Homeopathy for Pregnancy: Sepia

November 13, 2010 at 8:40 pm (Comfort Measures, Homeopathy)

Sepia is one of the two (the other being Pulsatilla) of the most well-known “women’s remedies”. It has much applicability in the realms of menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and menopause. When used in a person who resonates with the Sepia state, it can relieve many of the symptoms of pregnancy and birth, while increasing the overall sense of well-being. To describe the Sepia state, I’ll create a picture of a woman who carries many of the Sepia characteristics.

Imagine a woman who has had several children in a short amount of time (we’ve all heard of the grandmother who had five children in five years). She is constantly at work, doing dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and tending to her little ones. Over time, this mother who was once responsive to each little cry or need has become more and more dull. Her sallow face sags, the expression changing less and less as her feelings of overwhelm deepen. Everything about her seems to sag- her face, her skin, even her internal organs. As she’s working one day on the unending stream of housework, a child comes to her, crying and clinging to her skirt. Full of irritation and depression, she snaps at her child so sarcastically that the little one runs away, crying. In the moment, the mother feels nothing, but later that day, she lies alone in her room, crying from guilt. She feels that she doesn’t love her husband or her children, but she knows she should, and she feels hopeless.

Sepia is made from the ink of the cuttlefish, and like the cuttlefish, she is very responsive in her healthy state. However, if she becomes overwhelmed, she retreats into unresponsiveness, depression, and sarcasm. She feels better with vigorous exercise such as a brisk walk or some energetic dancing. She wants to be left alone, and she cries when she tells others about her troubles.  Everything about her sags.  Here are some of her more specific symptoms:

Nausea: At the thought or smell of food.

Face: Yellow. Brown “saddle” across nose and under eyes.

Headache: With nausea and vomiting. Worse with the smell of food. Better after meals. Stinging pain.

Food: Craves chocolate and vinegar. Dislikes milk, and it makes her sick.

Genitalia: Uterine or cervical prolapse. Feels her organs are sagging out of her vulva. Pelvic weakness.

Temperature: She tends to be chilly. Sometimes experiences flushes of heat.

Sepia in 30 or 6c can be helpful for morning sickness, if the woman has some of the characteristics of the Sepia state.  It can also help rouse a woman out of postpartum depression.  Consult a homeopath if you have chronic symptoms for which you think Sepia might be helpful.

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Pain in Labor

May 3, 2010 at 3:18 pm (Comfort Measures, Doula, Education) (, , )

Lots of mamas ask me “What does labor feel like?”  “How much does it hurt?”  “Can I prepare for labor pain?”  Pain in labor, the big P word, can be a touchy subject to discuss prenatally.  Some doulas I know don’t use the word at all, instead mentioning “intensity”, “rushes,” and “waves.”  While I will definitely use the words “pain,” and “birth” in the same sentence, I also find myself qualifying it with many adjectives, to help modify the tenor of that charged word.  I do that for two reasons. 

First, not all women experience labor as pain.  In fact, some people even claim that any well-prepared woman will not feel the work of labor as pain, as long as she is sufficiently relaxed and not fearful.  Although I won’t go so far as to say that pain is not a part of labor for the majority of women, I am aware that expectations help to shape reality.  If, prenatally, a woman is not deluged with the expectation that her labor will be painful, then she might have a clearer mental and emotional path toward a pain-free labor.  So I, as  a birth professional, don’t want to shape a woman’s experience based on my own experiences- I want her to use her own words and feel things in her own way.

But what about the women who do experience labor as pain?  Are they done a disservice if the P word is never mentioned by well-meaning birth advocates before they enter into Labor Land?  I suspect that the vast majority of women I’ll encounter as a doula have already heard about many painful labors, and have a well-rooted idea of birth as painful.  So how can I help those mamas prepare prenatally for their coming birth?

Here’s what I tell mamas: For most women, birth is painful.  At the beginning, it is manageable.  At some point, it will reach a level of intensity that you may not have felt at any other time in your life.  But that pain is not the “something wrong” pain of an injury or illness.  It’s pain with a purpose- it teaches you how to move your body to best birth your baby, and it teaches you what an incredibly powerful, capable woman you are.  And there are things that can make the pain worse, and things that can make it more manageable.

