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Discomforts of Pregnancy

© David L. Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMH

The First Trimester

Threatened Miscarriage
For many who have suffered miscarriage in the past, herbs may prove effective in preventing this from happening again, provided that the foetus is normal and general health, physical, emotional and mental, is good. No herbal remedy will block appropriate miscarriage. Most cases of miscarriage are a natural rejection of a malformed foetus. When it occurs more than once in the same woman, it may be related to a problem on her part, rather than the baby's. In this case it is especially important to build up her general health as well as that of her partner before they attempt to conceive again. To ensure fewer complications, women should take longer at least six to twelve months between pregnancies

Where chronic poor health, inadequate diet, or trauma and stress of any kind have depleted general strength, herbs can provide extra strength and vitality, especially to the womb, and so help avoid unnecessary miscarriage.

If abdominal cramping pains and bleeding occur, medical attention is needed immediately.

Specific Remedies
A number of plants have well deserved reputations in preventing miscarriage. It may be significant that two of them are now endangered species. Important plants are listed here, with the endangered ones in bold type:

Caulophyllum thalictroides (Blue cohosh)
Chamaelirium luteum (False unicorn root)
Cypripedium pubescens (Lady's Slipper)
Dioscorea villosa (Wild yam)
Viburnum opulus
(Cramp Bark)
Viburnum prunifolium (Black Haw)

Other plants that have been widely used to prevent miscarriage include Rosemary, Raspberry leaves, Hawthorn, Partridge Berry, Ginseng, Motherwort, Garlic and Fenugreek.

One Possible Prescription
Viburnum prunifolium 2 parts
Cimicifuga racemosa 2 parts
Caulophyllum thalictroides 1 part 2.5 ml of tincture three times a day, building up to 5 ml. three times day

This supplies the following actions :
Uterine tonic (Viburnum prunifolium, Cimicifuga racemosa, Caulophyllum thalictroides)
Nervine relaxant (Viburnum prunifolium, Cimicifuga racemosa)
Anti-spasmodic (Viburnum prunifolium, Cimicifuga racemosa, Caulophyllum thalictroides)

Broader Context of Treatment
Plenty of foods containing vitamins E and C should be eaten. Asparagus and celery are said to be strengthening.

Nausea, Vomiting (Morning Sickness)
It is seen in about 50% of pregnancies, and tends to be worse with each successive pregnancy. In most cases it will subside at the fourth month of pregnancy. The exact cause of is not known but there are various theories associated with it. Two important ones are:

1. The rapid change of hormone levels in early pregnancy, with resultant high levels of progesterone, may be related due to a stimulation of the vomit center in the brain. Progesterone relaxes the smooth muscle throughout the body, including that found in the arteries, and this produces a drop in blood pressure, which may account for the tiredness and lethargy associated with the nausea and sickness. During the first l2-24 weeks of the pregnancy, when most women experience sickness, the hormones are mostly produced in the corpus luteum in the ovaries. After this time the emphasis changes towards production of hormones from the placenta, possibly explaining why the sickness stops at around the time of the change over, l2-l4 weeks. Sickness could also be related to low blood pressure, especially with a relative lack of blood getting to the brain on rising which is caused by high progesterone levels. Getting up slowly will help to relieve this.

2. It may also be associated with low blood sugar, which normally occurs in early pregnancy. The nausea is often relieved through raising blood sugar levels by eating small, frequent meals. This should not have a high sugar concentration as sugar in the stomach can aggravate nausea.

Specific Remedies
There are no general rules for treating morning sickness, as the causes vary from one woman to another. Treatment should aim at what is seen as the underlying cause. Anti-emetics are important as they will reduce the vomit reflex whatever the cause. Valuable anti-emetics that are safe to use in early pregnancy include:
Ballota nigra (Black Horehound)
Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet)
Gentiana lutea (Gentian)
Rosemarinus officinalis
(Rosemary)

Many of the herbs which aid digestion will help. The carminative, anti-spasmodic and relaxing nervines are especially important. Examples include:
Cinnamomum aromaticum (Cinnamon bark)
Dioscorea villosa (Wild Yam)
Eugenia spp. (Cloves)
Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel seeds)
Humulus lupulus (Hops)
Lavandula spp. (Lavender)
Matricaria recutita (Chamomile)
Melissa officinalis (Balm)
Mentha piperita (Peppermint)
Rubus idaeus (Raspberry leaves)
Zingiber officinale (Ginger root)

Mucilage rich demulcents such as Chondrus crispus (Iceland Moss) and Ulmus fulva (Slippery Elm) will soothe the whole of the digestive tract. They are both highly nutritious containing many minerals and trace elements and easily digested, ideal for conditions associated with weakness of the stomach.

One Possible Prescription
Zingiber officinalis
Dioscorea Villosa
Ballota nigra equal parts 2.5 ml of tincture at night and in morning building up to 5 ml. if needed
Mentha piperita
Matricaria recutita equal parts of dried herb to make an infusion
1 teaspoonful to a cup.

