How to Prevent Preeclampsia (Toxemia)

January 7, 2010 at 11:54 am (Education) (, )

A common reason for induction of labor is pre-eclampsia, which is a group of symptoms that includes high blood pressure, swelling, protein in the urine, and headaches, to name a few. The common understanding is that the cause of pre-eclampsia is a mystery. Although genetics and nutrition are thought to be factors, there’s no advice as to what, specifically, mothers can do to avoid this syndrome, or why it happens.

If we accept that bodies are intelligent, and that they do things for a reason, then what reason would a pregnant body have for raising the blood pressure?  And is there anything that can reverse that reaction, and restore a state of health?

In Holistic Midwifery, author and researcher Ann Frye outlines the mechanism which leads to preeclamptic symptoms.  In a normal pregnancy, the mother’s blood supply increases by 50% over her nonpregnant blood volume.  This expansion is made possible by the mother eating enough protein and drinking enough fluids.  Salt is also essential in this process, as it “works together with albumin to maintain normal circulating blood volume”- if you don’t eat enough salt, then fluid leaks out of your bloodstream and into the intercellular spaces, which causes swelling.  So protein, fluids, and salt are essential in pregnancy.  When the blood supply does not expand as expected, then the liver and kidneys have to work harder to remove toxins, and the heart has to work harder to pump the less-than-needed blood through the placental system.  The liver compromise leads to headaches, nausea and abdominal pain.  The kidney compromise leads to protein in the urine, and the kidneys also signal the body to create higher blood pressure, in an effort to get the blood where it needs to go.  These symptoms can become very serious, and even proceed to eclampsia, which can lead to maternal death. (Frye; Holistic Midwifery; Labrys Press 2006, p. 828-844)

The mother’s body needs a lot of blood to support a healthy pregnancy.  Diet is the most important factor in whether she will make enough blood or not.  Food is the pregnant mother’s best friend, and if she uses it well, she may be able to avoid the common and dangerous complications of pre-eclampsia.   In general, a mother should eat 80-100 grams of protein a day, including several different sources, and paying attention to food combining if she’s a vegetarian.  She should drink at least 2 quarts of fluid a day, mostly water, and she should salt foods to taste.  This may seem like a lot of food, but the body is doing a lot of work during pregnancy, and food is it’s most important fuel and support.

If you are dealing with high blood pressure during pregnancy, make sure to begin eating plenty of protein and drink plenty of water.  Frye recommends protein at every meal and every snack for liver-compromised women.  Seeing an acupuncturist or a homeopath is also helpful- those healing techniques will help to restore your body’s compromised internal balance.


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My Doula Herb Garden

May 5, 2009 at 4:54 pm (Doula, Herbs) (, , )

St John's Wort

St John's Wort

This weekend I went to the Asheville Herb Festival with my daughter and our 9-year-old friend.  We spent  a happy hour wandering, looking at all sorts of green growing things, and talking about plant medicine.  I intended to pick up some staples for my garden, but I got drawn into the medicinal herb area.  As I spoke with the girls about how each herb can help women and mamas, I decided it was time to start my own doula herb garden.  Here’s what I chose:

Motherwort:  A pretty little plant with pink flowers, it promotes relaxation and helps to de-jangle mama nerves.  I used it after Stella was born, when caring for two rowdy boys and a brand-new baby girl pushed me right up to the edges of my coping abilities. 

Chamomile:  An all-around good herb to have in a garden.  Its flowers make a lovely and calming tea.  I mix it with red raspberry, alfalfa, and nettle to make a nurturing and nutritional brew for the mamas I know.  Chamomile tea is also great for a nursing mama (and as it goes through the milk, it helps to calm the babe), and it’s wonderful for young kids as well.  My boys love to drink it, and it tones down my eldest son’s energy when he’s wound up too tight.

Lavender:  Another calmative with a great scent.  Combined with other herbs, it makes a great sitz bath. I love lavender tea, and the dried flowers can fill a small stuffed animal or pillow for a new baby gift.  Lavender essential oil is also a great addition to a massage oil, for mamas or babies.

Comfrey:  A skin and tissue healer.  Comfrey is another good addition to a postpartum sitz bath, especially if mama has torn or had an episiotony.  Comfrey poultices or comfrey salves are great on scrapes, cuts, and sprains. And the fuzzy leaves are fun to rub:)

Blue Cohosh:  This one isn’t going in my doula bag, as its effects are stronger and need to be monitored by a midwife or doctor.  But I planted it anyway, in anticipation of the midwifery training I plan to embark on in a few years.  Blue Cohosh is a labor enhancer, and can sometimes be used to induce labor as well. 

I plan to include many more herbs as the summer goes on- I’ll let you know as I plant more gentle and helpful herbs!

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