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April 24, 2017

Renowned plant medicine expert and founder of Artemis Sandra Clair on how the healing properties of certain herbs can assist in supporting postpartum wellbeing. 

Having a baby is one of the most amazing things you can do. Especially for first-time parents, seeing what your body does to grow and deliver your little bundle of joy, is truly extraordinary. Regardless of whether you have a normal or complicated delivery, your body undergoes some major changes. How you cope with these changes can have a profound effect on your overall experience.

As a practitioner, I’ve noticed that most stress for new mothers stems from feeding issues, pain and complications from birth, and sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about the lack of sleep. But, medicinal plants are excellent in supporting your physical and emotional wellbeing during the postpartum period and helping your body to heal from the impact of pregnanct and birth.

In Europe, where I’m from, herbal medicine is used in obstetric care and is the first choice by many doctors and midwiwes to prevent and treat common ailments for both mother and baby. Medicinal plants contain nourishing nutrients (naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, trace elements) as well as unique phytochemicals not found in foods that effectively re-balance and strengthen human physiology.

Plants are often grouped by their actions or effect on our body, for example on our digestion (carminative) or on the nervous system (nervine). One of the wonderful and unique features of medicinal plants is that each they contain several beneficial constituents that have multiple actions and serve several body functions simultaneously - this is why plant medicine is so effective at this time. Adding a few select herbs to your daily routine can offer an array of support. 

For example, Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is considered both a galactogogue and carminative herb. It helps to boost breast milk production and, at the same time, help relieve wind and tummy troubles (in both mum and baby). Fennel also increases appetite, enhances the secretion of digestive enzymes and assists in the proper absorption of nutrients.

Galactogogue herbs

These help to increase the body’s production of breastmilk. Even if feeding is going well, these herbs are helpful to take during you baby’s growth spurts, when they are extra hungry. And if milk production is a problem, then these are wonderful herbs to take every day to boost production. 

  • Fennel, Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) and Anise (Pimpinella anisum) are well-known as culinary spices but also double as effective galactogogues and carminatives when they are of medicinal quality. Great for breastfeeding mothers with windy or colicky babies. The beneficial constituents are water-soluble so ideal to take as a tea, which is a nice soothing drink as well as all-important fluid. 

Nervine herbs 

These help to support and restore your nervous system, which every new parent will benefit from. When you are relaxed, you may find your milk lets down easier, your naps are more restorative and your baby doesn’t feel stress or tension.

  • Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is a gentle sedative that helps to relax muscles throughout the body and calm the nerves, ideal for soothing both mother and child in the demanding times after birth. Chamomile has important wound healing, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which help to ease afterbirth pains, heal the womb and prevent infection. No wonder it’s a specific herb for the new mother as is reflected in the Latin name of its genus ‘Matricaria’, meaning mother.

  • St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has an uplifting effect on physical, mental and emotional exhaustion commonly experienced postpartum. It strengthens your nervous resilience when fear, anxiety and irritability can become overwhelming. St. John’s Wort has been used safely during pregnancy and post-partum for hundreds of years and is officially approved as a safe herb by European regulatory bodies for herbal safety.

Plus, we can’t forget about poor dad! He will be feeling the pressure too and will also benefit from some additional support. Perhaps you could add a “tea for two” time during your evening, where you both sit down with a relaxing tea of nervine herbs. Enjoy it together and make that time to reflect and relax.

Nutritive herbs

These are high in vitamins and minerals, which are vital to good health. It’s crucial to replenish the mother’s stores of essential vitamins and minerals that she gives up to her baby when breastfeeding. This is why a nutrient-dense diet is so important at this time, and what you can’t get from food, plant medicine delivers incredibly well!

  • Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a highly nutritious herb, containing strengthening minerals and trace minerals including calcium, magnesium and iron, trace minerals, vitamins (A and C) and enzymes. It is an invigorating tonic in demanding times like breastfeeding.  Nettle is also an excellent galactogogue, helping to stimulate milk production and increase the breast milk’s nutritious quality.

  • Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) is well-known as a pregnancy herb but I like to recommend it postpartum as well. It is incredibly nutritive, replenishing your body’s stores of vitamins and minerals. When taken regularly it helps to tone and strengthen the pelvic tissues supporting the recovery of the strained pelvic floor muscles. It also helps to tighten the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy shape. Raspberry leaf is best to drink as a tea to gain the full nutritive benefits. 

I like to help new parents understand how plant medicine can support them. Most plant medicines are easy to take and integrate into your busy daily routine, which is important when you have your hands full with a newborn. We have a wonderful array of quality, New Zealand products that you can purchase over the counter, under the guidance of your midwife or health practitioner.

When your physical and emotional wellbeing is well-nourished, you can truly be in the moment and rise out of the newborn fog. It means you can quickly get to task of being an amazing new parent.  

My top tips for new mums:

  • Replenish your nutrient and vitamin stores – eat nutrient-dense foods and medicinal plants like nettle and raspberry leaf

  • Rest – the old saying “sleep when baby sleeps” is great but not always practical so at least try and rest when baby sleeps – prioritise rest with baths, calming herbal teas and restorative herbs daily

  • Heal quickly – have a daily sitz bath with epsom salts and healing herbs like lavender, comfrey, raspberry leaf

  • Prevent common problems – if you’re prone to things like constipation or haemorrhoids act now and prevent these issues from arising using medicinal plants and nutrition


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