Broader Treatment Considerations
  • Eat small meals all day rather than three large meals.
  • Avoid certain foods or odors that bring on symptoms.
  • Small starch snacks such as eating crackers in bed before arising.
  • 100-300mg of B6/day.
  • Maintain electrolyte balance if vomiting is severe.

Constipation
Progesterone relaxes the intestinal muscles and so reduces their power to propel the contents of the bowel towards the rectum and out of the body. As pregnancy progresses, and the weight of the baby and placenta increases, the tendency to constipation is aggravated by the pressure exerted by these on the lower bowel. When the enlarged uterus impedes the circulation to the bowel, the action of the intestinal muscles is also restricted, as it is by any tension or anxiety which a pregnant woman experiences. Intake of iron as a supplement exacerbates or can cause constipation. Eating small starchy meals consisting of refined flour also contributes to the problem.

For more details about the herbal treatment of constipation please refer to that section in the digestive system.

DO NOT USE ANTHRAQUINONE CONTAINING STIMULANT LAXATIVES.


Please consult the section on constipation. Aim for gentle therapy, utilizing the following treatment considerations:
Increase water intake to 8 glasses per day.
Increase exercise, walk 1/2 mile per day.
Increase intake of fresh fruits and some dried fruits such as prunes, raisins, figs.
Increase roughage.
Bulk laxatives such as Psyllium seeds (1 tablespoonful 3 times a day in 1/4 cup juice).

Varicosities
These may occur early in pregnancy but generally get worse as the pregnancy advances. Symptoms vary from painless cosmetically problematic regions to mild or severe pain. Sometimes there may be a varicosity in the labia majora. For more details on the herbal treatment of varicosities please refer to the section in the Cardio-Vascular chapter.

Fatigue and Somnolence

It is normal for some pregnant women to require excessive periods of rest or sleep during the first trimester. Sleep requirements can be as much as 18 hours per day. If the woman is not working or going to school and does not have young children it is advisable to sleep whenever possible. Some women become depressed at their inability continue the normal daily activity levels established before the pregnancy. Women should be counseled that this symptom usually remits totally by the fourth month of gestation. Blood studies should be checked to rule out anemia. Sometimes ingestion of protein will alleviate this symptom.

Avoid herbal stimulants, neurological of metabolic.

Anaemia

The prevention of anaemia is a most important aspect of ante-natal care. Haemoglobin, the iron and protein compound contained in red blood cells (erythrocytes), is responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs around the body including (of course) both placenta and foetus. If haemoglobin levels in the blood fall, so the body's ability to access oxygen falls accordingly.

During pregnancy the blood volume increases at a faster rate than the erythrocytes multiply, so they are diluted by extra fluid. There is a relative drop in haemoglobin carried by the erythrocytes of about 1 gm to approximately 11 gms. Below this level anaemia is said to exist, and may be identified by lethargy, irritability and breathlessness on slight exertion. Anaemia commonly occurs in the last two months of pregnancy, when the baby takes a high proportion of the mother's iron. It helps to build up iron reserves before pregnancy starts, so that the mother meets the increased iron demands without any problems. A history of menorrhagia would also suggest iron reserves might be low.

The best approach is to increase dietary intake of iron-containing foods. These include:

liver (best only from organically produced meat, as the liver is the detoxifying organ of mammals, and may contain residues of chemicals if it was factory reared),
free range eggs,
dairy produce,
watercress,
dried apricots,
whole-wheat bread,
cocoa and carob,
cabbage,
alfalfa,
beetroot,
cherries,
currants and raisins,
brown rice,
kelp,
wheatgerm,
sunflower seeds,
parsley,
chicory,
lentils.
blackcurrants, blackberries, strawberries
spinach

Leafy herbs that can be added to salads or cooked as a vegetable and added to soups include :
Crataegus spp. Hawthorn flowers and leaves.
Rumex acetosella Sorrel
Symphytum officinale Comfrey leaves (in moderation)
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion leaves
Urtica dioica Nettles

Herbs which contain valuable levels of iron include :
Arctium lappa Burdock leaves
Gentian lutea Gentian
Crataegus spp. Hawthorn
Humulus lupulus Hops
Rubus idaeus Raspberry leaves
Scutellaria spp. Skullcap
Verbena officinalis Vervain
Rumex crispus Yellow Dock

All iron-containing foods are better absorbed in the presence of an animal protein. Vitamin C also enhances iron absorption. Watercress, Rose hips, Blackberries, Blackcurrants, Elderberries, Parsley, Spinach, Dandelion leaves (the list is endless) all contain both iron and vitamin C, and natural iron never causes constipation.

Dizziness
This is common in pregnancy due to relaxation of the blood vessel walls by progesterone. It is a form of postural hypotension. However, this does not call for hypertensives such as Scot's Broom as such herbs may be too strong for both mother and foetus. More frequently seen in early pregnancy.
  • Change positions slowly.
  • Eat small meals rather that 3 large meals.
  • Maintain blood sugar level.

