Having a baby is one of the most amazing experiences a woman can have in her lifetime. Those of us who choose to have children are often times not aware of the struggles and changes that we face after this monumentous occasion. I , for one, didn’t realize just how difficult breastfeeding was until I experienced it firsthand (some of you lucky ladies have no problems at all)–its not something women normally talk about, nor is there a warning label:
“Warning: nipples will crack and possibly bleed.”– there is no manual for such experiences in motherhood (and would we really follow it if there was?).
There are many transformations that occur in every level of our physiological makeup such as hormonal changes, organs moving about the now-vacant abdomen, an increase in the acuity of hearing: so many things (not to mention the strange goings-on when one sneezes). In addition to the biological changes there are many other issues to be dealt with:
Lack of sleep becomes the norm. At first, the newborn sleeps quite a bit of the time, but only for a few hour intervals between feedings. When my daughter slept 5 hours straight it felt like an entire night of sleep. Of course, I worried that she slept way too long and that something could be wrong.
The nature of your relationships change. It is no longer just you or just you and your partner–now there is someone even more important at the top of the food chain. Your parents become grandparents, and begin acting strangely– an odd thing happened to me after I gave birth, I became the vessel that brought forth, “the GRANDCHILD.” Everything in your life changes.
Sex becomes a bit more difficult to manage with the additional stress, decrease of time and the new little body in the bed/ on the breast, (not to mention the fear that one has of the vagina after all of its glory has been utilized).The truth is that once you are ready, it is important. (Practitioners generally advise 6 weeks).
Then there is the fear and worry. During pregnancy there are fears and worries, but less so to some degree, as the baby is nestled tightly in your very own body. After your newborn arrives in the external world, it seems that worry simply increases. Every moment between their breaths becomes a breathless moment, every frown a concern, every sneeze is momentous. . . you get the picture. It seems that we nearly drive ourselves mad with all the worry that we neglect nearly everything else! (at least with the first child).
Suffice it to say that EVERYTHING changes after you give birth.
The most important thing to remember (which is often and usually forgotten) is to take care of YOU. Without being healthy, you are unable to take as great of care of your precious infant as you would be if you were well.
When breastfeeding, it is necessary to eat at least 500 calories more than is normally required for your height/weight/activity level. My favorite nutritional pyramid is Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid . This includes healthy sweets such as dark chocolate, supplements that are necessary for optimal health, perhaps an occasional glass of wine. It is really an excellent template for the types of foods that assist our bodies in their natural processes: especially when developing the immune system of an infant. (make sure you eat enough as those calories translate into better milk for the little one).
When encountering difficulties with breastfeeding there are soo many natural ways to deal. Some women choose to use lanolin in between feedings to soothe chapped nipples (make sure to wipe off before feeding) you can also apply an herbal salve, use vitamin E oil, aloe vera, cocoa butter, or almond oil (discontinue if you have any negative reaction). Your local food coop or natural grocer will have a variety of these available, as well as you can have your Herbalist customize a blend to create the perfect salve (email me for more information).
It is also important to allow those boobies to breathe! Allowing your nipples some sunshine and air (perhaps in a windowed area where no one will see, unless that is your cup of tea) can help prevent nipple yeast from occurring. One thing that I found useful was taking extra large tea bags to accommodate the increase in size, get them wet and place directly onto your nipples. The tannins in the tea (Camellia sinensis) are astringent and are highly anti-inflammatory. Also, make sure to wash your bra frequently and go without nipple shields as often as possible.
The pain occasionally associated with the “let down” of milk as well as engorgement can be addressed several different ways. For let-down aches, warm compresses work wonders as well as gently massaging the breasts. Engorgement pain can be quickly solved by breastfeeding, pumping, or if you are so inclined your partner can also assist you in this (intimacy achieved). Some women never experience discomfort with these; however, there are many that do.
Getting enough fluid during this time is essential and can have multiple benefits. One way to make sure you are hydrating enough is to have a cup of soothing herbal tea every time or every other time you breastfeed. Some great herbs to imbibe that also assist with lactation are chamomile (Matricaria recutica), catnip (Nepeta cataria) both of which are also great for calming baby’s nerves and stomach in general but especially in cases of colic, fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare), nettles (Urtica dioica), red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) which is also the number one uterine tonic, red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense), milk thistle (Silybum marianum): just to name a “few.” Once again you can find most of these herbs at your natural grocer; however I highly recommend purchasing your own individualized blend from an Herbalist.
There are a few problems that can arise during breastfeeding such as nipple-yeast, mastitis and thrush for your baby. There are many ways to treat these all without antibiotics having to be part of the equation automatically. One of the best remedies for nipple yeast and thrush is black walnut tincture. Four times a day apply topically to the nipple with a clean q-tip/cotton swab and then with a new q-tip/cotton swab, swab your babies mouth. You can also apply plain, unsweetened yogurt or diluted apple cider vinegar topically. Internally you can take echinacea which is not harmful to the baby to boost your immune system ridding itself of the infection. There are many different remedies for candida in these cases; however these seem to be the simplest and most effective.
Every woman is very different: especially in motherhood. You should always remember to follow your own instincts and innate wisdom as well as your heart. Some wonderful books that you may find useful are listed below.
Any information contained in this website is not intended as medical advice nor to diagnose and/or treat any illness. If you have any concerns about this information, please contact your provider and/or certified Herbalist!
The Continuum Concept
This book is amazing, it really gives an anthropological look at the necessity of holding your baby, especially during the first year of life, in developing a healthy person.
Natural Health after Birth
Natural remedies for many post-partum issues.
What to Expect the First Year
Lots of information about what types of changes your newborn will go through during the first year, and what your practitioner is looking for developmentally.
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Also, please feel free to contact me at Trysta@integrativeherbalism or leave a comment if you have any questions about this topic! xo