Giving birth can be an amazing experience but often leaves the mum a little battered and bruised. Some mothers experience excessive blood loss, poor healing and issues with milk supply.Let’s take a look at some of the more common health complaints for women after birth and see what can be done to assist getting your body back to health.
1. Recovery and healing after birth
Weather you deliver your baby naturally or via caesarean section you are most likely going to be bruised, possibly torn and stitched, and most definitely stretched and sore. It generally takes your body a few weeks to heal and feel a little more normal after delivering a baby. There are a lot of supplements that you can take to help assist and accelerate the healing.Zinc
Zinc is essential for tissue repair and wound healing. Zinc provides antioxidant protection and helps the body to defend against infection.
Recommended dose is 15-30mg per day and look for a supplement that has zinc in the form of amino acid chelate, gluconate or picolinate as these are the better absorbed forms. Zinc does interact with other minerals including calcium, iron and chromium, so take away from these supplements (4).
Vitamin C is heavily involved in the production of collagen. Collagen is it is one of the most important components in the human body, and is responsible for the strength, flexibility and elasticity of the connective tissue of the skin. Vitamin c is also involved in the healing of wounds, bruises and acts as a protective barrier against infection.
Recommended dosage is 1000-2000mg per day in divided doses throughout the day.
Co Enzyme Q10
Co enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) improves tissue healing. It is known to significantly increase collagen repair after skin incision. CoQ10 is a fabulous antioxidant which will decrease inflammation and accelerate healing.
Recommended dosage is 150mg-300mg per day
Bromelain is an enzyme derived from pineapple. We use bromelain to help reduce swelling and to improve post-operative healing time.
Expect to lose up to 500ml of blood during childbirth. Any loss over 500ml is considered a postpartum haemorrhage, if you lose over 1000ml it is very serious and often a blood transfusion will be administered. There are many reasons as to why some people bleed more than others; the leading cause is low iron levels prior to delivery.
2. Blood Loss
It is important to ensure your iron levels are optimal during your pregnancy and is the reason why iron levels are check at around 28 weeks and often later during the pregnancy too. Obviously taking an iron supplement prior to birth is the best prevention but if you do have significant blood loss there are supplements you can take to increase your iron levels
Iron helps to carry oxygen around the body and also helps the muscles to store and use oxygen. Iron is also involved in immune system function and hormone production. Some signs that your iron levels may be low include
• Feeling tired weak and breathless
• Decreased work performance
• Difficulty maintaining body temperature
• Decreased immune function, which increases susceptibility to infection
• Glossitis (an inflamed tongue)
If you had significant blood loss during delivery or suspect you may have low iron levels speak to your doctor, get your levels checked and if you are low, supplement with an iron supplement.
Recommended dosage is up to 45mg per day. Preferred forms of iron are amino acid chelate, ferrous fumerate and ferrous gluconate. Ferrous sulphate is often recommended by medical practitioners and this form does absorb well but often causes gastrointestinal irritation, constipation and blackened stools.
Vitamin C is involved in iron absorption. Vitamin C helps to reduce iron to its ferrous state in the intestines which makes it more absorbable. Vitamins C also promotes the absorption of non haem iron found in plant based foods. Taking a Vitamin C supplement with an iron supplement can increase the absorption by as much as 400%.
I recommend taking at least 500mg with every iron supplement. Some iron supplements will have Vitamin C included for extra absorption.
Unfortunately one of the more unpleasant side effects of giving birth can be developing haemorrhoids. Haemorrhoids are a weakening and swelling of blood vessels in the rectum. Hormonal changes during pregnancy increase blood flow to the pelvis and relax supportive tissues while the growing baby causes increased pressure on blood vessels.
During labour, haemorrhoids may develop because of the intense pressure on the anal area while pushing to deliver the baby. Often the haemorrhoids are transient and resolve themselves after a few months in some cases they remain for longer. Taking supplements can greatly reduce the swelling and improve the integrity of the blood vessels leading to either resolution of the problem or a reduction in symptoms.
Bioflavonoids, also sometimes referred to as Vitamin P. They are super-antioxidants found in many natural foods. Often they are found in the same foods as Vitamin C. Bioflavonoids are anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. Bioflavonoids prevent capillary fragility in doing this helps to prevent against bruising, varicose veins and haemorrhoids (3).