The three most important things that have helped my birthing clients experience the sensations of birth with relative ease are: a quiet, safe environment, an attitude of acceptance, and the freedom to move.   And much of this can be cultivated and practiced before the actual birth.

A quiet environment helps a mama sink out of her neocortex, her thinking brain, and into her more instinctual mind.  She becomes less thought and more experience, less brain and more body.  If people don’t try to engage her by asking questions or chattering with each other, then the path to mental stillness is easier.  And this internal and external quietness has a big reward: endorphins.  Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relief, the internally produced morphine.  They are naturally produced when we go through painful or high intensity experiences.  They don’t always take away the pain of labor, but they soften the experience of it.  Endorphins can be counteracted by catecholamines, including adrenaline.  Adrenaline is produced when we start thinking a lot and becoming anxious, or when we feel that we need to defend ourselves.  So if a mama is made to talk and think, or if she is scared, nervous, or stressed out, she will not have as many benefits from her endorphins.  Prenatally, to encourage an endorphin-producing state, mama can do progressive relaxation exercises, prayer, or meditation.

The attitude of acceptance goes hand in hand with the quiet mental state, but it is a distinct thing.  Basically, it means allowing the birth process to happen, physically, mentally and emotionally.  It is an open state, non-resistant.  When a mama has this kind of attitude, then her labor energy can flow through her body without blockages.  And when she doesn’t resist the energy of labor, and yes, the pain as well, then she will feel less fear.  To cultivate this attitude of acceptance beforehand, a mama can practice saying some positive words or phrases in the shower, on the toilet (strange, I know, but it helps to associate the energy of opening on the toilet with the opening that will happen during birth), and in bed at night.  She could say things like, “I am open.” “I welcome this experience.” “I am joyful.” “Iam relaxed,” or any other positive statement that feels good.

Finally, position changes can do a lot to help mama navigate the pain and other sensations of labor.  Sometimes, one position (such as lying on the back) might feel intolerable, while another (such as standing and swaying) might feel doable.  This difference in sensation is teaching mama what positions are most helpful in opening her up and allowing labor to progress.  As labor goes further, it may get to a point where no position feels really good.  This is a great sign that labor is nearing the end, and it’s also time to listen to the body in a different way.   Sometimes, during transition and pushing, the positions that feel the most intense are the ones that are doing the most work.  So, at this point, a mama could choose a resting position, and allow her body to do all the work (a great choice at the end of a labor!), or she could choose an upright position where there is a lot more energy, and therefore more ability for mama to add extra power to the work her body is doing.  I remember this moment in my first birth, where I had been pushing though the first 2/3 of each contraction, and then resting as they eased off.  I finally got to the point where I realized that, if I wanted to see my baby any time soon, I’d have to find the strength to push beyond what I thought I could manage, to push all the way through the contraction and the pain.  And once I started doing that, I found more power and energy than I thought I possessed.  And I found that, even though the pain became more intense, there was also a great delight in feeling my baby finally move under my pubic bone, and very soon after that, into the world.  Once I stopped fearing the pain and trying to lessen it, and instead I stepped into the center of it and surrendered myself to it, I found that I could do more than I ever thought I could.  In this way, pain taught me not just how to labor, but also that I was capable of doing anything that I needed to do, and that I had more than enough strength and courage for the task of parenting my beautiful new baby.

So yes, for many women, there is pain during labor.  But it’s pain that you can work with, and it’s pain that will teach you a great deal about yourself, your body, and your potential.  As Pam England says in Birthing From Within, “Labor is hard.  It hurts.  And you can do it.”

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Homeopathy for Pregnancy: Pulsatilla

June 15, 2009 at 9:00 pm (Comfort Measures, Homeopathy) (, , , )

There are many remedies for the discomforts of early pregnancy.  The nausea, tiredness, emotional swings and psychological adventures can be unsettling, and many women try one thing after another to relieve them.  Over the next few posts, I’m going to introduce you to three remedies that can help to address the overall energy of the pregnant mama, and in doing so, help to relieve the turmoil of the first few months.

