Post-Partum Herbal Strategy

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In my last post it was mentioned that I used placenta supplements within the context of a more global post-partum herbal strategy.  So for those that might be curious about what exactly this post-partum herbal strategy was, here it is.

But before I start.  Disclaimer: just because it worked for me doesn’t mean it is appropriate or recommended for you.  It is provided purely as brain candy to the herbal geek.  Consult with a skilled herbalist prior to taking any plant-based medicine since it’s just that – medicine.

Part 1 – Post-Partum Weeks 0-2:  Tighten and Soothe

These are the two weeks that your hoo-ha feels like a train-wreck; your hormones make your mind look like a helicopter without a tail-rotor and you’re running on no sleep trying to understand the messages the new little person you’ve plopped out.

This is the time to re-center and bind everything, both literally and figuratively, using herbal astringents.  It’s also good to support them with nerve tonics, demulcents and plants rich in easily assimilated iron and minerals to help replenish the body after the Herculean effort of giving birth.

Three cups a day of the following blend was my take on that:

  • 2 parts uva-ursi (tighten the uterus and keep it infection-free)
  • 2 parts partridge-berry (if you can’t find a cultivated source, use lady’s mantle – DON’T use the wild-crafted herb if you can help it as it is notoriously slow-growing)
  • 1 part raspberry leaf (uterine tonic; there’s only one part since by this point I was so sick of the taste of raspberry leaf that it wasn’t even funny)
  • 2 parts mallow leaf (softens and soothes; this should read comfrey leaf but it shouldn’t be used internally, ahem, so use mallow instead)
  • 1 part nettle (high in minerals; same personal note as for raspberry leaf)
  • 2 parts peppermint (cuz it tastes good; it’s also uplifting)
  • 1 part St-John’s Wort (to elevate mood)

To soothe the bruising and stitches in the nether-regions, the herbal version of the Tucks medicated pads you get to put in your underwear at the hospital is a set of organic cotton wipes soaked in a mild solution of witch hazel.  For those into homeopathy, this would also be the time to whip out your arnica.  For those into flower remedies, a combination of Rescue Remedy and Olive can be a good choice.

On the lifestyle front, try and get some sunshine daily, even if it’s -30°C.  Also try and get a full shower daily, alone if possible.  It will be a Godsend in those first few days and help you feel somewhat human in the face of sleep deprivation.  And keep in mind I said try, reality is that it may simply not be feasible.

Although any exercise is probably out of the question at this point, and if you’ve just given birth you’re giving me the ‘’you gotta be kidding’’ look, do Kegels.  Lots of Kegels.  Tons and tons of Kegels.  Trust me.  They’re what’ll help you sneeze or cough without leaking.  Kegels are your best friend, not Tena pads.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about right now, then you’ll find some answers here: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/womens-health/in-depth/kegel-exercises/art-20045283?pg=1 & http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health-advisor/the-right-way-to-do-kegels-exercise-like-a-jellyfish/article17451679/.

In the diet department, I know that right after delivering all I wanted was greasy pizza and something caffeinated.  Once you get that out of your system however, try and maintain a balanced diet with lots of leafy greens and plenty of water.  Molasses, pomegranate and beet-root are good to rebuild blood while incorporating fennel, asparagus and sesame can help lactation along if that’s necessary.  A couple of recipes that I’ve really enjoyed can be found here: http://www.theppk.com/2011/12/roasted-potato-fennel-soup/ & here: http://www.theppk.com/2012/03/roasty-soba-bowl/.

Part 2 – Post-Partum Weeks 2-6:  Rejuvenate and Nurture

At this point you can probably walk without it looking like there’s a basketball between your legs and you may no longer need a pillow on every chair in the house.  You’re also starting to get to know some of baby’s cues and don’t always feel like the idiot who got left out in the cold with no mothering instinct.  You just feel that way some of the time.

