Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, but many women experience varying degrees of discomfort and pain at different stages. Fortunately, when you can’t rely on the over-the-counter relief you’re accustomed to, there are a variety of natural remedies—from supplements to behavioral modifications –that can help alleviate pregnancy symptoms. We spoke with Karen Carleton, naturopathic doctor at our Portland store (and a mom herself) about her recommendations for a healthy, happy pregnancy.
What natural remedies do you recommend for morning sickness?
Try sipping teas such as peppermint, anise, fennel red raspberry leaf or chamomile before getting out of bed or throughout the day when nausea is strongest. Other things that can contribute to morning sickness (or nausea throughout the day) are low blood sugar and dehydration. That’s why eating small, frequent meals throughout the day and a protein-rich snack before bed can be helpful. Some women also find that eating a few crackers before getting out of bed in the morning is helpful.
What are some natural ways to ease constipation during pregnancy?
I recommend focusing on diet and exercise/movement to help prevent constipation. This means eating small and frequent meals, increasing fiber through whole grains, staying hydrated and getting movement such as walking, yoga or swimming.
Should constipation occur, some natural remedies include drinking warm prune juice or eating prunes, and/or taking fiber such as bran or ground flax (with plenty of water).
How can I naturally increase energy without caffeine during pregnancy?
Gentle exercise, a healthy diet and plenty of sleep will be very helpful to increase/maintain energy during pregnancy. But it’s important to remind yourself that you are growing a human, which takes a lot of energy! So it’s okay to nap, to go to bed early and to not expect yourself to go at the same speed as before pregnancy. It’s normal to experience heavy fatigue during the first trimester due to changing hormones and to the rapidly growing fetus, and then in the third trimester due to the physical demand of added weight.
In addition, nettle is a wonderful herb. It provides vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron, and it can help improve energy when taken throughout pregnancy. I like it taken as a tea and mixed with red raspberry leaf and some alfalfa.
Is it possible at all to minimize bloat during pregnancy? What are some natural ways to do so?
Bloating is a normal part of pregnancy, especially in the first trimester when changing hormones affect the digestive system, causing the muscles to relax. There are some ways to help minimize bloating and gas: again, eat small, frequent meals, get in regular movement like walking or yoga, drink plenty of water and get sufficient fiber (notice a pattern here?).
Dandelion root and leaf is mildly diuretic and stimulating to bile flow so it can help with some of these digestive complaints.
Aside from prenatals, what other supplements do you recommend for pregnant women?
It’s important to take high-quality supplements, especially when it comes to fish oil and probiotics. I recommend taking a fish oil that has been third-party tested (like those from Nordic Naturals) to meet international quality standards for heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs, etc. Choline is also important for optimal brain development. It’s usually included in prenatals, but a great food source is egg yolk. There are other supplements that a woman may benefit from depending on her individual needs, and that’s something that can be discussed with her health care provider.
Do you have any natural remedies for treating headaches during pregnancy?
There are a number of reasons a woman may experience headache during pregnancy, so the remedy will depend on the cause. Some common causes of headache are hormonal changes, low blood sugar, dehydration, lack of sleep, stress, caffeine withdrawal, food sensitivities and poor posture (especially in the third trimester).
Addressing low blood sugar with regular meals and snacks will help, as will drinking plenty of water and herbal teas to avoid dehydration. If the headache is due to lack of sleep, then basically sleep when you can; take a nap during the day, and find a comfortable position to sleep, usually with a body pillow to prop you on your side.
Magnesium can be helpful to decrease headache as well as muscle aches and cramps. But be cautious not to take too much, because in high amounts it can work as a laxative. Check with your doctor, but usually around 300 mg a day (what’s usually included in a prenatal) is a good maximum.
A warm cloth over the eyes and nose or a cool cloth to the base of the neck can help reduce a headache and, if tolerated, adding lavender or peppermint essential oil to the water will give relief as well. If headaches are due to posture and the extra weight, then prenatal massage can also help.
If headaches become worse or persistent, are different than normal, are accompanied by blurry vision, swelling in hands and feet, sudden weight gain and/or pain in the upper abdomen, contact your doctor.
As with anything, it’s important to be comfortable with what you are taking, so if you don’t have much knowledge about medicinal herbs then I would recommend working with a naturopathic doctor, herbalist or other practitioner who works with natural medicine and pregnancy.