Mother Nature’s Child: Simple Herbal Remedies for Pregnancy, Postpartum and Beyond
|Mother Nature’s Child: Simple Herbal Remedies for Pregnancy, Postpartum and Beyond|
|Herbs for Pregnancy, Postpartum and Baby|
When I became pregnant two years ago, I was elated. My journey to motherhood had begun. Our daughter arrived exactly one week before her due date, at home, into the waiting arms of her father. Labor had gone quickly, and I gave birth naturally without any medical intervention. Watching my newborn baby wiggle her way up my bare belly to instinctively start nursing at my breast, I knew firsthand what a miracle birthing and mothering truly is.
I attributed my smooth pregnancy and speedy labor to several factors. About a year earlier, I had reduced my busy work schedule down to part-time, which allowed more time to care for myself and reconnect with my husband. I nurtured myself with whole, organic foods, regular yoga, long daily walks, plenty of rest, affirmative birthing stories and supportive, loving people. I read Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery, and La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. My husband made notes from Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner and taped them to our fridge. We discussed the benefits of water births, learned about attachment parenting and family bed sharing, purchased cloth diapers and a sling, and prepared ourselves for what we knew would be a transformative experience. I also turned to what felt familiar and comforting to me: herbs.
For the past decade I had been studying and practicing herbal healing. I had completed certification as a master herbalist, and apprenticed at an herb farm to learn about growing, drying, processing and wild-crafting medicinal herbs. I had many of these useful plants growing in my own garden, close at hand. Over the years, I had established a small, home-based herbal business, focusing on natural care for the whole family, and with the help of my sister (a practicing midwife), had developed salves, teas and oils specific to mama and baby care. During the last trimester of my pregnancy I finished training as a postpartum doula, and added herbal postpartum care to my repertoire. Although I had shared my herbal knowledge with countless others, here was a unique opportunity to use these skills to strengthen, heal and nourish not only myself, but also my newborn child.
For centuries, medicinal plants, flowers and common garden “weeds” have been used to provide gentle, effective care for women during pregnancy and postpartum, and by parents for their children. Women were often trusted keepers of herbal knowledge, working as midwives and healers in their communities. Mothers knew which healing plants could be used for their households, where and when to gather herbs, how to grow and dry them properly, and correct ways to administer them safely.
I long to see a return to this common understanding of using healing plants in the home, and have tried to share this knowledge with my community by teaching workshops, sharing seedlings, and offering advice.
You don’t need to be a certified herbalist to work with medicinal plants, and an herbal kitchen need not have complicated tools—measuring cups, a Crock-Pot or double boiler, a few stainless steel pots, mixing spoons, glass mason jars, and a good kitchen scale will do. However, you do need a basic understanding of how to properly identify plants, when to harvest, and which parts of the plant are usable—as well as how to dry and store them, the correct dosage for your remedies, and which plants are safe during pregnancy and postpartum, or for infants and children.
Properly Identifying Plants
If possible, grow the herbs yourself using organic methods. If you don’t have the space to grow them, buy your plants from reputable organic sources in minimally processed or bulk form. If you are wild-harvesting herbs, take an easy-to-follow plant field guidebook like Newcombe’s or Peterson’s so you are sure to properly identify the plants. Even better is to start out wild harvesting by accompanying someone who is knowledgeable so you can learn side by side. To avoid over-harvesting, it is advised to pick no more than a quarter to a third of a plant. Do not pick in an area that is near a roadway, or which may be chemically sprayed or otherwise contaminated with noxious fumes.
When to Harvest
Herbs should be harvested when they are at their peak, so having a basic understanding of their growing cycle is helpful. Knowing whether to use the leaves, flowers, berries, roots or bark is also important. Leaves and blossoms are best harvested just before noon, when the volatile oils have reached them and the morning dew has dried, but before they start to wilt in the afternoon heat. Only choose healthy plants, and be careful never to cut the main root when digging herbal roots.
