Pregnancy is not an illness to be endured for 9 months. While many complaints of pregnancy are common, they are not normal. Many assume that it’s down to nothing more than good luck to escape a pregnancy plagued by nausea, fatigue and ill health. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your level of health before you fall pregnant has a major bearing on your health during and after your pregnancy and also the health of your child.If you’re thinking of starting a family, it would be a very good idea to look into a preconception health care program to ensure that your level of health and nutrition is at its absolute best before falling pregnant. If you’re put off by the idea of a few months of clean living and healthy eating, think of it as the ultimate gift to your future child. The gift of good health.Many pregnancy specific health conditions can be safely and effectively treated with natural remedies, including:
- Stretch marks
- Leg cramps
Pregnancy NauseaI much prefer the term pregnancy nausea, many women would be overcome with relief if morning sickness only occurred in the morningThere are three main causes of pregnancy nausea:1. Low blood sugar levels (reactive hypoglycaemia)2. Poor clearance of hormones3. Anxiety1. Low blood sugar levels can be easily treated with diet. The best way to prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping is to eat plenty of fat and to eat frequently.I commonly come across women who think they are eating healthily before they fall pregnant - generally a very low fat diet (the kind we have been conditioned to believe is healthy) of lean meat, low fat dairy, lots of fruit and cereals. When they fall pregnant they’re horrified that their plans to breeze through their pregnancy on a low fat, supposedly healthy diet is dashed by nausea at the thought of eating anything except fatty, greasy take away such as fried chicken, burgers and hot chips. They feel as though their body is betraying them. In fact their body is crying out for good quality fats and oils which is misinterpreted as cravings for fatty fast foods - full of poor quality oils. Your body is built from protein and fat with carbohydrate the primary fuel source. Building a healthy baby requires a constant source of good quality fat and protein, otherwise these building materials are scavenged directly from your body, not a good thing for your continued health and wellbeing. It’s no surprise that so many women enter motherhood exhausted and run down.Plenty of good quality fat with each meal and snack ensures that your food is broken down slowly and energy from carbohydrates is allowed to ‘trickle’ into your blood stream as sustained release energy. Low fat diets and refined carbohydrates result in blood sugar level ‘highs’ shortly followed by the crash when you will feel wretched and nauseas. An ideal food during pregnancy is the humble egg, rich in protein and good quality fat including the omega 3 EFA, DHA which is essential for your baby’s brain and nervous system development. Other fats and oils to include are butter, coconut oil, nuts and seeds (be sure to soak them first) and avocado as well as the fats found in chicken and meat (preferable free range and grass fed). It’s also important to graze and eat regularly, don’t wait until you’re hungry as it’s usually too late. The nausea will have struck and the idea of food will leave you feeling queasy. Eat something small and nutritious every few hours and have something high in fat and protein an hour before bed as well, some full fat yoghurt, Tiger’s Milk or a boiled egg would be ideal.2. Anxiety is another common cause of nausea, which low blood sugar will aggravate. If you find that your nausea is accompanied by thoughts of “my god what have I done”, “my life will never be the same”, “what if my husband leaves me”, “what if that glass of wine I drank before I knew I was pregnant has damaged my baby”, “what if I miscarry”, “what if there’s something wrong with my baby”, “can we really afford to have a baby” etc then you can safely assume that anxiety is a contributing factor to your nausea. Hypnotherapy and de-stress breathing can all help. De-stress breathing can be something as simple as inhaling deeply through your nose, clenching every muscle in your body and then relaxing them as you breathe out slowly through your nose. Homoeopathy is also excellent at helping nausea aggravated by anxiety. Other actions that you can take to minimise anxiety include:
- Talk to people you trust about your feelings and experiences
- Share your worries and concerns with other pregnant women or mothers
- Get enough sleep and exercise daily
- Enrol in pregnancy yoga classes
- Remember that sometimes you may be at the mercy of pregnancy hormones so laughter is important and a great tool here
- Nurture yourself with good food and clean fresh air
- Have regular pregnancy massages
- ‘Mother’ yourself: support, love and reassure yourself that you are doing the very best you can for both you and your baby.
