Mothering the Mother after birth is vital to her continued strength and future health, from the physical to the emotional and spiritual. The post partum period is considered the ‘fourth trimester’ by conscious and discerning health care practitioners. It is a period of reintegration and recuperation.
“Preparation for the fourth trimester should begin prenatally. There is nothing more important than connecting pregnant women with one another, or better still, with those who have recently given birth. Prenatal classes or support groups may serve to accomplish this, but however it happens, it is not optional.” – Elizabeth Davis – Hearts and Hands.
During pregnancy, labour and birth, and afterwards with breastfeeding, a woman is giving continuously of her life force. It is vital that she is replenished afterwards to ensure her complete recovery. Elder women’s wisdom speaks of proper care during the childbearing years easing the discomforts of menopause. More immediate still;
“The better she feels, the more easily she will integrate her new role and learn to distinguish the needs of her child from her own. Care of new mothers assures survival of the species, but more than that, it positively affects the quality of life for us all,” – Elizabeth Davis – Hearts and Hands.
Ain’t that the truth!
Many cultures around the world stress the importance of keeping the mother warm – literally and metaphorically not leaving her out in the cold!
Women are incredibly opened by birth and susceptible to chill and energy loss. During the moon that follows birth, a woman is given only warming foods with warming spices, healing teas and tonics. She is attended by the entire family and community to ensure she has enough rest, comfort, food and herbs and assistance with household responsibilities.
The range of time spent indoors and resting ranges from culture to culture as well as needs, but the aim is restore balance through total care. Cold foods, hair washing and being in cold weather are discouraged due to the heat lost through childbirth.
Often fires were built in the rooms near the mother, or steam baths were used to bring warmth as well as healing to the perineum and pelvic area.
Pelvic Steam Baths relax spasms, bring warmth and increase circulation, nourish the internal membranes, cleanse and promote healing.
Most herbs used for the steam baths are aromatics, combined with antispasmodic, antiseptic and soothing herbs. They can be used fresh or dried. These include;
Calendula – anti microbial with wound and skin healing properties.
Lavender – antiseptic, antispasmodic, sedative, relaxing nervine.
Red Roses – astringent, relaxing, uplifting for emotional stress, sadness and depression, nervine.
Rosemary – antibacterial, stimulating, aids circulation
Basil – antispasmodic, sedative, nervine.
Lemon Balm – antispasmodic, antiseptic, nervine.
Other herbs include red raspberry leaf, myrrh, yarrow, comfrey leaf, nettles, oregano, witch hazel.
How to have a Vaginal Steam
Add two large handfuls fresh/one handful dry herbs to about a gallon of boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes and remove from heat. Let steep for 10 minutes.
You will need to set up a way for you to sit over the pot of steaming herbs. One way is to use an open slatted chair and place the pot on the floor below you. Another is to pour the herbs into a large rimmed stainless steel bowl that can fit inside your toilet, resting on the edge underneath the seat.
Remove clothing from waist down, leave on warm socks. Sit on chair or toilet over steaming herbs and wrap yourself with a blanket from waist down. Keep upper body warm too.
Relax over steam for 20 mins, reading, journaling or meditating.
Be careful not to burn yourself.. Test the steam before sitting down!
Keep warm after the pelvic steam. It is ideal to do before bed. If you are doing it at another time, make sure to warp yourself warmly up in bed for an hour afterwards. Avoid any chills or drafts for 24 hours afterwards.
Possible side effects; May include a temporary increase in flow including more debris and dark fluids. This is seen as an effect of cleansing.
Contraindication; Do not do if pregnant, menstruating, have an acute uterine infection, vaginal sores or blisters. Never add aromatherapy essential oils to the steam as these can burn your sensitive genital tissue.
Sitz Baths are another, more commonly practiced way of using herbs to heal the perineum and vagina after birth.. The principle is essentially the same, except that the area is placed directly in the water with the herbs, and often is combined with sea salt to aid any healing of tears and soreness.
Often women were wrapped with a special cloth or band to help the uterus and internal organs and tissues back into place. This is a valuable practice that can be combined with regular massage post partum to help ease pains and bring comfort from pregnancy, labour and the after pains of the uterus contracting back into place.
Benefit of Herbs and Nutrition Postpartum
Blood building and nourishment are essential after birth; Often this has been traditionally done by the use of soups and stews and bone broths – often using herbs that clear the afterbirth and uterus and prevent infection as well as toning and nourishing the tissues and blood. There are many recipes for nutrition after birth, that vary with culture and taste as well as availability. I am going to focus more on Herbs that are useful for tonifying, nourishing and fortifying, which include;
These are tonic herbs akin to foods, often containing vitamins and minerals in abundance. They are building and nourishing and can be taken over long periods of time.
Milky Oats – Avena Sativa.. contains Vitamin B complex which sustains our energy and soothes our nervous system. It is great for convalescence, depression, debility, exhaustion, anxiety, insomnia and is generally an excellent tonic for the overworked or overstressed, those who live on too much caffeine or nervous energy.
Alfalfa -Medicago Sativa – cooling, sweet, astringent herb that gently cleanses, controls bleeding and is rich in minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium as well as vitamins A,D, E and K as well as chlorophyll and carotene.
