Caring for Mother and Baby - Naturally
By Tracy Killip
Sponsored by Weleda (New Zealand) Limited.
Credit: Su-lin Sze, Naturopath who runs Herbalwell natural medicine clinic and is a consultant for Weleda.
New mothers are bravely stepping into a new state of consciousness when they bring their babies home. Anthroposophic medicine views this life stage as an opportunity for women to become healers, caretakers, and to achieve self-consciousness, social recognition and self-realization. What a beautiful way to honour and acknowledge all mothers, who really make the world a better, more loving place for all of us.
The first few months of motherhood can be challenging as many physical and emotional changes are taking place. New mothers often seek extra support and guidance, particularly when it comes to natural solutions to the problems they will encounter. Many of the issues that arise in this period relate to complaints of newborns such as colic, skin irritation and nappy rash. Fatigue and breastfeeding are two issues that directly affect new mothers.
Fatigue ranks in the top five complaints of new mothers, peaking around the end of the first month of motherhood. Contributing causes include poor nutrition, pain, anaemia, disrupted sleep, recurrent infections and increased physical, mental or emotional demands on the mother.
Having a nutritious diet is essential, who tend to skip meals and indulge in snacks. It's important to eat enough protein (65g daily) in early motherhood, as protein creates longer lasting energy and is a major component of breast milk. Protein is high in foods such as alfalfa, kelp, spirulina, fish, peas, lentils, nuts and meats.
Fatigued mothers are well advised to have some quick and easy pick-me-ups in the form of multivitamins and herbal formulations such as Blackthorn elixir or Nettle tea, which are both rich in vitamins and minerals. Blackthorn is particularly good for breastfeeding mothers and Nettle contains calcium and iron to boost energy. A recent study of new mothers and their biological baby, showed that babies are actually healthier when their mothers take care of their wellbeing during the post partum period.
Fatigue can also be caused by poor immune function and pain. An Echinacea tincture containing Thuja is beneficial for mothers who experience recurrent infections. It will boost the immunity and cleanse the lymphatic system. If muscle aches and pains are an issue, use Arnica. This flowering mountain herb is a powerful pain remedy and is best rubbed onto the affected area. Arnica cream makes an excellent addition to the household first aid kit! Hypericum (St Johns Wort) used topically provides pain relief, and in combination with Calendula makes a powerful healer for a torn perineum.
More than half of nursing mothers experience sore or cracked nipples, and some mothers find it challenging to maintain the right volume of breast milk for their baby. Babies may go through feeding spurts, which can vary the amount of milk required. Nursing mothers can use herbal medicine to influence their milk production patterns. To increase milk supply, enjoy a nursing tea containing fennel, fenugreek, caraway, aniseed and lemon verbena. Traditionally these are known as galactagogues and have been used for centuries to support healthy lactation. Where milk supply needs to be reduced, herbs such as sage, thyme and parsley may be useful under the supervision of a trained herbalist only.
Sore or cracked nipples can result from poor adherence of baby's mouth when feeding, or when feeding time is cut short which can make a baby suck harder when they are next on the breast. The best topical medicine is to gently apply a nipple care cream containing an anti-inflammatory like Calendula to encourage healing, and a tonifying herb such as Nettle to improve skin integrity. Other ways to relieve nipple discomfort include applying a warm compress over the breast before feeding to open the milk ducts, or rubbing excess milk around the nipple and allow the breasts to air-dry after feeding. Mothers who experience mastitis can place wet cabbage leaves inside their nursing bra for short-term relief.
Colic begins in the first few weeks of life, or later if a baby was born prematurely. Look out for a high pitched cry, signs of distress, clenched hands and elbows, a tense distended abdomen, and excessive wind. The important thing to note about colic, is it will self-resolve, usually by 12 weeks, and it won't physically or psychologically harm a baby. Also there are many natural ways to ease colic and provide short term relief.
Some natural remedies that help alleviate colic are:
It helps to:
It is highly recommended that mothers of colicky babies avoid chocolate, caffeine, aromatic foods, eggs and cows milk from their diet. Also, remove any gas creating foods from the diet. These include onions, garlic, sugar, nuts, wheat and any foods from the Brassica family such as broccoli and cabbage.
Baby Skin Care
Babies require very gentle low allergenic skin care, and many products on the market contain chemicals which may irritate baby skin such as petroleum derivatives like mineral oil, and synthetic fragrances. Choose a natural skin care range for your baby's skin care needs. Look to products that contain the healing and soothing benefits of Calendula. Avoid those containing mineral oil and instead look to products that contain beeswax, sweet almond oil and lanolin. These are recommended due to their gentle and therapeutic qualities.
Dress your baby in layers of natural fabrics that can be removed as needed. These allow your baby's skin to breath and reduce the chance of heat rash or a skin reaction to synthetic fabrics.
Baby skin is thin and delicate. In the nappy area, skin needs to be hydrated, and able to breathe. It also needs to be clean, surface dry and to maintain the right level of pH (acid-alkaline balance).
To improve skin health around the nappy area use a natural nappy change cream containing the soothing and healing herb Calendula. A product containing zinc will improve the surface-dryness of the nappy area, preventing rash.
If nappy rash is present treat with a cream containing herbs such as Echinacea, Hypericum, Calendula and Nettle, this will heal and relief irritated skin.
Helping new mothers
The first few months of caring for a baby can leave a new mother tired, unsure and sometimes distressed. They need helpful, honest advice, and to be shown compassion and encouragement as they grow as mothers and individuals. Providing natural and safe solutions to the issues that they regularly encounter will help make this transition more fluid and ultimately more enjoyable.