In choosing one of these remedies for personal use, there are two different ways you can go about deciding which one might work for you.  The first is to look for your specific symptom within the descriptions of each of the remedies, and see which one lines up best with your headache, nausea, etc.  The other way is to look at the overall description of the remedy and see if it describes you in general, or at least your general experience while you’re having the symptoms.  The more aspects of the remedy that match your experience, the more likely it is to work for you. I’ll explain a bit about dosing at the end, but remember that I’m not a homeopath, and so if you have any questions, it’s a really good idea to consult with a good ND (naturopathic doctor) or classical homeopath.

Pulsatilla

Have you ever had a gentle, flowing friend who could change emotions at the drop of a hat? She might smilingly tell you about the latest funny thing her kitten did, only to begin crying as she’s reminded of her childhood cat who is now gone. Some people think she’s a bit spacey, maybe even a little ungenuine because of the ease with which her mood and outlook changes.  But the better you get to know her, the more you realize that she feels each state she’s in fully and completely- while she’s happy, she is completely happy.  When she’s mad, she is wholly mad.  The same with all her moods, as easily triggered as they may be.  You’ve noticed that, once you get used to her changeability, friendship is fairly smooth with her.  That is, unless you forget a plan you’ve made with her, or make a dismissive comment, or act aloof around her- anything that triggers her fear of being abandoned.  She is as cuddly as the kitten or puppy she loves, as long as she feels safe in her relationships. If she feels she’s about to be abandoned, she can become incredibly emotional and clingy, calling you to find out where you are, if you still like her, and why you’ve hurt her in this way.  Once you make up, though, she doesn’t hold a grudge- she’s back to her former easygoing, sweet self.  She delights in going to great lengths to please you, and she loves creating beauty everywhere she goes.

Pulsatilla is the homeopathic form of the Wind Flower, or Pasque Flower.  As the name implies, this flower grows in meadows, constantly buffeted by breezes and winds.  In the same way, a person who resonates with pulsatilla changes as the winds blow.  In fact this changeability is a key symptom for pulsatilla ailments.  If a pain changes frequently in location or intensity, if a secretion changes in color, scent or amount, or if the characteristic mood swings are present, pulsatilla is a good remedy to consider. In general, pulsatilla symptoms are also better in the open air, and better with mild exercise.  Pusatilla is considered to be one of the main women’s remedies; my Materia Medica describes it as belonging to “females of mild, gentle, plethoric, yielding disposition, who cry readily and weep while talking.  Pale, chilly blondes.”

Now I’ll address some of the specific symptoms within the pulsatilla picture.  All of these descriptions are drawn from Murphys’ Nature’s Materia Medica

Stomach:  Nausea with bitter taste.  Gas.  Belching with taste of food.  Stomach feels heavy. Persistent nausea, better after vomiting.   Vomiting with pale face, chilliness.

Head:  One-sided headaches, pulsating, bursting.  Teary eyes on the side of the headache.  Headaches better with walking in open air. 

Food:  Hunger, but doesn’t know for what.  Thirstlessness.  Craving for rich foods, creamy foods, desserts, but symptoms worse for those foods.

Stools:  Constipation alternating with diarrhea.

Breasts: Milk leaking before she’s even pregnant.   When nursing, she cries as she pulls her baby to her breast. After weaning, breasts remain very full and sore.

Pregnancy:  This remedy is specific for turning breech babies.  Along with acupuncture and chiropractic, it is a good thing to try if your baby is in the breech position after 30-34 weeks.

The standard doses for home use are 6c and 30c.  If you’re having acute symptoms, you can try 30c, one to three times a day (or more or less, as your intuition guides you).  For less acute discomfort, or if your system is particularly sensitive, you can try 6c, up to three times a day.  Check in with your body and your intuition to guide you in taking these remedies, or read about dosing on some homeopathy sites to give you more ideas.  Or, of course, check with your homeopath, who can personalize your treatment and help you track your particular symptoms and reactions.