Nettles – Urtica Dioca – Urtica is one of the finest nourishing tonics. It is reputed to have more chlorophyll than other herbs and contains vitamins A,C, D and K, and minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, Silica and Iron. It is a nourishing tonic for weakness, debility and anaemia. Nourishing to mother and baby during and post pregnancy. Aids kidney and bladder function and gently cleanses wastes. Nettle seeds are an adrenal tonic and restorative. Astringency can help check bleeding and contains vitamin K – can be used in sitz baths after birth. Useful in stimulating and nourishing breast milk.
Gotu Kola – Hydrocolyte asiatica – good combined with other nervines, reduces nervous exhaustion whilst promoting mental clarity. A connective tissue tonic, helps restore tone to ligament and uterine tissues, as well as useful for varicose veins as a circulatory tonic.
Red Raspberry Leaf – Rubus Ideaus – Increases fertility in both men and women, especially when combined with red clover.
Raspberry leaf is astringent and tonic – strengthens and tones and relaxes uterus, and entire pelvic area. Contains fragarine – an alkaloid that gives tone to uterine muscles and indeed tones and nourishes the whole body. It is the famous herb of pregnancy and great to use before during and after birth. Contains Vitamins A, C, E, B complex and easily assimilated calcium and iron as well as phosphorus and potassium among other minerals.
Rosehips – Excellent source of vitamin C as well as astringent and diuretic, benefitting kidneys and easing constipation. Aids the absorption of iron. Contains Vit A which is useful in nourishing immune system.
Catnip – Nepeta Cataria – Gentle, relaxing, antispasmodic, great for mama and baby for both after pains as well as colic symptoms.. Can be used in gripe water with slippery elm, fennel and chamomile.
Chamomile – relaxing, anti- inflammatory, antispasmodic, good for nervous tummies. Aids relaxation and well being inside and out.
Passionflower, – relaxing sedative, night time tea, aids insomnia.
Lavender – Gentle, relaxing, soothing, good for insomnia and aids let down reflex where due to tension and stress.
Lemon Balm – Calming, aids digestion, antispasmodic, antiviral, relaxing nervine – passes through to babe.
Skullcap – On edge, excited, much on mind, new changes, overstimulation, blues, exhaustion from lack of rest.
Vervain – Helps when irritable, on edge, angry, had enough, might lose it, great combined with milky oats and skullcap in tincture. Also good for PMS, mood swings when your moon cycle starts again soon after birth.
Galactagogues to help increase the flow of breastmilk
There are many herbs that increase the flow of breast milk.. Here i will focus on a few that I personally know and have used.
Vitex – Agnus castus.. a merits berry for women if ever there was one!
Vitex is a reproductive tonic that rebalances our hormones by stimulating and normalizing the pituitary gland function. It is therefore useful for PMS, menstrual cramps, menopause, and after using birth control pills, as well as a long term fertility aid. It helps with irritability, depression, headaches, anger,pms as well as menopausal symptoms – and can raise the level of progesterone in cases where women are estrogen dominant.. thus useful for shrinking fibroids, regulating cycles and aiding fertility. Improvements of various conditions can be felt in as little as two months, although more lasting results take from 6 months to a year or longer. Vitex nourishes the supply of breast milk.
Blessed Thistle – Great in the first few weeks after birth as it helps with uterine bleeding and milk irritability. Helps aid milk production by stimulating blood supply to the mammary glands and good for sluggish digestion too.. It is bitter and best taken as tincture.
Fennel Seeds – great taste, improve milk production as well as digestion.
Fenugreek Seeds – Strong maple like taste that exudes from your pores. Increases milk production fast.
Best used with alfalfa, raspberry leaf, nettles, and marshmallow root.
After Birth pains
Motherwort is great for fatigue, cramps and to aid relaxation. It is a bitter nervine, moves stuck heart and womb energy ( it is an emmenagogue, therefore not to be taken during pregnancy), great for palpitations, temperature and mood irregularities.
Calcium/Magnesium is great for after pains as is chamomile, lemon balm, oat straw, nettle, wild yam, red raspberry and partridge berry.
Stronger herbs include cramp bark and black haw and blue cohosh – relaxes smooth muscles in uterus and whole pelvic area. Relieves and reduces after pains.
Dandelion Root, Yellow dock root, Nettles, Rosehips.
Yellow Dock root helps the body retain Iron, rose hips contain Vitamin C. which increases Iron absorption.
After Birth Tea
Oranges, lemons, Ginger, Cardamon, Cinnamon sticks, Lemongrass, Raspberry, Borage, Star Anise and Honey.
Grate ginger, add cinnamon sticks and star anise to a large pot of water, bring to boil and simmer for 25 mins. Add oranges and lemons for ten minutes. Add rest of the ingredients and let steep. Strain and add honey. If you prefer this can be made with red wine instead of as a tea.
For Shakes, chills, sweats after birth , grate fresh ginger root and steep for 10-15 mins with 2tsp panax ginseng and dried licorice root.
Also Cinnamon tea – 1/2 tsp powder to 1 cup water or milk. Sweeten with honey if desired.