The postnatal period refers to the time immediately following birth and the 6 weeks following, in many traditional cultures this is understood to be a sacred time in which mothers and their babies are looked after and supported by families and the wider communities. Medically, it is considered the time between the delivery of the newborn and the return of the reproductive organs to their non-pregnant state. By six weeks, in most cases most of the changes of pregnancy, labour and delivery have resolved.
When discussing the post natal period it is important to consider these things-
– The immense journey both mother and child have been on over their pregnancy, both of them have achieved phenomenal growth and adjustment to their inner and outer environments.
– The birth – both mother and child have been building up and preparing for this hugely demanding task, now its happened and the physical and emotional effects of birth can be huge.
– Adjustment -to their new lives together, this is an essential time for mother and baby bonding.
Understanding the needs of the mother is a really important aspect of the post natal period, so much emphasis is on baby that the mothers needs, desires and wellbeing are often neglected. This can be as much by herself as those around her. When we consider the immense task of pregnancy and labour and the changes the mother has undergone it is surprising we don’t spend more time making sure she is adequately looked after and supported in these first few weeks post partum. Many cultures all over the world understand and respect this special time and some even view the mother as equal to the baby in terms of her vulnerability and need to be well nourished, kept warm and feeling safe. For this reason certain cultures practice ‘roasting’ – a term used to describe feeding mother only warm foods, wrapping her and baby up and in some traditions massage using warm stones or wraps, all in the effort to retain vital heat and energy in the system.
The postnatal period also seems to be overlooked in part, because many women solely focus on the birth of her baby. While planning and preparation for birth during pregnancy is really helpful and incredibly important for many women, some planning for the post natal period, I believe, can help mother and baby recover and adjust more easily.
Homeopathy is a wonderful tool in this incredibly intense period of time for both mother and child. Firstly it can support a woman in her healing and adjusting to her new role as mother, remedies can help her with physical injuries and complaints as well as the emotional challenges of motherhood. Using homeopathy during this period encourages the mother to look after herself. Reading and observing her own body as well as her baby’s can really help to create awareness of her own needs and limitations.
Treating baby with homeopathy during this period can also create and encourage bonding and understanding of her baby. I believe one of the joys of parents using homeopathy with their children is the observation and awareness that develops as you consider remedies, work out what makes them feel better or worse and notice the changes that take place within them. The post natal period is a very rewarding time to use homeopathy for this reason.
Healing after labour and birth:
However healthy and well prepared a woman may be, labour equals hard work (quite literally! ) and even where birth is relatively smooth and no interventions are used, childbirth is incredibly challenging both physically and emotionally.
Healing after labour is dependent on many factors and is easy for some, while a struggle for others. At a time where so much is demanded from the mother, homeopathy can really help to speed up healing and prevent complications.
Physical injury and trauma from birth are relatively common, muscle soreness, achiness and minor tearing to the perineum are all considered minor injuries which mostly heal themselves with care and rest. Other injuries which are more severe often follow interventions, episiotomy as an example – is now associated with more third degree tearing in women than those who tear ‘naturally’. Other examples include long term back problems and sciatica in women who have had an epidural and or have had to lie down on their backs while birthing. Where interventions have taken place, the body is likely to need more rest and time to heal. It is also important to realise the impact of emotional wellbeing on physical healing, often, although not always interventions leave emotional scars as well as physical ones. Acknowledging, processing and resolving feelings about what happened during a woman’s birth is part of the healing process.
Many homeopaths advocate taking arnica throughout labour and birth to aid the inevitable stress that the body undergoes in this momentous task, I would extend this to all women post natally.
Remedies for healing:
- Achiness, soreness and bruising
- Helps all aspects of healing, especially where there is injury to the tissues.
- Essential where there has been any trauma to either mother or child.
- Injuries sustained by forceps delivery or ventouse.
- General achiness, soreness and bruised feeling of affected area.
- Bellis Perennis:
- Bruising to soft tissues – especially breasts and internal organs, especially useful in surgical births.
- Muscles feel sore and bruised – cause is over exertion or surgery.