Rebuilding Blood, energy (Qi) and vitality (Essence) is what it’s all about here.  Deeply nourishing tonics and adaptogens are the way to go, preferably taken as/with food.  Alongside this, the nervines are once again a well-advised choice, this time combined with carminatives to aid in the digestion of the rejuvenative herbs which can be more taxing on the Spleen/Stomach duo.

At our house that prescription looked something like this:

Breakfast: Usual wake-up food like toast or cereal along with a Magic bullet of:

Variation #1

  • 1 banana
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast (protein and those B vitamins)
  • 1 tsp bee pollen (local and sustainably sourced)
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek (yang tonic and galactogogue)
  • 1/2 tsp gotu kola tincture (steadies the mind, helps with mommy-brain)
  • ½ tsp dandelion root tincture (support the liver)
  • Almond milk to fill

Variation #2

  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 mango
  • 1 tbsp green mix (a combo of spirulina, wheatgrass, barleygrass and gotu kola)
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek (yang tonic and galactogogue)
  • 1 tsp powdered eleuthero (adaptogen, helps with stamina and stress)
  • ½ tsp dandelion root tincture (support the liver)
  • Water to fill

Lunch (daily for about 10 days and once a week thereafter):

  • A bowl of pork-ribs tea for which you can find the recipe here: http://www.chinesesouppot.com/1-soup-recipes/2081-pork-ribs-tea-herbal-bah-kut-teh.   It’s a Chinese soup/tea (tang) full of tonic and blood-building herbs.  (And if you actually have all of the herbs at home to make it – you truly are an herb junkie.  Or a Chinese Herbalist.  Or both.)  An alternative to the soup for vegetarians and vegans is to take Dang Gui Four Combination (Si wu tang) since many of the herbs are the same; if desired some goji and jujube date can be added.  In case you don’t have a Chinese Herbal laying around the house, here’s what that alternative contains:
  • Prepared rehmannia glutinosa (Shu Di Huang) 10-15g
  • Angelica sinensis (Dang Gui) 9-12g
  • Ligusticum wallichii (Chuan Xiong) 6-9g
  • White Peony lactiflora (Bai Shao) 9-12g
    • Supplement of 2 placenta capsules, 00 size.  Continued for two and a half weeks and then discontinued once mood and energy levels were mostly stabilized.  An alternative to the placenta if you’re not that crunchy would be a teaspoon of Chyavanprash herbal jelly taken daily.
    • Herbal tea, 3-4 cups daily: Warning – these taste OK, but far from fabulous.  I didn’t work the blends to develop the finest of epicurean flavours since it was only for me.  Besides, as a result of long habituation, my tolerance for bitter and less tasty is probably somewhat higher than the norm.

Variation #1 – Infuse for 20-25 minutes

  • 3 tsp fennel seed, lightly crushed (carminative, galactagogue)
  • 2 tsp green cardamom, lightly crushed (carminative, catalyst)
  • 3 pieces of mace (sedative, carminative)
  • 4 cups of water, boiling

Variation #2 – Infuse for 10-15 minutes

  • 1/2 cup skullcap (nervine)
  • 1/2 cup catnip (nervine)
  • 1/4 cup fennel seed, lightly crushed (carminative, galactogogue)
  • 1/4 cup peppermint (uplifting, catalyst)
  • 1-2 tbsp caraway seed, lightly crushed (carminative)

Variation #3 – Infuse for 10-15 minutes

  • 1/2 cup passionflower (nervine)
  • 1/2 cup catnip (nervine)
  • 1/2 cup nettle (tonic)
  • 1/2 cup spearmint (uplifting, catalyst)
  • 1/4 cup dill seed, lightly crushed (carminative)
  • 1-2 tbsp dried dill weed (carminative)
  • A generous smattering of rose petals (they look pretty)

In lifestyle land, it’s the same as before: sunshine, shower and a balanced diet without too many visits to the temple of take-out.  And again, do what you can.  Just the herbal regime above would be daunting for someone who doesn’t already include herbs as a part of their regular routine.  If you have to choose one small thing, start with one of the lifestyle components and branch out from there.