Drying and Storing Herbs
Herbs can be used fresh for making virtually any herbal product. For long-term storage they should be dried, either by air-drying or with a food dehydrator. To air dry, hang bunches of herbs in a well-ventilated, cool room away from direct sunlight. They are ready when crisply dried, but still retain a rich color (not brown). Hanging flowering herbs, like lavender or chamomile, covered with a brown paper bag punched with air holes, helps to catch the blossoms that may fall off as they dry. If any herbs develop mold, that’s an indication they were not dried with enough air circulation and should not be used. Herbs that are fully dry can be stored in glass jars in a closed cupboard, or in brown paper bags. If kept properly, they will last for a year or more.
Determining Dosage of Herbal Remedies
Just because something is natural does not mean it is always safe to use or right for every situation. Though many herbs are gentle, the correct dosage is very important for both effectiveness and safety. For example, red raspberry leaf, although generally considered a wonderful herb to use during pregnancy for toning the uterus and providing a rich source of calcium and minerals, may be advised in moderation if one has a history of short labor. The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual, by James Green, gives excellent, detailed descriptions on making remedies and assessing proper dosage.
Herbs for Pregnancy, Postpartum and Baby
It is always wise to consult with your midwife or qualified health practitioner if you are considering taking herbal remedies during pregnancy. There are many wonderful tonic herbs that can aid everything from morning sickness to increasing milk supply to combating postpartum blues. However, there is also a lengthy list of plants that should be used with caution or avoided altogether during pregnancy. For example, strong labor-inducing herbs, like black or blue cohosh, should not be used until the final stage of pregnancy, and even then under consultation with your midwife. When making products like salves or massage oils for your infant or child, always use top-quality, organic ingredients. Use only pure essential oils if you use any at all, as fragrance oils are synthetic and may cause allergic reactions when used on sensitive skin. Having knowledge of a handful of simple herbal remedies during pregnancy, postpartum and for baby care can be an empowering experience for mothers and other caregivers.
Here are six reasons why:
1) Connecting with Your New Baby
Preparing gentle healing products in advance of your baby’s birth, such as diaper rash salves or baby massage oils, can be a special way to connect with your baby while he is still in utero. While preparing these gentle remedies, talk with your unborn child, explaining how you will welcome, nurture and care for him.
2) Feeling Prepared for Labor, Postpartum and Baby Care
Herbal products can be prepared in advance for use during labor and birth. Talk with your partner and midwife, and write your ideas into your birth plan so that your wishes for using healing herbs are not forgotten when the time comes. For example, herbal spritzers made with uplifting pure essential oils like sweet orange or grapefruit can help to generate positive energy in the birthing room and restart stalled labor. Herbal sitz bath blends for healing stitches or sore bottoms can be made by mixing comfrey, yarrow, calendula and lavender. Preparing these various herbal products can be a way for you to discuss your needs and desires about medical interventions and infant care with your partner and midwife, and feel more prepared to take control of your labor, birth and postpartum care.
3) Stretching Your Dollar
There are so many mama and baby products available for sale these days that it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. High-quality organic herbal products are not necessarily cheap, and depending where they are purchased, may include shipping or packaging fees. If you are on a tight budget, yet want the best organic care for your children, preparing your own herbal remedies (just like growing your own food) can save substantial money. Follow simple recipes, in books such as Family Herbal by Rosemary Gladstar, The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Jill Romm, or Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year by Susun S. Weed, which offer clear, step-by-step instructions and use familiar herbs you may already be growing in your own garden. For example, lavender, calendula, chamomile, fennel, catnip, lemon balm, peppermint and yarrow are excellent multipurpose healing plants for mom and/or baby that are easy to start with. Packaging for your homemade herbal products does not need to be fancy or expensive. Use recycled glass jars for salves, paper lunch bags to store loose-leaf herb blends, or repurposed amber bottles that are often available from naturopathic clinics. Store your products in a cool, dry, dark location (such as a cupboard), and they will last for many years.