3. High levels of hormones is usually due to either carrying twins or a reduced ability to break down and excrete hormones once your body has finished with them. This is usually due to a compromised liver. Your liver has the job of breaking down and excreting hormones that your body has finished with. During the first trimester of pregnancy, there is abundant hormone production by your body and placenta. If these hormones are not continually cleared by your liver, the resulting high levels can cause or contribute to nausea. This is one of the reasons that detoxification is a part of most good preconception health care programs. Most liver herbs are best avoided during pregnancy but there are several things that you can do to assist your liver to clear excess hormones from your body.Correct any constipation: your liver first renders hormones inactive and then packages them into bile which is excreted into your digestive tract to be cleared from your body. If you’re constipated, these hormones can be reabsorbed and re-enter circulation. Certain bacteria can also reactivate hormones as well - so plenty of lacto-fermented foods including sauerkraut, keffir, home made yoghurt etc are important to ensure healthy bacteria in your digestive tract. Coconut oil can also help to keep a healthy bacterial balance.Bitter foods and drinks stimulate bile flow and can help to clear hormones more effectively. The bitter digestive herb gentian can be safely taken in pregnancy. Just a few drops in a small amount of water twenty or so minutes before you eat. Lemon juice in warm water can also help. Both of these will also help with any constipation too.Freshly brewed teas such a ginger, peppermint and chamomile may help alleviate symptoms, and miso soup has a reputation for calming nausea.There are other herbs and homoeopathic remedies that can be safely prescribed by an experienced naturopath, homoeopath or herbalist if the above home remedies fail to work.RefluxMost over the counter antacids contain aluminium and are best avoided. Chewing your food slowly can make a surprising difference. By chewing each mouthful of your food slowly and properly, you’ll ensure that you don’t overeat and also make your food much easier for your stomach and intestines to break down.Slippery elm, powdered bark that turns to a mucous like consistency when mixed with water is highly soothing and healing to any inflamed or irritated membranes. Mix a heaped teaspoon with a small amount of water and take directly after meals. This ensures that the healing and soothing mucous-like slippery elm sits on top of the contents in your stomach and protects your oesophagus from being burnt by any stomach acid that is pushed up. Slippery elm tastes OK, but some people find the mucous like consistency and texture makes them gag. If this happens, mix the heaped teaspoon in a table spoon or two of full fat yoghurt instead. Slippery elm is also incredibly rich in minerals and other nutrients.You may have read, especially if you live in the UK, that slippery elm is not safe to take while pregnant. This is sheer nonsense and stems from the fact that slippery elm swells when mixed with water and in the past, bark from the slippery elm tree was inserted into the cervix where it would swell and keep the cervix open with the intended aim of causing an abortion or miscarriage. Slippery elm powder taken orally is perfectly safe.Other reflux remedies to try include:
- Chewing a calcium tablet can often provide quick first aid relief from reflux and heart burn. The herb marshmallow root (extracted in glycerine) can also provide quick relief. Mix 10ml or marshmallow root glycetract with 10ml or water, this can be taken as often as required.
- Sit upright when eating and avoid lying horizontal after you eat.
- Avoid fatty, spicy foods as these can bring on heartburn.
- Chamomile and lemon balm teas are all great at assisting digestion, so brew a cup to sip on before and after meals.
- Don’t drink fluids with your meals, try to have them between meals as they can dilute digestive juices.
- Take a slow walk after meals to further help with digestion.
Stretch MarksThe best treatment for stretch marks is prevention by ensuring plenty of zinc before you fall pregnant. Zinc is one mineral that I nearly always suggest supplementing with before, during and after pregnancy unless you have lived on a very healthy diet, have excellent digestion and consumed no alcohol for several years. Zinc is an essential healing nutrient and a deficiency will generally result in increased scarring. Stretch marks are basically scars formed as skin tears if growth occurs to quickly or if your skin’s connective tissue is of poor quality.Regular massage can also help to minimise and prevent further stretch marks. I have found that it doesn’t matter what oil is used, it is the regularity of the massage that is important. I don’t recommend wheat germ oil which is often recommended due to its high vitamin E content as its bright yellow-orange colour tends to stain clothing. I generally recommend coconut or jojoba oil. The key is to massage every single day. When you first get out of the shower is the ideal time. As you massage your skin try to lift your skin up in a pinching action, this will help to break up the scar tissue of stretch marks and make your skin more supple and elastic and less likely to tear.ConstipationIf you’re suffering from constipation and taking a multivitamin or iron supplement, the first thing you need to do is check the type of iron in your supplement. If it contains iron in the form of iron sulphate, chances are this is the culprit if not a large contributing factor to your constipation. There is a very well marketed Pregnancy supplement recommended by doctors in Australia containing 60mg of iron sulphate that is a common culprit for aggravating constipation.Avoid bran and other wheat based fibres as these can often aggravate constipation and cause bloating. Instead, try linseed meal, rolled oats soaked overnight then cooked into porridge, Essene bread (made from sprouted grain), nuts and seeds (soaked overnight in warm water), ripe avocado, prunes and figs (once again soak prunes overnight or stew them first). Prune juice, especially the commercial variety is a waste of time for constipation, all it will do is give you terrible wind.The bitter herb Gentian taken before meals can also help with constipation by stimulating digestion and digestive enzymes. The juice of half a lemon in quarter glass of warm water first thing in the morning will usually result in a bowel movement about half an hour after drinking.Leg CrampsThese occur most commonly in the third trimester of pregnancy when your body donates much of your stored minerals to your baby to see them through their first 6 months of life. If your stores of minerals are borderline or low then you’ll experience symptoms of deficiency. Muscle cramps are usually a symptom of magnesium deficiency.Leafy greens are probably the best food source of magnesium but if you’re experiencing calf cramps once per week or more frequently then it’s probably best to supplement. Avoid cheap supplements containing magnesium oxide which is very poorly absorbed and commonly results in digestive upsets. Juiced greens with some warmed coconut oil stirred through taken regularly during pregnancy can help to boost dietary magnesium.The tissue salt Mag Phos is a safe and effective form of magnesium. These work best if the tablets are chewed with a little warm water.