Pregnancy is a special time. One that brings joys and pains. Many minor, but distressing health complaints can accompany pregnancy, such as morning sickness, varicose veins, skin discoloration, hemorrhoids, constipation, folic acid anemia, iron deficiency anemia, muscle/leg cramps, backache, heartburn, fatigue and mood changes, bladder infections, and high blood pressure. What can the expectant mother use that is safe for her unborn child as well as herself?
Most women would agree that drugs are to be avoided during pregnancy. Many over-the-counter remedies, especially antihistamines, acne medicines, and laxatives, have been shown to cause birth defects in animals or humans. Antibiotics may cause fetal abnormalities and sulfur drugs can cause neo-natal jaundice. Tranquilizers and painkillers can cause birth defects and addict the fetus. Antacids can cause muscle problems in the baby and edema in the mother. (In addition, they mess up a woman’s calcium metabolism; see discussion following.)
And it is well accepted that the drug-like actions of alcohol, tobacco, and coffee are best avoided both before conception, during pregnancy, and while lactating.
Few women, however, understand that vitamin/mineral supplements are more drug-like than food-like. Though they are widely recommended, even by orthodox MDs, supplements are problematic for pregnant women and ought to be avoided. A study of 23,000 pregnant women, reported in The New England Journal of Medicine (1995) found 4.8 times more birth defects among the children of women who consumed 10,000 IU or more of vitamin A in supplemental form. And if that isn’t enough to make you hesitate before reaching for the pills, consider this: the amount of iron in four prenatal-formula tablets can kill a child under the age of three.
In addition to drugs and supplements, many common herbal remedies, including golden seal, and flax seed are best avoided during the weeks of gestation. See below for herbs that may be problematic during pregnancy.
Nevertheless, there are many simple, safe home and herbal remedies available to ease the discomforts of pregnancy. The remedies of wise women, or “old wives,” have persisted for centuries, passed from woman to woman. They are not strict protocols designed to work with the greatest possible number of women. Rather, they are part of the ever-changing wisdom ways of women, meant to be applied to the unique individual in unique and ever-changing ways. Although they have not been subjected to double blind studies, they are not superstition and dumb custom, but the results of millions of careful observations over thousands of generations. These remedies are the gifts of our foremothers. They are gifts from women who were deeply intuitive, immersed in day-to-day practice, and in tune with women’s needs – emotional and spiritual, as well as physical.
Wise women believe that most of the problems of pregnancy can be prevented by attention to nutrition. Morning sickness and mood swings are connected to low blood sugar; backaches and severe labor pains often result from insufficient calcium; and varicose veins, hemorrhoids, constipation, skin discolorations and anemias are also related to lack of specific nutrients.
Excellent nutrition for pregnant women includes not just vital foodstuffs and nourishing herbal infusions, but also pure water and air, abundant light, loving and respectful relationships, beauty and harmony in daily life, and joyous thoughts.
All nutrients are needed in abundance during pregnancy as the gestating woman forms two extra pounds of uterine muscle; the nerves, bones, organs, muscles, glands and skin of the baby; several pounds of amniotic fluid; the placenta; and a great increase in blood volume. In addition, extra kidney and liver cells are created to process the waste of two beings instead of one.
Wild and organically grown foods are the best source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients needed during pregnancy. All the better if the expectant mother can get out and gather her own herbs: stretching, bending, breathing, moving, touching the earth, taking time to talk with the plants and to open herself to their spiritual world.
Red Raspberry (Rubus ideaus and other species)
For centuries herbalists have relied on the leaves of red raspberry to nourish pregnant women and relieve difficulties during pregnancy and birth. Scientific herbalists are baffled by these claims, as they find no chemical constituents in raspberry leaves that are capable of inducing these purported effects. Nonetheless, “if pregnant women believe that it provides relief from various unpleasant effects associated with their condition, no harm is done,” says Varro Tyler in The Honest Herbal.
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