 

 

 

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Homeopathy in Pregnancy and Childbirth: Part 1

June 8, 2009 at 6:29 pm (Comfort Measures, Homeopathy) (, , , )

I’ll start this post with a disclaimer:  I’m not a homeopath, an herbalist, or a medical practitioner of any kind.  I’ve studied some homeopathy, but I refer all my complex homeopathic questions to my homeopath, and I’d recommend that anyone new to homeopathy do the same.

That being said, I’d like to share with you all some information about one of the most gentle and profound healing modalities I’ve found in my explorations into complementary medicine.  My family uses homeopathy as our first line of treatment in all illnesses and injuries, as well as emotional upsets.  I’ve also seen my pregnant and birthing clients use it with great success.  But what is homeopathy?  How safe is it?  How does it work?

Homeopathy is a system of energetic medicine founded on the idea that “like cures like.”  This may not make sense on first glance, so I’ll begin my explanation with a description of homeopathy’s opposite: allopathic medicine.  Most drugs and treatments used in the Western world are allopathic, which literally means “other (than the) illness/suffering”.  The idea is that if you have a condition, you need to treat it with something that will counteract your symptoms.  So if you have a fever, you take a drug that brings fevers down.  If you have a cold, you take drugs that dry up mucus.  If you have pain, you take a drug that blocks your body’s pain receptors. 

Homeopathy looks at healing in a different way.  Illnesses and injuries are seen as energetic disturbances disrupting the body’s normal harmonic functioning.  If you can isolate the particular offending pattern, then you can give a homeopathic remedy with the same energetic pattern, thus canceling out the troubling energy in the body.  This may sound odd, but think back to your high school physics classes:  two waves with the same wavelength and frequency can cancel each other out (check out this link, it’s complicated, but look at the illustration for Constructive and Destructive Interference- the righthand drawing is what I’m talking about).  This theory can be a bit heady, and it can be confusing to see how it applies to the body, but in practice I’ve found that it works amazingly well.

So how do you find the right homeopathic medicine?  This is where a homeopath can come in really handy.  For some common complaints, there are some standard homeopathic remedies you can use.  I’ll discuss those in another article.  But for more complex complaints, one has to research the specific symptoms in a Homeopathic Repertory (I use Murphy’s) and then decide on the right remedy by studying the descriptions of the first few choices in a Materia Medica.  Again, complicated, but fascinating. 

There are many hundreds of homeopathic remedies described in a good Materia Medica.  Each entry lists symptoms for specific body parts, such as Limbs, Head, Stomach, etc, and also lists mental and emotional symptoms associated with the remedy.  But how do we know which symptoms are alleviated by which remedies?  This is where the history of homeopathy is especially intriguing.

In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, a medical doctor named Samuel Hahnemann became frustrated with the rough medical techniques of his day (such as purging and bloodletting).  While doing medical research, he noticed to his curiosity that quinine, the herbal drug used to treat malaria, would cause the symptoms of malaria if a healthy person overdosed with it.  He began experimenting with other herbal remedies and found that many of them, in overdose, caused the same symptoms they were purported to treat.  So he then developed a way of taking virtually any substance from its physical state to a pure energetic state. (watch this video to see how)  Then he and a group of brave souls tested each remedy, taking massive doses (way more than we take when treating a symptom) to induce each remedy’s energetic state in their bodies.  Since they were not already ill, the energetic patterns stayed in their bodies instead of canceling out, and they observed the symptoms the remedies caused and painstakingly recorded each minute detail.  The result: a record of the overall symptom picture of each remedy, which is an invaluable tool in treating illnesses today.  Thank you, Home0pathic Cowboys and Cowgirls!