- Useful where lumps and possible pain remain after bruising has gone.
- Back Pain
- Pains in lower back which are sore and dragging. Back can feel very sore and bruised as a result of lying on back and coccyx whilst birthing, can result where epidural given or where labour pains are felt in back and soreness remains post-natally.
- Pain is characteristically stitching and extends down hips and legs.
- Pains are intense and very sensitive to touch. Shooting pains from site, post natally this is often up the spine from the coccyx which can be injured (as above) from delivery methods including forceps delivery.
- Pains are shooting.
- Wounds & Scars
- Can be used both externally as an ointment which can be added to baths or washing of the affected part or taken internally as a remedy to promote the healing of wounds and cuts.
- Used where there is uncomplicated cuts and can be alternated with other remedies where there are other symptoms or pains present.
- Useful for episiotomy of tearing during birth.
- Painful wounds or scars, injury to nerve rich areas which cause shooting and tearing pains.
- Useful after cesarean where scar is very sore and sensitive to touch.
- Cuts and wounds which are lacerated and painful, usually accompanied by feelings of indignation, humiliation, anger and grief.
- Very sensitive to touch.
- Useful after surgery
Mental and Emotional difficulties:
The emotional impact of having a first baby is huge and much bigger than most women imagine, however excited and prepared a woman may feel to welcome her baby, most are overwhelmed by the emotions they feel on the arrival of their first child. These emotions can range from pure joy, feelings of inner contentment and peace, often described as the most intense feelings they’ve ever experienced, to feelings of shock, emptiness, despair and inability to cope. Part of the emotional changes which women experience are simply due to the arrival of the child they have been anticipating for so long but hormone levels also play a huge part in the emotions of the new mother.
Oestrogen and progesterone which have been steadily building over pregnancy drop dramatically within the first week post partum. These internal changes in hormone levels should not be underestimated and a woman’s response to these will depend upon her individual sensitivity, personal circumstances (including how much support she is receiving), her birth experience and the health and sleep patterns of her baby.
Following the thrill and excitement of meeting their baby, many women will experience weepiness, sadness, irritability and a feeling many women describe as ‘low’. This is commonly referred to as the’baby blues’ and although it is widely recognised, it is still something many women find it difficult to admit to and talk about.
For some women feelings of this nature may come and go in a matter of hours or days but for others they can extend in to weeks or even months.Generally, experiencing this range of emotions following birth and for a period of 1- 2 weeks is considered in medical terms normal and is only a cause for concern when these feelings remain or worsen after this initial period. After this where feelings of lowness continue, among others symptoms, a mother may be considered to have post natal depression.
The birth experience can have a major impact on how the mother feels during the post natal period, women who feel satisfied with their experiences will likely feel strong and competent in their task ahead and more able to connect positively with their baby. It is important to mention here that when I mention feeling satisfied with a birth experience I mean just that and am not referring to how the baby was born and what practices were involved but rather how the mother perceived and processed her birth experience.
The practicalities of the post natal period can be vitally important in assisting the smooth transition into motherhood, there are several important things to consider which will ease the transition for mother and child:
- As much emphasis placed on the care of the mother as on the care of the baby.
- Nourishing food and plenty of fluids.
- Organised support for the mother.
- Rest and plenty of lying in ( practiced in most cultures internationally and in the UK as late as 60’s where 2 weeks rest in hospital was prescribed)
- The right balance (will be different for each woman) of company and time alone with baby and as a family.
- Physical practices- gentle exercise, walking and massage can be of great benefit.
There are other changes that will have a great impact on the mother emotionally during the postnatal period and which may take time to process and understand, one may be changes in the relationship with partner which is likely to shift dramatically as roles and dynamics change. During the time when a woman’s body is still recovering and a baby has many needs, couples will need patience and understanding with one another.
Shock is a common emotion to feel following childbirth, very often it is associated directly with the experience of the birth itself – for example where labour has been fast or things have happened quickly or unexpectedly or in cases where birth did not go as planned.
