use of your baby’s feeding instincts when he is new.”
Some early feeding cues: “moving his eyes under his eyelids; moving his head and stretching his neck; making gentle wriggling, squirming, and waving movements, clenching and unclenching his fists; opening his mouth and making rooting movements; making sucking noises or smacking his lips; murmuring, squeaking, whimpering, or giving little cries; sucking his fists/clothes/blanket or your t-shirt/sweater.”
These concepts are the most useful in establishing comfortable and effective attachment to the breast (latch) and breastfeeding positions. But they’re also very useful in solving breastfeeding problems, such as refusal to breastfeed, weaning from a nipple shield, and transitioning from bottle to breast.
For more information on Biological Nurturing (Laid Back Breastfeeding) and Baby Led Weaning, see our podcasts:
What are Postpartum Mood and Anxiety disorders?
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious about the many responsibilities of having a newborn. Feelings of fatigue, crying, insomnia, anger, feelings of being alone, and the inability to concentrate are all typical of the “Baby Blues.” They’re usually short-lived, lasting for a few weeks.
But if these or other bad feelings continue, or are more severe at any point after having a baby, you may have a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder, and it’s important to seek help from your health care provider.
Not sure if what you’re experiencing is the Baby Blues or something more serious? See Postpartum Support International’s screening tools. And see our interview with the co-founder of Motherwoman for more on the postpartum emotional spectrum and where to turn for help.
Which herbs and supplements can help?
There are many ways to treat postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, including therapy, support groups, medications (see our podcast on anti-depressants and breastfeeding), rest, acupuncture, nutrition, help with domestic responsibilities, socializing with family and friends, and exercise. In this post we’ll focus on herbals and supplements to combat these disorders.
Herbs: Note: If you are taking an anti-depressant or other prescription medications, be sure to discuss herbal use with your physician to prevent interactions.
- Vitex helps stimulate progesterone production and balance the hormonal cycle.
- Motherwort and lemon balm can help with mood swings and emotional balance.
- Scullcap, oats, and chamomile are tonic herbs for nerves and stress.
- St. John’s wort (discuss with your physician about interactions with other medications)
- A Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner may be able to recommend additional herbs.
Aromatherapy: The smell of clary sage, sandalwood, and citrus uplifts the spirits, so use these essences in a massage oil, bath, or sleep pillow. Put drops on a handkerchief to sniff throughout the day. Aromatherapy inhalers and spritzers are available at natural food stores.
Bach Flower Essences:
- Gorse for discouragement and despondency
- Mustard for deep gloom for no reason
- Sweet Chestnut for mental anguish, hopeless despair, sorrow, exhaustion, loneliness
Additional Resources: Please see Postpartum Support International’s resource page for a list of additional sources of support, and this handout from Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett for a list of non-medication treatments.
This information is provided for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please see your health care provider for medical care suited to your needs.
Ever wonder what it’s like to be pregnant while in prison? What it’s like to give birth and breastfeed?
We asked Marianne Bullock of the Prison Birth Project to answer a few questions about what the experience is like in her area of the country. The Prison Birth Project provides prenatal, labor and postpartum support to women who are incarcerated in Western Massachusetts. Policies regarding pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding can vary by state and facility.
How common is it that a woman gives birth while serving a prison sentence?
The percentage of women in prison who are pregnant is about the same as in our general population, so anywhere from 6-10%. The average sentence of a woman in Massachusetts is 18 months, so most of those women will give birth while incarcerated. In our facility the family counselor does work really hard to help get women out before they deliver, so often times we are lucky to be able to serve clients who are back home with their families and support them in having the birth they envisioned for themselves and their baby.
In your area, where do these mothers give birth? What is particularly challenging for them?
The mothers we work with give birth in the hospital. There are many obstacles and tough situations. One of the most prevalent things is that women are transported with handcuffs to the hospital in labor and in the postpartum period are often transported in 5 point restraints, sometimes only 24 hours after delivery.
I think the most challenging thing that I am witness to as a doula is mothers having to hand off care of their children so they can return to the facility. It’s never an easy transition, but it is a situation that we work really hard with our clients to prepare for in order to make it the least traumatic as possible. Most of the time that looks like taking a lot of time to listen and plan out what will feel the safest for the mom during that transition and in the days following.
Are mothers who want to breastfeed or provide breastmilk for their babies able to do so in your area?
Breastfeeding is actually one of our biggest areas of success. A few years ago we had our first mama who wanted to breastfeed. We put a call out and the breastfeeding coalition donated a hospital grade pump to the organization. We got it cleared with the jail and trained the staff in how to operate it. Since then we have had a number of women choose to breastfeed and a few chose long term breastmilk for their children (one even for 9 months!). It has been amazing. Even though women only have one hour a week to visit when they can breastfeed skin to skin, it has meant so much for bonding and some women’s ability to overcome a feeling of loss of parental control.
What does the Prison Birth Project do?
The Prison Birth Project
provides direct services (including prenatal, labor/birth, and postpartum support), activism/advocacy training and organizing tools and opportunities to people in our communities as well as incarcerated and formerly incarcerated folks.
