Exploring Plant Medicine for Pregnancy and Birth

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 Farrah Sheehan Deselle, MSN, RN, CLC, CCE (BFW)

Childbirth and Parenting Preparation, Education and Support Program Coordinator

Catholic Medical Center

 

“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.” 
― Robin Wall KimmererBraiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

I just returned from the New England Women’s Herbal Conference this past weekend.  It was a wonderful weekend filled with learning and appreciation for the plants around us, how they heal, and what they bring to us as people, women, and healers. I arrived back home, and back to work with a more fully developed reverence for the plant world around us. I also began exploring how plants have been used in childbirth, where plant medicine currently is in our childbirth culture and how we integrate plants into health and healing in the time of birth at The Mom’s Place (TMP) at Catholic Medical Center (CMC).

Did you know 25% of western pharmaceuticals (medicine) are derived from rain forest materials, the richest and most dense areas of plant life on earth?  On all continents and for most of human history, there is evidence of the use of plants as medicine.  Plants are the original healers of the world.  So, how can women utilize this natural resource during pregnancy, birth and postpartum?  What do you need to know about plants and herbs for health and healing? What are some resources to further explore this topic?

First, it is important to know that while many herbal remedies are safe for pregnancy and birth, some are not.  If you are not sure, pick up a resource or check with your local herbalist to learn more.  A great online source is: http://avivaromm.com/herbal-medicines-in-pregnancy-safety. Most health care professionals trained in western medicine did not learn about herbal remedies during their education. As a result, they often either advise against using herbal remedies or let families know that they do not have the knowledge to provide adequate advice.  But, there are plenty of people and other resources who can help you.  If you want to use plant medicine, keep searching until you find a good resource for you.

One of the books I like is Herbal for the Childbearing Year by Susun S. Weed.  While some herbs have been tested, many have not, and Weed reminds us that the use of plants as medicine (how to use them and what to use them for), is a practice that has been handed down over generations.  The knowledge and practice was developed by people using the herbs and learning what they did and how they helped, and then trying them again and again. Over time, more and more people came to know how to use the remedies.    Aviva Romm, MD and a well known herbalist says  “Little is known scientifically about the safety of most herbs during pregnancy, as most have not been formally evaluated and ethical considerations limit human clinical investigation during pregnancy. However, much the same can be said for the use of many pharmaceuticals during pregnancy, most of which have not been tested or proven safe in pregnancy.”  Weed also reminds us that any time you use a remedy, use your instincts and your own awareness of your body to determine if it is right for you. 

More and more women are exploring plant healing. Often, pregnancy and parenting are times in a women’s life when she begins to explore the use of herbs for herself and her family.  Women sometimes find these remedies to be more helpful than the western medicine alternative, or have fewer side effects.  Some women like the idea that they can make the remedies themselves at home. Preparing her own food or medicine can be a very empowering act for a woman as she prepares to bring new life into the world.

Brandie Parker, a nurse who works on TMP, has been exploring essential oils in her own life and home for a couple of years.  Essential oils are natural oils obtained from distillation and have the fragrance of the plant from which they are derived.  The oil can be used in aromatherapy: smelling the oil for specific effects, or can be diluted with other oils (like olive oil) and used topically for symptom relief and healing.  This year, Brandie led an initiative to bring essential oils to the women who give birth on TMP.  Brandie says “I have had great success using lavender essential oil to help calm and relax a patient laboring.  It is a great tool to help cope with labor.  I have also been using Peppermint for my patients with post op nausea with very good results.”  Post op nausea is nausea that happens post operatively, for example after a cesarean birth.  Brandie has become a great resource for other staff on TMP because of her use and knowledge of some of the essential oils.  Brandie’s initiative of the use of essential oils is a wonderful example of how women can share their knowledge of using plant medicine to help others find remedies that are safe and effective.  Brandie reports that currently we use the remedies as aromatherapy, as many women have never used the oils topically.  Some people can be sensitive, and even when diluted, can have skin reactions to essential oils.  Moms who deliver at TMP however are welcome to bring in their own essential oils to use for massage during labor.

Healing plants for use during pregnancy are all around you, and using them doesn’t have to break the bank. Did you know there are 200 grams of calcium in ½ cup cooked dandelion leaves, about the same as a cup of milk, and more easily absorbed by your body.  If your yard is free from chemicals or you have access to dandelions, you can pick the leaves, rinse them, and cook them, like spinach: free, nutrient dense food for you and your baby!

Do you want to learn more about plant medicine and how it can be helpful in your pregnancy and birth? Here are some things you can do and resources you can explore:

·      Find a local herbalist

·      Visit your local health food store where dried herbs and remedies are available. Often they have herbalists, classes, books and other resources available to you

·      Check out Aviva Romm MD’s website to learn more on herbs for pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding and what to avoid: http://avivaromm.com/herbal-medicines-in-pregnancy-safety

Take your time; try something new that you feel safe and comfortable with.  A topical rub for your sore muscles and achy back can be a perfect way to start.  Most topical remedies will be safe for pregnancy, but check the packaging and when in doubt check with an herbalist.  When breastfeeding, be sure to consult your local lactation consultant before taking any herbs or medications as some can affect your milk supply.  

Enjoy the journey of getting to know the plants around you.  Like our children, plants will grow and flourish with love and care, and like our children, they are intimately a part of us.  When we get to know, appreciate and utilize them with awareness and gratitude, they can bring our body and our spirits much joy and healing.

 At The Mom’s Place, our classes are developed using the Birthing From Within model (BFW) preparing parents in the body, mind and heart for the full range of childbirth experiences.  Our childbirth educators are nurses who work at The Mom’s Place and in our Special Care Nursery and have received training as BFW mentors.  If you want to learn more about our offerings or schedule a welcome visit, call (603) 626-2626 or check out our website www.catholicmedicalcenter.org/moms-place. 

Farrah Deselle is a Certified Birthing From Within Mentor and coordinator of Childbirth and Parenting Preparation, Education and Support Programs at The Mom’s Place at CMC. She teaches many of the classes and works at The Mom’s Place as a lactation consultant. She has a Master’s of Science in Nursing: Health Systems Leadership. Contact Farrah at: farrah.deselle@cmc-nh.org.