Natural Remedies for Early Pregnancy
Every woman would love to sail through pregnancy. Unfortunately, the surge in pregnancy hormones can really affect physical and mental wellbeing in some. The growing baby is put first as it receives all the nutrients it needs whilst body immunity is focused in and around the placenta, greatly protecting the foetus but leaving mum much more open to infection. The first three months (first trimester) are a worrying time, as medications and even natural remedies are simply not safe to take or have not been researched enough to validate their use. Earlier this year my client Anna* came to me to find out just what she could take for her nausea, exhaustion and seemingly on-going colds and sore throat to make mattes worse. She was also experiencing increasing headaches and constipation. Anna was eight weeks pregnant at her first visit, and the following suggestions for safe natural remedies seemed to greatly help her during her early pregnancy.
I recommended that Anna take a good ante-natal multivitamin and mineral formula throughout her pregnancy (with food as B vitamins can cause nausea on an empty stomach). B vitamins such as folic acid are very important for the growth of the foetal nervous system, whilst B6 has shown in research to help reduce morning sickness. I also prescribed a high quality Omega 3 fish oil to ensure sufficient essential fatty acid (EFA) intake which is very important for foetal nervous system growth and may prevent postnatal depression. Research has also shown that taking EFAs such as Omega-3 during pregnancy decreases the risk of premature birth, as does taking enough zinc. Take fish flesh oil only, not fish liver oil, as this is a rich source of vitamin A, too much of which is contraindicated in pregnancy. As Anna had completely gone off dairy products and vegetables, I prescribed a calcium/magnesium supplement temporarily. Interestingly, supplementing with calcium during pregnancy has shown to help reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia (a serious condition causing high blood pressure during pregnancy). Live bacteria may also be prescribed if you feel your client has a congested liver (indicated by a white tongue coating) and poor gut function. Anaemia is common in the second trimester, as the baby’s demand for iron increases, so I also discussed with Anna ways she can avoid this condition. Foods naturally rich in iron include meat, eggs, lentils, apricots, green leafy vegetables, molasses and beetroot. Certain herbs such as dandelion root, watercress and nettle also contribute to iron intake.
This was Anna’s most debilitating symptom as it lasted throughout the day. Regular small meals seem to help keep blood sugar levels up as when this drops, nausea seems to worsen. Anna’s appetite was greatly affected in the first eight weeks, so she nibbled on dry toast and dried apricots and drank fizzy water with apple juice. Unfortunately, Anna could not face strong flavours including ginger, a well-known remedy for morning sickness, so I suggested she try a mixture of meadowsweet and peppermint tea instead. Homeopathic remedies recommended for morning sickness include Ipecac, Nat Phos and Nux Vomica, although I would highly recommend consulting a qualified homeopath. I suggested Acupuncture or Reflexology to Anna and she chose a course of Reflexology which did help to alleviate evening sickness and the disturbed sleep it caused. She also placed one drop of lavender oil in her warm bath water at night. If you are able to exercise, a gentle swim in the mornings or walk in the fresh air can help to relieve nausea. It is difficult to console a very nauseas pregnant lady, but I did tell Anna that morning sickness has been shown to indicate a decreased risk of miscarriage.
Pregnancy hormones cause the bowel to relax and thus the passage of food to slow down. I suggested a tablespoon of linseeds in the morning on porridge which Anna was managing to eat with water and sunflower seeds. Linseeds should be taken with plenty of water. Exercise also helps constipation, as will any high fibre food, such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals. An extra intake of fluids is very important during pregnancy, and will also help to prevent constipation.
Indigestion and Heartburn (Acid Reflux)
It is best to eat small, regular meals during pregnancy, as digestion is affected by hormones as well as restricted space in the abdominal cavity as the foetus grows. Indigestion can be eased with a plant-based digestive enzyme, or a cup of peppermint tea, after meals. Pregnancy hormones relax the valve between stomach and oesophagus causing gastric juices to flow upwards after meals. Antacids can reduce the absorption of iron, therefore, are best avoided. Anna experienced acid reflux at about four months and I suggested capsules of slippery elm powder before her main meals. This gentle remedy coats the lining of the oesophagus and protects it from any acid reflux. Do not lie down for about three hours after meals, but if you have to rest, lie on your left side, as this keeps the stomach below the oesophagus.
