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The Use of Herbs For Pre-Conceptual Care in Older Mothers - A Case Study

by Carol Rogers(more info)

listed in women's health, originally published in issue 181 - April 2011

Jennifer was aged 38 when she came to consult me, several years ago. She was mother to two children, six and three years old, and she had been hoping to have another child to complete her family. An outgoing, cheerful person, she happily balanced her family commitments and a part-time position in local government.

Herbal garden

Unfortunately, she told me, she had miscarried four months ago at twelve weeks. She was told that the embryo had failed to form properly beyond six weeks gestation. In fact , this is not an uncommon problem amongst older women. As Jennifer had carried two children to term already, it was assumed there was no reason why she could not conceive naturally again; it was only her age which would increase the likelihood of complications. In every other respect, she was generally in good health. She was optimistic however, and going to try again in a little while. She was not wanting to leave it too long, of course.

Both previous pregnancies had been normal. Her second child was born at home. Her periods were regular and monthly, and lasted 2-3 days. One issue that caused me concern was that she was overweight for her height, at five feet and six inches, being eleven and a half stone. She told me how she had managed to lose a stone the previous year, and was able to do so again. Carrying too much weight has been identified as an issue in pre conceptual difficulties. She had a back problem, and it had been described as hyper-mobile. She had had been doing the Alexander Technique for a few years which she found was stabilizing it.

She had come to consult me, she said, about a problem that bothered her, and which was related to her pregnancies, which was that she had been left with quite bad varicose veins, which were still distended and uncomfortable when standing for a while. She wanted to avoid worsening the situation, if possible, in a next pregnancy, and had heard that herbs may be helpful. Her circulation was not good, and her blood pressure was always on the low side. Both her mother and father had problems with varicose veins.

She was actively trying to conceive, so my aim was to support her in this, but with nutritional supplements only, at this time, and to treat the varicose veins for two months to improve them before the start of another pregnancy, as some of these herbs would need to be discontinued.

I prescribed Horse chestnut which has a toning effect on vein walls particularly, and is beneficial for poor circulation. She was to take 2 capsules twice daily. In addition, a daily vitamin supplement, vitamin, C, B complex and E.  A herbal tea accompanied these, of Hawthorn, Yarrow, Bilberry, Chamomile and Peppermint - a cup twice daily, with the last ingredient to make it palatable. Hawthorn encourages good blood circulation, Yarrow has a specific astringent effect on the circulation, tightening and improving the tissue. The use of Bilberry is well known for varicose veins. Externally an local application of Aloe Vera gel with Comfrey root, Witch hazel and Horse chestnut, was made, for its toning and soothing effects.

On her next visit, Jennifer informed me that she was nine weeks pregnant. She was feeling very happy about it, but was a little nauseous and fatigued. There was some improvement in the discomfort of her varicose veins. I needed to tailor the prescription according to her pregnancy, removing Horse Chestnut as it is contra -indicated, and making a tea of hawthorn, chamomile and rose, mildly supporting for circulation, and gently calming. She continued the gel application and vitamins C, B complex and E.

Sadly, she miscarried at twelve weeks, in the early Spring, but I did not hear about it until much later when Jennifer returned in the winter. Again the explanation was "a blighted ovum". It was an earlier miscarriage this time, and she did not have a D&C. She explained that they had been trying to conceive without success since, for seven months. She had returned for some advice on pre-conceptual care. She reported that following a course of acupuncture over the previous six months, she was feeling better in herself. She wanted to try a course of herbal medicine for three months or so before trying again to conceive. I based her prescription around four herbs commonly used by herbalists for conceptual difficulties; equal parts of Chamelerium, Squaw Vine, also called Partridge Berry, Chinese Angelica and Rehmannia. The dose was quite small, to be well within safety limits, of 40 drops (2ml) of herbal tincture, diluted in water, twice daily. There was sufficient for twelve weeks.

Chamelerium, or false Unicorn root which is indigenous to North America and beloved of the native American peoples, has a fine reputation as a partus preparator (in conception). It is a tonic for the female reproductive organs, especially if the uterus is weak, as such it is indicated where the woman has had several children. It is especially indicated if the woman is fatigued and chilly. Its hormonal effect is mainly as a mild oestrogenic agent, but it can boost the hormone level if needed. On the ovary it works to enhance the luteal or ripening phase of the cycle, and as such it may benefit healthy egg production As a known herbal anti-abortifacient, I have used it successfully in my own practice with women on a number of occasions when miscarriage was threatening.

Squaw vine can be used as a partus preparator and during parturition, I used it here to prepare the womb by toning and strengthening it.

Chinese Angelica improves blood circulation in the pelvic area, and hence the function of the female reproductive organs. Chinese angelica ( Dang Gui) and Rehmannia ( Shu Di Huang) are known as blood tonics in Chinese medicine, and as such they encourage 'Yin' or female essence. They build blood to grow uterine endometrial lining, nurture baby's growth and support the mother's strength.

In addition I prescribed a pre-natal nutritional supplement, Strong Start, which contained vitamins and minerals indicated as beneficial for a successful conception. Very low blood levels of specific minerals, has been linked with repeated miscarriage.

In the following months, she continued the herbal programme, with the additional of the herbal tea again for varicose veins, and to support her circulation. She was keen to take the Horse chestnut tablets again, as the veins had worsened when she stopped.

Jennifer returned in the summer when I was away, as she was now pregnant, and she consulted a colleague who reassured her concerning the herbs she had been taking in pregnancy. A daily foot and leg bath of Witch hazel, Horse chestnut and Oak bark was recommended instead. Also a herbal tea to support her circulation instead was prescribed, as before, with the addition of Bilberry and Buckwheat. She was feeling well and confident, and was expecting the baby in December.

Jennifer visited in November to discuss the delivery, her expected date was early December, when she would be aged thirty nine and a half. She was pleased she was able to have another home birth, which was agreed as she had one previously. At this period, home delivery was usually discouraged for women of her age. We talked through her previous deliveries in general terms, and what she might expect again. She was overdue by nearly two weeks each time, and was concerned about it happening again. She related that labour had been long both times. With her second baby it was fourteen hours from the outset, and with a longer than normal delivery time as she was pushing for four hours. I prescribed raspberry leaf tablets, excellent folk medicine, and often used by herbalists in the last few weeks of pregnancy. It enhances the natural action of the uterus in the last month of pregnancy, ensuring strong and even muscle contractions in labour. I mentioned one or two herbs which she could use during labour if she wished to consider it.

Before Christmas I had a lovely card from her, pictured with her family and the new baby. Her new son weighed in at a healthy eight pounds and four ounces. It was a great surprise, she said, that she went into labour on her due date! She reported labour was slow as before, but delivery was straight forward. She had done very well.

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Menzies-Trull C. Herbal Medicine. Faculty of Physiomedical Herbal Medicine. Staffs, U.K. 2003.
McIntyre A. The Complete Woman's Herbal. Gaia Books Ltd. London. 1994.
Priest. A.W and L.R Herbal Medication. A Clinical and Dispensary Handbook. L.N Fowler & Co Ltd. 1982.
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About Carol Rogers

Carol Rogers BSc MNIMH is a retired member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists; she had been a herbal practitioner since 1988. She has a life long interest in women's issues and ran a busy menopause clinic from 2001-2009 in Glasgow. She is the author of The Women's Guide to Herbal Medicine, published in 1995, now available as a free download from her website: www.womensherbalguide.com She may be contacted via carol@womensherbalguide.com

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