This piece by Juliana O’Boyle was first published in The Doula magazine.
As a pregnant mum myself I had endless questions and worries; how do I eat safely and naturally to meet my baby’s nutritional needs? Which herbs and supplements are safe and effective for my nausea, heartburn, cankles, and anxiety? How do I prepare myself for an optimal birthing experience (besides a friendly doula)? And even how do I prevent haemorrhoids? You name it! I know from my experience with clients that I certainly wasn’t alone in these concerns, and at a time when pregnancy and birth are becoming increasingly medicalised, a visit to a naturopath is a great way to support mother and baby naturally. In addition, if some medical interventions are necessary it can be helpful to get support and advice on how to balance or prevent any negative side effects or undo issues arising from conventional treatment. Not to mention getting answers on the best choices for the long-term health of little one. My experience on both sides of conventional and alternative health management has put me in a unique position to offer non-judgmental advice and support, whilst always putting safety first.
Science has enabled us to take a sneak peek at what goes on inside and how both the mother and developing baby’s bodies grow and change during each of the stages of pregnancy, so we can truly appreciate the magnitude of what is happening. Increasingly, parents-to-be are learning to appreciate the difference that a proactive, healthy approach to pregnancy can make for both mother and baby. Naturopathic medicine is an integrative health care philosophy that recognises the importance of health during conception, pregnancy, labour and birth. It follows a holistic approach and seeks to identify and treat the underlying cause of a condition rather than just the symptoms. The naturopathic philosophy is that the body wants to heal itself, so one might prescribe herbs and other techniques to restore vitality and physiological balance to enable it to do this.
The principles of Naturopathy were first used by the Hippocratic School of Medicine in about 400 BC. The Greek philosopher Hippocrates believed in viewing the whole person in regards to finding a cause of disease, and using the laws of nature to induce cure. It was from this original school of thought that Naturopathy takes its principles:
- The healing power of nature – nature has the innate ability to heal
- Identify and treat the cause – there is always an underlying cause, be it physical or emotional
- Do no harm – a Naturopath will never use treatments that may create other conditions
- Treat the whole person – when preparing a treatment plan, all aspects of a person’s being are taken into consideration
- The Naturopath as a teacher – a Naturopath empowers the patient to take responsibility for his/her own health by teaching self-care
- Prevention is better than cure – a Naturopath may remove toxic substances and situations from a patient’s lifestyle to prevent the onset of further disease.
Natural remedies are safe for foetal development and offer vast benefits for both mother and baby. They bring you into balance rather than merely disguise symptoms and encourage your body’s natural intuition, to trust and believe in a woman’s innate ability to do this. In my practice I use herbal medicine, dietary advice, Bach flower remedies and recommend appropriate holistic natural treatments or lifestyle techniques that are often based on the scientific values of functional medicine (see the Institute of Functional Medicine website for details).
When you consider the principle ‘you are what you eat’ it’s quite easy to see that the health of baby is going to be directly correlated to the food that you put in your mouth. A mama’s body is literally crying out for additional nutrients during this time; did you know dark chocolate is full of magnesium necessary for pregnancy? Or that eating DHA-rich oily fish in your third trimester may not only prevent post-partum depression but also contribute to the optimal development of baby’s growing brain (get saving for those University fees!). Taking the right probiotics at key stages can promote healthy gut bacteria to be passed on to baby, which is key for their good long-term health. I also know the last thing one may feel like in those early nausea filled days is a bowl of beautifully steamed vegetables, so it’s important to have the right supplementation. Some are contraindicated and some are essential but all can be accurately ascertained from a consultation with a naturopath. Pregnancy is not the time to rely on self-medication, information from a chemist or a health shop assistant. I recommend key quality nutrients based on an individual’s history and profile – one size certainly doesn’t fit all. I also give numerous helpful tips such as small regular meals every 2-3 hours to balance blood sugar and so prevent queasiness – keep a bag of organic almonds for example in your handbag to nibble on. Food quality should be at its absolute highest to get maximum nutrient density and avoid unnecessary toxic load.
It’s essential to remember that pregnancy is not an illness and there are plenty of people who largely carry on with normal life. Unnecessary anxiety about the process is unhelpful to both mum and baby. There are many herbs and remedies that can be used to help manage any sources of stress. Sometimes just chatting about worries with a friendly professional in a relaxed consultation can be all that it takes, or a few key supplements can prevent a persistent low mood becoming a darker cloud that could affect your magical first weeks with your newborn. Gentle exercise should be encouraged for it’s many uplifting benefits, as should plenty of sleep – get it whilst you can.
At home with baby
Whilst no one would expect any mum to be jumping back into zumba classes in the first few weeks following birth, it is a huge bonus to feel in optimal condition or to get a bit of natural support managing energy levels for all those nightly feeding sessions. For those struggling to maintain adequate milk supply, herbal medicine and a few diet tips can be invaluable. If a caesarean or other intervention was necessary for a birth then are many ways to speed up recovery using natural techniques.
Ultimately a mother is the sun around which a family and home revolve, and her wellbeing is of the utmost importance. Getting in tiptop condition early will benefit everyone around you and help you all to enjoy each special moment.
Juliana is a qualified herbalist and naturopath registered with The Association of Master Herbalists. Contact West London Naturopathy for advice: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.westlondonnaturopathy.com