We’ve been reading legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin’s fascinating new book Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta.
Unlike her other recent books, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, this latest book isn’t a practical guide for moms but a policy statement which spells out her recommendations for changing our maternity care system. It also includes a history of obstetrics/midwifery care, explores sexuality and birth, and discusses feminism and birth, among other topics. And as with her previous books it’s spiced with captivating birth stories from her many years of practice.
But the heart of the book is a call for women to come together to fix the ways in which our maternity care system is broken. Gaskin details these problems with U.S. maternity care:
A rising maternal mortality rate (near tripling in California between 1996 and 2006), which doubles the risk of mortality for mothers birthing today compared to their mothers. This increase is occurring despite despite the fact that the U.S. spends more on maternity care per capita than any mother country in the world.
A flawed mortality reporting system which, according to the CDC, could mask a rate up to three times what is currently reported. This lack of reliable data leaves the system poorly equipped to make changes necessary to lower the rate.
High rates of unnecessary induction and other interventions in labor and birth, leaving mothers unable to labor and birth normally, and leading to poor outcomes.
The highest recorded cesarean rates, which far exceed recommended levels for safety of mothers and infants.
Here are her recommendations for reform, presented in detail in Birth Matters:
Establish woman-centered maternity care (including midwifery care) as a human right.
Revise medical education to train doctors in the support of normal birth before they study related pathologies.
Establish maternity care standards to ensure evidence-based practice for all women.
Salary physicians instead of paying them based on the number of births they take on.
Make birth centers available to mothers in all parts of the U.S..
Ensure that every maternal death is accurately reported and reviewed.
Give consideration to the young mothers who give birth without knowing they were pregnant.
Recognize postpartum home as a necessity, to avoid preventable outcomes ranging from mortality to postpartum depression.
What do you think of Ina May Gaskin’s recommendations? What would you add or subtract? How have the problems she outlines affected you?
Curious about using herbs to support your pregnancy?
Several herbs used safely used by women for generations are an excellent source for the increased vitamins and minerals needed during pregnancy, and to prepare your the uterus for labor.
These herbs can easily be made into teas and incorporated into meals on a regular basis. Every person is different, and your body may react differently now to foods than it did previously, but used wisely and in moderation, these herbs make wonderful teas and foods.
- Raspberry leaf is best known for strengthening the uterine muscles so they work more efficiently during labor. Drink raspberry leaf tea, with its easily assimilated content of calcium and magnesium, to relieve leg cramps. Also high in iron, the leaves and berries help prevent anemia. Raspberry leaf soothes an upset stomach and will help alleviate mild morning sickness. Taken after birth, it slows bleeding, helps the uterus regain tone, and increases breast milk production.
- Nettle leaves are a storehouse of nutrition, with high iron and calcium contents, as well as an excellent source of folic acid, an essential nutrient during pregnancy. Nettle strengthens the kidneys and adrenals, while it relieves fluid retention. Because nettle also supports the vascular system, it can prevent varicose veins and hemorrhoids. Postpartum, it increases breast milk production. Nettle tea has a rich, green taste and can be mixed with other herbs. Cooked nettle is a mineral-rich substitute for spinach and an excellent side dish with a dash of lemon juice and sesame seeds. Try substituting nettle in lasagna. Pick it fresh from spring until mid summer, but be sure to wear gloves to protect your skin. Its nickname is “stinging nettle,” but this sting disappears when cooked. Pick extra to freeze and have on hand for the winter months.
- Oats, another herb high in calcium and magnesium, builds healthy bones and nourishes the nervous system. This is the perfect herb to relieve nervous exhaustion and allow for relaxed rest when sleep is difficult. An easy way to incorporate the healing power of oats, and its high fiber content, is to eat oatmeal cereal in the morning, along with oatmeal bread. Oatstraw tea has a mild flavor that can be used alone or mixed with other herbs. And a warm oatmeal bath is not only relaxing, it softens skin and relieves the itch of a growing belly.
- Dandelion root tea increases digestion and promotes bile to relieve constipation. It is one of the best herbs for cleansing and strengthening the liver, our main detoxifying organ. The liver breaks down hormones no longer needed by the body after birth, and any drugs that may have been given at birth. Containing calcium and iron, roasted dandelion root’s coffee-like flavor, is an excellent morning beverage. Add a handful of the fresh leaves, high in vitamin A, to other greens in salads. Drink dandelion leaf tea if a diuretic is needed to relieve fluid retention. Because of its high potassium content, it does not deplete the body of this important mineral, as other diuretics are known to do.
- Alfalfa, with its deep root system, contains many essential nutrients including trace minerals, chlorophyll and vitamin K, a nutrient necessary for blood clotting. Many midwives advise drinking mild tasting alfalfa tea or taking alfalfa tablets during the last trimester of pregnancy to decrease postpartum bleeding or chance of hemorrhaging. Alfalfa also increases breast milk production – alfalfa hay is fed daily to milking goats and other dairy animals!
These common herbs are available in most natural health food stores and are well-worth using for their nutritionally-packed support during these special months.
This information is provided for educational, and not medical, purposes. Consult your health care provider for advice tailored to your needs.