4) Involving Older Siblings
Creating your own herbal products at home offers the perfect opportunity for an older sibling to get involved. There are plenty of tasks children of all ages can help with: harvesting herbs from the garden, tying them into bunches to dry, measuring, weighing and stirring other ingredients, or designing special homemade labels for the bottles. While working side by side, you can talk with your older child about her feelings toward the new baby and allow an early bond to form with the baby through this handmade herbal gift.
5) Building Confidence as a New Parent
We all want the best for our children, and when we make our own herbal healing remedies and know how to administer them, we can feel prepared to quickly take charge when care is needed for minor ailments and illnesses. During the process of researching recipes and creating herbal products, you will learn when and how to use herbs effectively. With your herbal medicine cabinet well-stocked with items like calendula salve for diaper rashes, arnica for bumps and bruises, fennel tea for colic, massage oils for cradle cap, sage cough syrup for sore throats, and herbal baths to ease congestion, you will know that your family is getting the best care possible. By using herbs in a dayto- day practice, you will be passing on this valuable knowledge to your children.
6) Sharing Knowledge with Others
When learning about healing herbs, remember that you really only need to start with a few plants; many herbs are versatile and have multiple uses. Build a relationship with these plants by using them in your daily routines and tending them in your own garden. Try out the following easy recipes for a diaper salve, sleep tea and herbal sitz bath, and start building your collection of simple, effective herbal remedies. As you become more confident in working with herbs, you will find plenty of opportunity to share your skills and pass the empowering knowledge of herbal healing on to other households.
Pure Calendula Diaper Salve
- 1 cup olive oil, infused with calendula blossoms
- ¾ cup beeswax
- 1 tsp. vitamin E
- Few drops pure lavender essential oil per container
To infuse oil, fill glass jar with calendula blossoms. Cover herbs with oil completely, plus 1 inch extra oil above the herbs. Store in a warm sunny window and steep 3–4 weeks, shaking jar every few days. Then strain through a fine mesh sieve, and rebottle infused calendula oil for use.
Heat infused oil on low heat. Stir in beeswax and continue stirring until it has melted. Test for proper consistency by putting a few drops on a teaspoon and placing spoon in the freezer. In a few minutes the salve will have hardened to its finished consistency. When making salve, you will need approximately 5 teaspoons beeswax per ounce of infused oil to get a nice firm salve. If you want a salve that is more solid, add more beeswax accordingly.
Add hot oil/beeswax to clean jars. Add a few drops of vitamin E and pure lavender essential oil to each jar. Label and store in cool, dark location like a cupboard.
Sweet Sleep Loose–Leaf Tea
- 2 parts lemon balm
- 2 parts chamomile blossoms
- 1 part catnip
- 1 part peppermint
- Blend dried herbs in a large bowl. Store in a stainless steel canister, glass jar or paper bag.
- Use 1 cup boiled water to 1 teaspoon tea blend. Steep 5-10 minutes.
- Serve small cups of this tea before bedtime to encourage dreaming and peaceful rest.
Optional: Add ½ part fennel seed or rose petals to herb blend.
Herbal Sitz Bath Blend
Ingredients: Equal parts yarrow leaf & flower, comfrey leaf, calendula blossoms Method:
- Mix equal parts yarrow, comfrey leaf, lavender and calendula.
- Brew as a strong herbal infusion (tea), steeping at least 15-20 minutes.
- Strain and add to a shallow warm sitz bath.
Optional: Add a handful of Epsom salts and sea salt for additional healing properties.
About the Author:
Karin Kliewer is an herbalist and postpartum doula who operates a small natural soap and herbal business called Homestead Herbals. She lives with her husband, Greg, and daughter, Maya, at Little City Farm, an urban homestead and eco bed & breakfast in Kitchener, Ontario. Visit littlecityfarm.ca or homesteadherbal.etsy.com.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #28.
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