If there’s any time left between breast-feeding, feeding yourself and the laundry, you could consider a bit of light exercise.  Walking outside is a good choice, swimming is too.  A beginner’s yoga video would be another possibility.  Don’t be make the mistake of trying to be ambitious as I did and try T25 at week 5 post-partum: I did a couple of jumping jacks and felt like I was going to have to mop my uterus and bladder up off the floor.  Which brings me back to Kegels.  Lots of Kegels.  Tons and tons of Kegels.

Part 3 – Post-Partum Weeks 6+:  Adapt and Sustain

Your healed stitches are probably itchy some of the time, particularly when it’s impolite to scratch your crotch, and sex may well be uncomfortable (very…) if you’ve given that a go yet.  As your body adapts to sleep deprivation and you find out that four hours of shut-eye in a row is a blessing, the bags under your eyes may begin to subside.  Of course, it could just be that you don’t notice them anymore, the same way you’ve stopped noticing spit-up and baby slobber on your clothing.

Herbal adaptogens and energy (Qi) tonics along with foods to build the body can be a great back-bone to work from.  One needn’t go at it as aggressively as in the previous month however.  An herbal shake with breakfast in the morning a few times a week would be fine.   Syrup of tonic herbs and blackstrap molasses would be another possibility.  Whatever the choice, it should be pleasant to take so that it can easily be continued on a long-term basis.  You should not look like my husband when he takes one of my medicinal tinctures.  Just in case you can’t imagine what that looks like, here’s a photo:

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Alteratives and herbs supportive of the liver are also helpful, particularly the roots like dandelion, burdock and yellow dock which also have a grounding action and the indomitable spirit of the perennial weeds that is so necessary to any new parent.  Decocted roots such as these make very robust and coffee-like brews that can be comforting without depleting the adrenals they way surviving from one java to the next will.  I like to combine any three or more of the following (there are never any exact measurements or recipe; it ends up being a blend of whatever I have on hand):

  • Burdock root (usually the main part of any blend)
  • Roasted dandelion root (roasting gives the coffee-ness to it)
  • Roasted chicory root (roasting gives the coffee-ness to it)
  • Roasted carob
  • Angelica root (go easy on this one, it’s a potent medicinal, but it does taste good)
  • Licorice root (go easy on this too, it’s pretty sweet and can get cloying quickly)
  • Yellow dock root (go easy again, it’s quite bitter and also on the laxative side)
  • Cacao nibs (if you want a bit of caffeine)
  • Maca powder (if you want a stimulant in there)
  • Eleuthero root (good adaptogen without a strong taste and way cheaper than ginseng)
  • Codonopsis root (poor man’s ginseng, it isn’t as strong but you can afford to buy it)
  • Stevia (if you like it sweet, but don’t be heavy handed – 1/4 tsp goes a LONG way)

Those nervines that have been there from the start can be continued over the long-haul too.  They sustain the nervous system and allow for better dealing with the curve-balls that life throws.  Furthermore, for the breast-feeding mother, they also affect the baby, helping them to maintain their equanimity and reduce the severity of happy hour.  (Note for those who don’t have kids: happy hour is no longer about drinking with chums after work.  Instead it becomes the time of day when you’re pooped and kids act up – usually right about when you’re burning dinner to the tune of a shrieking chorus in the background.  The stuff child-rearing dreams are made of. Really.)

Lifestyle and diet recommendations are the usual broken record: eat well, try and find time to relax amidst the pandemonium and move your body.  Don’t neglect the spirit – laugh and don’t take yourself too seriously.  If it’s your first, like my sister so wisely told me, ‘’don’t worry, you’ll be a shitty parent.  We all suck with our first.  It’s ok.  Consider it the trial run.’’

Finally, remember that the herbal combinations I used and that are given above are simply examples.  The main thing to remember are the principles and herbal actions being applied in each post-partum phase: lots of different herbs exist that will fulfill these.  There are lots of right ways to do it, just like parenting.

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