So how does this work in a real-life illness?  I’ll use myself as an example.  About a week ago, my 20-month-old daugher and I weaned.  For the past week, my breasts remained full of milk, and as the week progressed, my left breast got progressively more sore and I began to have a headache, stomachache, and flu-like symptoms.  I tried massage and sage tea, but they didn’t help.  So I looked up my symptoms in my homeopathy books. I found several remedies that addressed breast pain, and I looked them all up in my Materia Medica (the description of each remedy and its effects).  I found Bryonia, a remedy that described pain that was agonizing on movement, and made better by being still.  It addressed headaches, stomachaches, and breast pain.  Cool made it better.  All of those fit my symptoms, so I began taking the remedy.  Soon after, I fell asleep during my daughter’s  nap (something I don’t usually do anymore), and after I woke, I felt the emotions I’d been holding on to surrounding weaning beginning to surface.  That night I took another dose, and then I slept well and without too much pain, and the beginnings of a fever disappeared.  The next morning, I took a dose again, and some milk released from the affected breast.  All my flulike symptoms disappeared.  By the afternoon, my energy had returned and my breast was feeling much better.

My return to health could be seen as a coincidence, something that would have happened without the homeopathy.  But this is exactly how homeopathy works: it provides a clean slate from which the body’s natural healing responses can resolve the symptoms of illness and injury.  In my case, it definitely stopped a disease process that was rapidly developing into an infection.  And it has worked with similar rapidity in many other cases where my family has used it. 

This has been quite a long post!  Thanks for sticking with me.  In another part to this series, I’ll describe some common remedies that pregnant and birthing women have used, and later I’ll also list some remedies that work great on children.

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The Purpose and Value of Labor Support

May 23, 2009 at 2:46 pm (Comfort Measures, Doula, Informed Consent) (, , , , , )

Labor support is not a new concept.  Traditionally, a birthing mother’s female relatives and friends would gather to assist her through labor, birth and the postpartum, with or without the added assistance of a trained birth attendant.  Now, with an increasing number of extended families living great distances from one another, and with the demands and pressures of modern life and careers, that traditional support has been interrupted.  Women labor in the unfamiliar environment of hospitals, alone or with the support of a husband or partner who may have no prior experience with childbirth.  The creation of the professional doula’s role serves to address that lack of experienced, usually female, support that women used to provide for one another.

The birth doula’s role is to provide nonmedical support to mothers, families, and/or their friends throughout labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum. This support may take the form of physical comfort measures such as gentle massage, hand holding, positional support and recommendations, as well as many other techniques gleaned from modern and traditional sources.  Doulas also nurture their clients emotionally, providing encouragement and acceptance throughout the intense experience of labor.   Another part of the doula’s role is her advocacy for her clients.  Doulas meet with their clients prenatally and listen to their needs, values, and plans for their birth.  They assist their clients in gathering information about aspects of labor and birth that are important or of concern to the client.  During labor, a doula can help to facilitate communication with medical caregivers, and she can remind the mother of aspects of her birth plan or prenatal conversations.  This advocacy does not extend to speaking for the client, or to making decisions for her.  Doulas must be careful to shed all of their own values and standards of what constitutes a good birth, choosing instead to serve as a recorder and reminder of the mother’s decisions and needs.

The birth doula has responsibilities to the women and families she works with, her colleagues, the labor support profession and society in general.  “The doula’s primary responsibility is to her clients.” (DONA Code of Ethics)  She allows and encourages her clients to make their own decisions regarding their care.  She maintains their privacy and confidentiality, and does not spread information she has heard in client meetings to anyone else.  The doula strives to assist each mother who is seeking labor support in finding a doula.  She makes sure she is available to provide the care she has agreed to provide, and if she is unavailable, she makes sure to have a backup doula who can serve the client in her place.  She maintains reasonable fees which she clearly communicates to her clients, as well as the services provided for those fees.  With respect to her colleagues, the doula maintains a fair, reasonable, respectful relationship with them, and treats their clients with courtesy.  Doulas support their profession by maintaining its “values, ethics, knowledge and mission.” (ibid.)  When possible, she provides some clients with free or reduced cost services, to continue the “vision of ‘A Doula For Every Woman Who Wants One’” (ibid).  Finally, a doula commits to advocating for the health of women and children across society.

