By Dr Vinodha Kumari
Prenatal And Postnatal Care: Childbirth is one of the most exciting and overwhelming phases of a woman’s life. Given the fact that a series of hormonal and bodily changes disrupt a woman’s physical and mental health, it is also one of the most challenging times for a woman. Depending on which stage of pregnancy a woman is in, her body will respond with different sets of symptoms – from nausea, heartburn, headaches to constipation, hemorrhoids and backache. Similarly, women also experience lactation related challenges as well as depression during postpartum.
Since generations, herbal remedies have played a crucial part in this beautiful journey of motherhood. Apart from soothing difficult pregnancy symptoms, a series of natural therapies have been used by women across the world to regain physical flexibility, reduce inflammation and help augment breast milk supply postpartum. Natural remedies are significantly more important for expecting and lactating mothers since they are safe for the child.
Let’s take a look at some such natural therapies that have helped mothers since centuries:
The magic ingredient that lends flavour to our curries, ginger is much more than just a condiment. It is a powerful medicinal herb packed with natural digestive enzymes and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been an intrinsic part of natural medicine. Morning sickness also known as nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (NVP), is a common symptom experienced between the fourth and sixteenth week of pregnancy. For women dealing with morning sickness, ginger has been a trusted herb for centuries. Sprinkling grated ginger onto meals, soups and salads, consuming it with honey or adding it to your cup of tea are effective ways of consuming raw and fresh ginger to fight nausea.
Ginger contains many phenolic compounds such as gingerol, shogaol and paradol that exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger therefore is highly useful in the postpartum phase to help women fight inflammation and oxidative stress.
The soothing coconut water is another natural remedy which is very helpful in pregnancy. Enriched with natural vitamins and minerals, not only is it nourishing for your body but it also helps control constipation and heartburn – two common conditions experienced by pregnant women. As your growing belly pushes up against the stomach, it forces stomach acids into the esophagus, causing constant acidity. Coconut water soothes acid reflux symptoms and helps replenish electrolytes and fluids lost due to vomiting.
Fenugreek seeds have for ages been consumed by women to help induce contractions and relieve pain associated with labour. Women experiencing prolonged labour are often advised consumption of fenugreek seeds by naturopaths to help hasten the labour process. Women with gestational diabetes can benefit by consuming soaked fenugreek seeds which help stabilise blood sugar levels and act as a detoxifying agent. However, it is important to keep in mind that since consuming fenugreek seeds can induce contractions, one must consume those under the supervision of a naturopath. Fenugreek seeds are usually consumed only after the 37th week of pregnancy.
Fenugreek seeds are also an excellent herbal galactagogue or agent that helps improve milk supply in lactating women. Prepare a cup of tea with ground fenugreek seeds that can be taken several times a day. Fenugreek leaves and seeds contain vitamins B, C and E alongside zinc and biotin, nutrients that have the potential to curtail postpartum hair loss. For women struggling with postpartum hair loss, consuming fenugreek and application of fenugreek seed/leaves mask over the scalp is also a beneficial way of restoring scalp health and hair growth.
Coconut/olive oil for stretch marks
Stretch marks that appear on the stomach are one of the major aesthetic concerns for women post-pregnancy. The marks are a result of stretched skin contracting post-childbirth. In many cultures across the world, women use hydrating oils to massage over the abdomen during pregnancy to prevent or minimise appearance of stretch marks. Highly emollient in nature, coconut oil keeps the skin hydrated and helps augment its elasticity, thereby reducing its susceptibility to stretch marks. Similarly, olive oil which is a rich source of vitamin E and antioxidants has had a long history of being used in skincare. Olive oil helps maintain the smoothness and suppleness of the skin and reduces appearance of stretch marks.
Prenatal yoga and relaxation techniques
The prenatal yoga approach that is designed especially for pregnant women lays emphasis on breathing and relaxation techniques; exercises that help build stamina, core strength and strengthen pelvic muscles. This comprehensive approach helps women prepare well for childbirth while improving physical and mental resilience during and after pregnancy.
A series of restorative poses, breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques also help relieve anxiety and fight off postpartum depression following childbirth.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy of inserting very fine needles into specific points to help relax the mind and body, increase blood circulation and energy levels. Acupuncture benefits expectant mothers relieve heartburn, nausea and lower back pain in a safe and drug free way. In fact, a Swedish study conducted on 60 women with normal pregnancy in 2001 found that acupuncture technique significantly helped reduce morning sickness over a sustained period of time.
Complementing modern medicine in a sustainable way
Thanks to the advent of antibiotics, blood transfusion and advanced surgical procedures, modern medicine has helped significantly reduce maternal and infant mortality rates. However, chemical-based drugs may be harmful to the foetus, and hence their usage must be avoided as much as possible. Natural therapy is a drugless approach to address a series of pre and post natal symptoms and therefore a more sustainable one. It also helps the mother recover faster from childbirth by reducing inflammation and detoxifying the system. A study published in the West Indian Medical Journal concluded that application of turmeric cream was effective in faster healing of wounds of Caesarean operations. We need more such studies to collate more scientific evidence regarding efficacy of natural medicine components. Unfortunately, most modern medicine practitioners (out of ignorance or sheer bias) completely disregard the natural way. It is important for us to develop a comprehensive approach to motherhood that balances the essentials of both modern medicine and natural remedies.
(The writer is Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute.)