Heartburn
This is one of the most common complaints of pregnancy, caused by reflux of gastric contents into the esophagus due to back pressure. The treatment approach is discussed in the section on gastritis and reflux in the Digestive System chapter.

The relaxing effects of progesterone reach the cardiac sphincter, the valve guarding the entrance to the stomach at the bottom of the oesophagus. As a result of this, as the enlarging uterus pushes up against the stomach, small amounts of the stomach's contents are passed into the lower oesophagus. Hydrochloric acid mixed with the stomach contents irritate and burn the oesophagus, and result in an inflammatory process. In more extreme cases, parts of the stomach itself can be pushed up through the diaphragm or into the oesophagus, and cause some degree of hiatus hernia.

Bleeding Gums
Frequently seen in pregnancy. Gingival hypertrophy is also seen in 40% of pregnancies. Follow the topical advice given for gingivitis but not the internal treatment.
  • Brush gums frequently with a soft brush.
  • Vitamin C and bioflavonoids complex to 2000mg daily

Headache
Seen in early pregnancy and worse between 3 and 5 months. A few cases may result from eye strain as pregnancy can result in a change in the amount of refractive error. Some cases result from sinusitis. Frontal headaches are seen with hypertension. Please refer to the section on headaches in the Nervous System chapter.

Vaginal Infections

These are discussed in the chapter on immunity and infections.

Hemorrhoids
May occur for th
e first time during pregnancy or the pregnancy may exacerbate an already existing condition. This is caused by increased pressure and impairment of return of venous fluid in the hemorrhoidal veins by the pressure of the enlarging uterus. Constipation makes the problem worse. Congestion of liver function caused by intake of junk foods, refined flour and alcohol encourage the problem as the hemorrhoidal veins are part of the portal drainage system.

The treatment approach is discussed in the section on hemorrhoids in the Digestive System chapter.

Discomforts of Pregnancy: The Second and Third Trimesters

Stretch Marks

Genetic predisposition is the predominant factor in the development of stretch marks. When new the marks resemble purple striae, and after a period of time they revert to silvery cicatrix. They occur when the skin is stretched beyond normal capacity and elasticity, in this case related to progesterone and rapid weight gain. The tendency to develop stretch marks can be reduced by eating appropriately and using remedies to address the collagen problems in the skin.

Vitamins E, C and B5 (pantothenic acid) can help as well as Zinc. These can all be obtained from the diet. The following are recommended in Herbs for Pregnancy and Childbirth by Anne McIntyre:
Sunflower seeds and oil, pumpkin seeds, wheatgerm, onions, eggs, lettuce, cucumber,
cabbage, radishes, horseradish, rice bran, asparagus, parsnips,
brewer's yeast, whole grains, fish, alfalfa, molasses.

Wheatgerm or vitamin E oil massaged into the breasts, abdomen and thighs daily will reduce the likelihood of marks developing. Calendula oil mixed with wheatgerm oil is especially helpful.

Backache
High levels of progesterone during pregnancy affect the tendons and ligaments throughout the body, having a softening effect which allows them to expand where necessary to accommodate the growing baby. This affects the spine particularly, and the relaxation of the ligaments supporting the spine plus the weight of the growing abdomen pulling on it often causes backache. The characteristic posture adopted by quite heavily pregnant mothers, leaning backwards, places added strain on the lower joints of the spine.

Bad posture will aggravate this. Too much exercise or bending the wrong way will certainly not help, and a rapid weight gain in pregnancy may bring out symptoms of previous damage to the back as increasing strain is imposed upon it. Yoga exercises may be helpful, with the certain asanas being recommended by experts. Rest is important to prevent or relieve backache, especially in the last three months. Deep breathing and relaxation exercises also help. Baths with Lavender and Rosemary can help soothe the pain. Massage of the whole spine with a mixture of Chamomile and Geranium oil can be effective.

Hypertension
Gestational hypertension is characterized by a steady rise in blood pressure after the 28th week of gestation. The general rule for the upper limit of gestational hypertension is 140/90. It may be caused by:
  • Emotional and physical stress.
  • Obesity.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Drugs and stimulants.
  • Diet including processed & heavily salted carbohydrates with inadequate protein intake.

Herbal treatment can do much to mitigate this form of secondary hypertension, but the blood pressure must be monitored closely as it may rise dangerously fast in some situations. Please refer to the section on hypertension in the chapter on the cardio-vascular system.
  • Exercise: this forces blood through the vasculature and the vasculature will respond by stretching and relaxing if it is healthy and flexible. Brisk walking or swimming is recommended. This works best when a tendency for blood pressure rise is first noted and is not appropriate for very elevated pressures.
  • Deep relaxation or meditation, please refer to the appropriate section.
  • No stimulants including coffee, nicotine, cocaine: all are linked to hypertension, restriction of blood flow to the placenta and small-for-gestational-age babies.
  • Improved diet: good quality protein and fresh fruits.
  • Increase water intake.
  • Rest, particularly lying on the left side.
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About The Author
Whilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it with hope, he as an individual had to be whole within himself....more
 
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