When birth doulas act according to their roles and responsibilities, the rewards to mothers and children are obvious and encouraging.  According to the findings of Hodnett’s et al meta analysis of 15 trials from North America, Europe and Africa, “Women cared for during labor by a birth doula, compared to those receiving usual care were

Cesarean sections have documented risks for mothers “including infections, hemorrhage, transfusion, injury to other organs, anesthesia complications, psychological complications, and a maternal mortality two to four times greater than that for a vaginal birth,” (http://www.childbirth.org/section/CSFact.html), and risks for babies, including “increas(ing) the risk to the infant of premature birth and respiratory distress syndrome, both of which are associated with multiple complications, intensive care and burdensome financial costs. Even for mature babies, the absence of labor increases the risk of breathing problems and other complications.” (ibid)  The decrease in cesarean birth for women accompanied by a doula in turn decreases the risks of these negative outcomes, and so therefore doula care has a positive effect on the health and wellbeing of laboring women and their newborns.

 An equally important consideration is the mother’s satisfaction with her birth experience.  Since mothers who have the help of a doula are less likely to remember their birth as a negative or traumatic event, they may be less likely to succumb to certain postpartum mood disorders, such as postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

These scientifically verified outcomes of labor assisted by a doula are encouraging in a country whose maternal and neonatal mortality rates rank among the worst in the developed world. “American babies are three times more likely to die in their first month as children born in Japan, and newborn mortality is 2.5 times higher in the United States than in Finland, Iceland or Norway, Save the Children researchers found.”  (http://www.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/parenting/05/08/mothers.index/)  Doulas, with their information gathering and nurturing support, are well-placed to assist families in achieving a healthy, positive, and powerful birth, and therefore the best possible start for their life together as a family.

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Reduce the Ring of Fire with St John’s Wort Oil

March 30, 2009 at 11:06 pm (Comfort Measures, Doula) ()

One of my favorite tips I received from an experienced midwife is a simple and effective way to ease the “ring of fire” some moms experience as their baby is crowning (as the widest part of the baby’s head is passing through the yoni).  She told me that she takes St. John’s Wort oil, a preparation of St. John’s Wort flowers in olive oil, and gently but thoroughly applies it to the perineum.  She told me that since she’d been using it, none of her clients had complained about the incredible burning, tearing, stinging pain of crowning.  Intrigued, I bought a jar of the oil for my second birth, and lo and behold, it worked!  I never felt his crowning in my perineum (although I was feeling the labor in every other part of my body…..unfortunately, I haven’t yet found a remedy for that), and he was the biggest of my babies, with a 14 3/4″ head. 

St John’s Wort is a well-used first aid remedy, because of its ability to ease nerve pain.  A description of its use, as well as many other helpful birth herbs, can be found here.  St John’s Wort can also be helpful when used in a massage oil if a mama is having painful back labor (since the nerves of the sacrum are frequently implicated in the pain of a posterior, or back, labor).  I usually carry a base massage oil, such as safflower, and then depending on the circumstances, I add  arnica oil (for tired, sore, bruised muscles) and/or St. John’s Wort Oil, and top it off with a few drops of lavender or rose oil.   If a mama is having nerve pain but would prefer not to use herbs, she can also try homeopathic Hypericum, which is the energetic form of the St. John’s Wort herb. 

As a doula who works in the hospital, I usually bring my oils with me, but I let my clients know that if they want them used during pushing, they will have to ask for them.  Doctors and midwives tend to be more likely to consider an herbal request from a mama than from a doula.  At a birth at a local community hospital, I was accompanying a mama who had expressed a strong desire to use St. John’s Wort during our pre-birth meetings.  When she started pushing, she said to her midwife, “I want that oil that Mayari has!  I want you to use it!”  Her midwife asked me what it was, and then shrugged and said “Why not?  Let’s see how it works!”  My lovely client, a first time mama, proceeded to push out her baby with no perineal pain at all, even though she (unfortunately) sustained a third-degree tear.  I was so pleased that the practitioners at this hospital were open to this gentle herbal assistance, and I have since found that many doctors, nurses and midwives are willing to try it if it’s what their patients want.

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