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Can I use herbs during labor? Yes!

products_birthWe’re pleased to share the following information on herbs for labor and postpartum care, written by Motherlove founder Kathryn Higgins:

Can I use herbs during labor?

Yes, herbs can be very useful during labor and after birth to ease pain, calm emotions, and help speed recovery.  The following herbs have been used by midwives and birthing women.  See our section on plants for photos and more detailed information on several of these herbs.  Many products using these herbs are available through Motherlove.

  • Blue and black cohosh are two herbs that work synergistically to bring on labor (but do not use before the 39th week of pregnancy).  During labor they can make contractions more efficient in a long, stalled labor, and help the uterus clamp down after birth.
  • 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.

Many herbs can help ease the pain of contractions:

  • Take crampbark 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:

  • Motherwort is one of the best herbs to give immediate emotional balance during the ups and downs of labor, but it may increase uterine bleeding.
  • 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 massage oil or 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, and ideal in any blend for all skin types. Be sure that essential oils are used in a carrier oil or mister and not directly on the skin.
  • 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, makes walking more comfortable, and feels so good!  Herbs to use include comfrey, yarrow, uva ursi, witch hazel, shepherds purse, and garlic.
  • Fill a plastic squirt bottle with a strong comfrey tea (or add calendula) 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.

U.S. maternity leave policy and its effect on families: A podcast interview with Moms Rising

Businesswoman Holding a BabyDid you know that the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that does not offer new mothers paid family leave?   The other countries:  Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, and Swaziland.

In this podcast interview we spoke with Charlie Rose, associate campaign director for, a national organization with over a million members advocating for family economic security.

Charlie spoke about how few moms have paid parental leave, how much leave moms actually take, the health and economic costs of our current policy, how current policy affects the role of partners, and what Moms Rising is doing to advocate for better policies.

You can listen to this podcast with the player below, listen with Quicktime, or download the podcast from our free iTunes store.

Birth Matters: Ina May Gaskin’s recommendations to improve maternity care

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?


Podcast: Actress Mayim Bialik on attachment parenting “Beyond the Sling”

We’re very excited to share an interview with actress Mayim Bialik!

Mayim is best known for her roles as Blossom Russo on the ’90′s sitcom Blossom, as a young Bette Midler in Beaches, and currently as Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory.  She received a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007.

But did you know that Mayim is also lactation educator and spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network?  Her new book, Beyond the Sling: A real-life guide to raising confident, loving children the attachment parenting way is out this week.

She talked with Tanya Lieberman about the intersection of her life as a scientist and as a mother, how breastfeeding figured into her parenting experience, why attachment parenting appeals to a broad spectrum of faiths, why her husband initially thought that elimination communication was a ridiculous idea, and how she straddles the worlds of Hollywood and parenting.

You can listen to the interview using the player below, with Quicktime, or by downloading it from Motherlove’s free iTunes store.


Tender tush? Some tips for taking care of your perineum after birth

If you’ve had a vaginal birth, taking care of your (likely sore) bottom can be a bit of a job in the early days after your baby’s birth.  Here are some simple things you can do to relieve pain and bounce back quicker:*

Cold compresses.  Many moms use ice packs to reduce swelling and soothe pain in the early hours after birth.  Be sure to wrap cold packs in a soft cloth or other soft material so that the cold pack doesn’t directly touch your tissues. Some moms wet and freeze their pads to create convenient cold compresses.

Sitz baths.  Warm water, especially when infused with healing herbs, can do wonders for tender tissues.  You can make a sitz bath in a bathtub or with a basin that fits over your toilet seat (in the hospital, ask your nurse for help with this).  Added to your bath, our Sitz Bath and Sitz Bath Concentrate soothe sore perineal muscles, reduce swelling, slow bleeding, and help ease the discomfort of hemorrhoids.  Our Sitz Bath Spray can be sprayed directly on your perineum an offers the same relief.  All of our sitz bath products have a zero rating (zero toxins) on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database and are made with 100% certified organic ingredients.

Witch hazel.  Witch hazel is an herb which is soothing to sore, swollen tissue, and especially helpful with hemorrhoids.  You can buy witch hazel soaked pads.  You’ll also find witch hazel in our organic Rhoid Balm, which relieves swelling and itching during pregnancy and after birth, and in our sitz bath products.

Peri bottle.  Many moms who have had tears, stitches, or episiotomies find it soothing to spray their perineum (front to back) with warm water after or during urination.  Peri bottles make this easy.  It can be especially helpful to use a peri bottle while urinating if you have stinging pain when using the toilet.