At about eight weeks Anna began to experience painful headaches which she rarely suffered from in the past. Her midwife explained to her that her blood volume had increased by 40% to cope with the growing foetus, hence an increased pressure on blood vessels resulting in headaches. Headaches in pregnancy can also be caused by dehydration, lack of sleep, low blood sugar levels and stress. I suggested Anna apply a cool compress, made with one drop of lavender oil, on the base of her neck whilst resting in a dark room. Partners and family members can also help relieve headaches by giving gentle massages to the head, neck and shoulders.
Mild Infections such as Colds and Sore Throats
Anna had regular sore throats which she relieved by gargling with salt water and sucking on ice cubes made from frozen apple juice. I also recommended lemon juice in warm water, as this natural antibiotic soothes the throat membranes. To stop infections spreading to her chest I suggested rubbing her throat with one or two tea tree oil drops diluted in warm water, or adding a few drops to her bath water. A natural sea water nasal spray meanwhile helped to relieve pain and congestion in her sinuses, as did warm compresses over her eyes and sinuses.
Other Common Complaints
As pregnancy hormones cause the ligaments of the pelvis to soften, mid and lower backache is commonly experienced. Try to sit on an exercise or ‘birthing’ ball whenever possible, and practise tucking your pelvis up and in temporarily when you remember to relieve pressure on the lower back. On their first visit to their midwife, expectant mums receive an NHS handbook with valuable information, including basic back and pelvic floor exercises. Anna also planned to join a local antenatal yoga class she had been recommended. Thrush is also common in pregnancy due to pregnancy hormones causing a yeast friendly environment in the vagina. Warm salt water baths can help, as well as eating plenty of live yoghurt or supplementing with live bacteria orally. Do not insert yoghurt or any vaginal acidophilus creams into the vagina.
In the second trimester, symptoms usually begin to improve. By four months Anna’s nausea had almost diminished and her appetite was very good. She still felt very tired and managed this with afternoon naps (caution: not after 3 pm or night sleep will be disturbed) and taking it easy in general. As the baby grows, the round ligaments in the abdomen stretch and cause stitch-like pains especially in the lower right quadrant. Anna learnt to bend into these pains and use yoga breathing to help the pain which was usually short lived.
In the last trimester Anna's backache increased and she invested in a maternity back support. She also brought a wedge seat for her car to tilt her pelvis the correct way whilst driving and slept on her left side with a pillow between her legs as this is the best position for the baby. It also takes pressure off the spine and internal organs as the baby grows quickly during the last few weeks of pregnancy.
At 34 weeks it was safe for Anna to drink raspberry leaf tea (to tone the uterus) and nettle tea (to provide nutrients such as iron). Although Anna's iron levels were normal, she was extremely tired and found fruit and vegetable juices very refreshing and energising. Otherwise the only remedy was lots of afternoon naps as she had finished work.
Whilst I would recommend taking great care with all supplements, essential oils and herbal remedies during pregnancy (especially the first three months), the following are extremely important to note:
Herbs to Avoid during Pregnancy
Aloes, Barberry, Black Cohosh, Bloodroot, Blue Cohosh, Buckthorn, Cascara Sagrada, Cinchona, Cottonroot, Greater Celandine, Juniper, Liferoot, Male Fern, Mandrake, Pennyroyal, Pokeroot, Rhubarb, Rue, Saffron, Sage, Tansy, Thuja and Wormwood.
Essential Oils to Avoid during Pregnancy
Basil, Camphor, Hyssop, Pennyroyal, Sage, Savoury, Thuja and Wintergreen.
1. Sahakian V et al. Vitamin B6 is Effective Eherapy for Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Study. Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Vol 78(1). pp 33-6. 1991.
2. Dura-Trave T et al. Maternal and Foetal Plasmatic Zinc Levels and Uterine Contractability. Gynaecol Obstet Invest. Vol 17. pp. 247-51. 1984.
3. Ehrenberg A. No-Medical Prevention of Pre-Eclampsia. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica – Supplement. Vol 164. pp.108-10. 1997.
4. Curtis S et al. Neal’s Yard Natural Remedies. 1988.
5. Glenville M. The Nutritional Health Handbook for Women. pp.359. 2001.
* Name changed on request.
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