Recommended dosage is up to 4000mg of bioflavonoids per day in divided doses. The citrus bioflavonoids are most beneficial for haemorrhoids these include; rutin, hesperidin and quercertin.
Horse Chestnut and Butchers Broom
The herbs horse chestnut and butchers broom are traditional herbs for haemorrhoids. They both help to reduce swelling and inflammation and also strengthen the blood vessel walls. These herbs are best taken in capsule or tablet form. There are some contraindications to taking these herbs so please speak to your healthcare practitioner to see if these herbs are a good choice for you.
4. Breast feeding support
Breast feeding does not come naturally for everyone. Breastfeeding is a skill that needs to be learnt and there is a lot of pressure for mums to be able to breastfeed successfully. One of the most common issues mums face when breastfeeding is insufficient milk supply.
What can you do to help increase your milk supply?
The answer is a lot! First ensure you are eating and drinking enough, if you are not getting in enough calories or fluids your body simply cannot make enough milk. Secondly get enough rest, easier said than done but rest as much as you can. Third get bub on the boob as much as possible as bub will stimulate more milk supply. If you are doing all of these things and your milk supply is still low here are some things that may help.
The herbs Fenugreek, Fennel and Blessed Thistle are what herbalists refer to as galactagogues. This means they help to stimulate milk supply. These herbs come in both tablet and tea forms. Some mums drink ‘breast feeding teas’ 2-3 times a day others opt to take tablets of these herbs twice a day.
There are many recipes that can be found online for lactation cookies. The jury is still out as to how effective they are but many women claim they have worked wonders. The common ingredients in all these recipes are brewer’s yeast and oatmeal which are naturally rich in B vitamins and fibre. These ingredients can be purchased at health food shops.
5. Post Natal Depression
Post natal depression is very common these days. Many mums are hesitant to go on to prescription medications but rest assured there are a lot of natural things that you can try before going down the path of prescription medicines.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) is an omega 3 fatty acid. Studies have shown a correlation between low tissue levels of DHA and post natal depression. Studies have shown a decrease in DHA in the postpartum female leads to depression and associated neurobiological changes (1, 2).
Recommended dosage of DHA for post natal depression is 400mg-1000mg per day
Zinc is essential for brain and nervous system function. It is also required for behaviour and emotional balance. Is there any wonder that a deficiency of zinc is linked to postpartum depression?
Recommended dosage is up to 45mg per day. Look for a supplement that has zinc in the form of amino acid chelate, gluconate or picolinate as these are the better absorbed forms
A deficiency of iron can lead to poor concentration and poor short term memory. An iron deficient person may be unmotivated, apathetic and suffer from fatigue. All these symptoms are very similar to those of post natal depression. Iron supplementation definitely can help to boost a person’s energy levels and make one feel more focused.
Recommended dosage is up to 45mg per day. Preferred forms of iron are amino acid chelate, ferrous fumerate and ferrous gluconate.
There are many herbs that can be beneficial for post natal depression these include; St John’s Wort, Withania, Lavender and Valerian. Speak to a naturopath or herbalist to see which herbs are best suited to you.
Becoming a mum is an amazing journey that can sometimes be a little overwhelming. By making sure you eat a well-balanced diet, get enough rest and taking supplements when needed can make this journey easier and most definitely more enjoyable.
If at any time you feel you are not coping be it emotionally or physically make sure you seek help from your healthcare professional.
Written by Lea McIntyre - Naturopath - ND BHSc
Lea has had many years of professional experience as a naturopath working with her patients and clients both in her clinic and as a senior retail naturopathic adviser. When Lea is not helping people stay well and enjoy a healthy lifestyle, she is busy caring for and nurturing her two young children.
1. Levant B. N-3 (omega 3) fatty acids in postpartum depression: implications for prevention and treatment. Depress Res Treat: 2011:467349
2. Pearlstein T. depression: treatment options and dilemmas. Rev Psychiatr Neurosci. 2008:33(4): 302-318
3. Alonso-Coello P, Zhou Q. Martinez-Zapata Mj et al. Meta analysis of flavonoids for the treatment of haemorrhoids. Br J Surg 2006; 93 (8): 909-20. Mackay D, Miller AL. Nutritional support for wound healing. Altern Med Rev. 2003: 84(4): 359-77
4. Lansdown AB, Mirastschikski U, Stubbs N et al. Zinc in wound healing; theoretical, experimental, and clinical aspects. Wound Repair Regen. 2007; 15(1): 2-16
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