- Can be given to both mother and child where birth has been quick, the mother may feel shocked to be meeting her baby so quickly or in the case of caesarean where mother feels she is suddenly handed her baby without having had the experience of vaginal birth, for baby she may experience shock at being pulled from safety of womb.
- Helpful where there has been any trauma which may have caused a fearful state in mother or child.
- Mother can look shaky, pale (typical picture of person in shock) .Whilst baby can be pale and unusually still with an anxious or fearful look.
- The shock in this remedy is less obvious as it is suppressed, where there has been trauma as described above but the mother insists she is ok despite obvious or subtle physical symptoms of shock, arnica is the remedy.
- Fearful state which follows a shock or trauma – are in a dreamy, cut off state, differing from aconite which is much more alert.
- Mother may have difficulty connecting with baby and baby may be quiet and still too.
- Opium is described as being good where there has been a near death experience and the individual stays in an in-between kind of state – neither awake or asleep.
Can often be felt at the loss of the birth experience where interventions or as an example emergency cesarean are performed and the woman feels denied of her birthing experience. Sadness that things didn’t work out as planned can present as grief post natally.
- Useful in nervous, sensitive types who feel down, disappointed and sad that her birth did not go as planned. High expectations and romanticism means she becomes easily disappointed and upset when things don’t work out.
- Often used where there has been intervention that has felt invasive and upsetting.
- Particularly useful for those women who are very sensitive and can be touchy and easily irritated and offended.
- Suppression is characteristic so women will not always be able to express that invasive treatment is the source of their suffering.
- Nat Mur:
- Feels great sadness for loss of birth experience and may feel resentful and angry towards herself and others for what may happened during birth.
- Will go over and over events reliving sadness and how things could have been better.
- Can feel very low and isolated as a mother and will likely keep this to herself and cry on her own to protect herself.
- Depression and mood changes:
As mentioned above depression and feelings of low mood, lethargy and emptiness, among others, are all commonly felt by women after childbirth. The degree and duration of which will determine whether these can be self managed with the help and support of family measures and home prescribing, or whether seeking advice from health professionals is necessary. Whichever approach a woman chooses to take, a homeopath can really help to support her at a time when so much is demanded of her, both physically and emotionally. Feeling depressed at this time can often also create feelings of guilt and shame, further adding to feeling of isolation. There are many remedies which might come up during this time, depending on the individuals constitution, circumstances, birth experience etc. I have focused on just a few that are most common to this time and phase of a woman’s life. It is also worth understanding that for some women lack of sleep and exhaustion are enough to significantly lower their mood and ability to cope.
- Suited to sensitive, weepy individuals who find the adjustment to motherhood challenging and at times very isolating.
- Needing company to feel better they will want lots of help and support from family and friends.
- They will likely have a strong bond with baby but be challenged and overwhelmed by the practicalities and emotional ups and downs of the postnatal period. They are very sensitive to hormonal changes in the body so there ups and downs will be quite marked.
- Mother feels worn out , with too much too do and too little time to do it in, they become lethargic and in more severe case have difficulty bonding with baby.
- They are exhausted, worn out and indifferent to life and to their families.
- Sepia mothers at this time will iscolate themselves as conversation and sympathy is difficult they will prefer to be alone.
- Nat Mur:
- Is characterised by the suppression of her emotions – keeping strong and carrying on is what she projects outwards but internally she may feel deep sadness without knowing why.
- Her sadness may be from a previous grief or be birth related but can also express her sensitivity to the hormonal changes taking place.
- Nat mur may really suffer at this stage of motherhood if she is unable to talk about feelings of sadness as she will likely blame herself and feel guilty if she has any difficulty bonding with baby or is questioning her happiness and ability to cope.
Drugs and their after effects:
Drugs taken by the mother during birth can leave mother and or baby with some side effects. These might be noticeable by those around the mother immediately after birth but are more likely to be noticed after the flurry of people and emotions have lifted slightly and both mother and baby have space to bond.
Pethidine as an example, is one of the most commonly administered drugs during labour and can have a number of side effects and stay within the system of mother for up to five hours and baby for up to 24 hours.