Medications.  Your health care providers can discuss over the counter and prescription medication options that are safe for breastfeeding.  If you have additional questions about pain medications and breastfeeding, you can call the Infant Risk Center for free information from a knowledgeable and breastfeeding-friendly pharmacist.

* This post is not intended as medical advice.  For medical advice, seek the recommendations of your health care provider.

Podcast: How can you avoid getting “pushed” into a birth you don’t want?

We’re very pleased to share a podcast interview with Jennifer Block, the author of Pushed: The Painful Truth about Modern Maternity Care.

Pushed shines a bright light on the state of maternity care in the U.S., from record-high induction and cesarean rates, to the legal obstacles to midwifery.  Whether you’re expecting a baby or want to advocate for change, you’ll want to read this book.

Tanya Lieberman spoke with Jennifer about the ways in which moms are ‘pushed’ or denied care, the projection that the cesarean rate will hit 50%, recent changes in recommendations for VBAC, and what mothers can do to avoid getting ‘pushed.’

You can listen to the podcast with the player below, listen with Quicktime, or download the podcast from our free iTunes store.


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This Labor Day month, watch a free webcast of Birth, the play

Since 2006, communities across the country have been producing Karen Brody’s play, Birth, often (and appropriately) during Labor Day week.

Birth is a play based on over 100 interviews conducted by Karen Brody about their birth experiences.  Eight birth stories are told in the play, with the intent of showing how low-risk, educated mothers are giving birth in the U.S. today.  Birth is also intended to raise awareness and provide a springboard for advocacy to make maternity care mother-friendly.  This advocacy effort is called BOLD (Birth on Labor Day).

Birth is now celebrating its fifth year, and to celebrate, BOLD is broadcasting a free webcast of a reading of Birth during Labor Day week.  The first broadcast will be live on September 5th at 7 pm ET, and this performance will be rebroadcast several times a day on September 17th and 24th.  More information about the webcast is here.

Birth has been called “magnificent, funny, and wonderfully wise” by Dr. Christiane Northrup.  We hope that you enjoy it!

The Birth Survey: Share your experience, learn from other moms

Are you pregnant and interested in other moms’ experiences at your area hospitals?  Want to know what they think about different OBs and midwives?

Or have you given birth in the last three years and want to share your experience with your providers and hospital?

Then check out The Birth Survey, a project of the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS).  CIMS is a national coalition of organizations and individuals which promotes an evidence-based model of maternity care to improve birth outcomes and reduce costs.

The goal of the The Birth Survey is to give moms they information they need to make informed choices about where they birth, and to give providers and hospitals information they can use to improve their services.  And who is better qualified to describe your experience than you?

The Survey takes some time to complete (settle down with a cup of tea when you do it), but you can save your progress and resume at another time.  We think it’s worth your time.  And other moms will thank you for it!

Four artistic ways to honor a pregnant belly

It makes you waddle.  It enters the room before you do.  It makes it nearly impossible to get up from the couch.

However it makes you feel, your belly (otherwise known as your baby) makes a statement.  And save a few stretch marks, that bump is gone in flash with few tangible reminders.

To honor your baby and the bump it occupies, why not get a little creative?  Below we share several ideas for artistic ways to celebrate your bump.

Belly casting. You can create a plaster mold of your belly (and your breasts if you choose) to commemorate, in three dimensional form, the shape of you and your baby.  You can follow these instructions, buy a kit, or maybe even find a ceramic artist who creates belly casts.  You can create a cast with your partner, your older kids, even at a shower.  Leave it plain or paint it – either way it’ll be a treasured keepsake.

Henna. In India, Egypt and the Middle East, the ancient art of henna (also called mehndi) has been applied to mothers’ pregnant bellies for thousands of years.  Said to bring a safe birth and happy baby, this temporary dying of the skin, which lasts one to four weeks, is done using a natural henna paint and involves beautifully intricate designs which can symbolize new life and the journey into motherhood.  You can buy a pregnancy henna kit, draw your own designs freehand or with stencils, or hire a henna artist who specializes in pregnancy.  Just be sure to use natural henna and not  “black henna” (henna with chemical additives), and it’s not recommended if you are extremely anemic or the baby has G6PD deficiency.

Paint. Does your belly remind you of the earth?  A pumpkin?  Does it inspire flowers or footprints?  Think of your belly as a canvas and paint away.  Just remember to use paint approved for use on skin.  Follow these instructions or buy a kit.  See these pictures for some inspiration!

Creative photography. No doubt you have some pictures of your belly, but with a little help and some creativity you can create more unusual and special images.  Here are some great tips, including involving siblings, getting outside, and simplifying the surroundings.  You may want to hire a professional – be sure to check out their portfolio of  pregnancy work first – but your partner or friend may be just as good if given a little guidance.



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