For some women the thrill of meeting their babies combined with their individual constitution means drugs have little effect once their baby is born, however others may experience feelings of nausea, anxiety, tension, irritability and inability to sleep (all side effects of pethidine). Apart from these being unpleasant, they can also be a hindrance to relaxing and enjoying the first precious few hours with their baby. It is widely recognised how important these first few hours of bonding between mother and child are for the vital hormones which stimulate milk production to be released, something which could potentially be threatened if mother is feeling tense or anxious and or baby is distressed. Below are listed some remedies and their indications for use in detoxing the body of drugs post labour.
- If mother or baby seems spaced out, drowsy, sleepy, ‘out of it’ and particularly if vomiting accompanies any of these complaints.
- Phosphorus is particularly sensitive to anesthetic.
- Nux Vom:
- Marked irritability after administration of drugs; mother may be outwardly cross while baby will be distressed, fidgety and not easily pacified.
- Insomnia is also a possible side effect of some of the drugs administered in labour and can be helped with nux vomica.
- Colicky pain and digestive disturbances following drugs can also require this remedy.
- Feeling and or appearance of drowsiness; spaced out look in mother or child.
- Can’t quite wake up, may be more obvious in mother, but babies who are slow to respond to stimuli and very still where mother has had anaesthetic, pethidine or morphine may be helped with opium.
- Irritability is very marked in this remedy and mother or baby cannot sleep, toss, turn; babies may cry and scream excessively.
- If chamomilla is required they will be very sensitive to pain, being looked at or touched; mothers may be crying and distressed.
Problems encountered during breastfeeding are fairly common but can cause much stress and anxiety for both mother and child. For a woman who wants to feed her baby and meets difficulties it can be frustrating and upsetting, not to mention the added stress of lack of sleep. There is currently a lot of support for breastfeeding mothers, with support groups and trained professionals who can share advice and expertise on all aspects of feeding. If problems such as a lack of milk persist, it is advisable to see a homeopath for more in depth treatment and support. I have included some basic remedies which can clear up initial problems which may arise during breastfeeding.
- A great remedy for when the first milk comes into the breast, replacing the colostrum, this huge surge can cause ‘milk fever and can blocked feeding ducts, left untreated this can turn into mastitis and cause much pain and discomfort for mother.
- Typical belladonna fever – radiating heat from head (and breasts), red faced and throbbing head.
- Main remedy for mastitis, blocked milk ducts with sharp, painful, shock-like pains in breasts. Breasts are swollen, tender, sore, heavy, lumpy.
- It can also help with cracked and sore nipples where pain from the nipple radiates throughout the body.
- Another remedy for mastitis where breasts are hard, hot and painful, the breasts themselves are pale.
- Milk supply is overabundant and causes great pain. Much worse for any movement and accompanied by depression and irritability.
- Urtica Urens:
- Taken in the 6c potency twice daily can increase milk flow and improve let down reflex where pain from mastitis is preventing milk flow from the nipple.
- Can help with low milk supply where mental and emotional symptoms are present. Very weepy mother who needs company, lots of support and reassurance.Mood swings and irritability.
Finally, I am including colic as it can be the cause of a lot of stress for families at a time when the effects of lack of sleep can really be setting in. It’s a condition, which is often greatly relieved with the help of one or several homeopathic remedies where conventional medicine offers no treatment.
It can be incredibly distressing and tiring for both parent and child. Commonly the child cannot be calmed, and will cry and scream with the pain. There is very little that conventional medicine offers so homeopathy can have great effect. Diet recommendations are often advised but it can take a long time to work out exactly which foods the mother is eating which may be contributing to the colic.
- The remedy for colic in babies who pull their knees up to their chest as they scream, they may be better upon gentle massage of the abdomen and for passing a stool.
- They may be worse following the mother eating fruit or drinking fruit juice.
- Unbearable pains cause them to cry and scream and seem angry and irritable. They will cry so much their parents may become impatient and irritable themselves.
- Crying when passing a stool and green, watery stools are also symptoms of chamomilla.
- Loud and rumbly tummies, pains center around the navel and babies will writhe, stretch and twist with the discomfort.