This article was supposed to cover herbs for use during labor to aid in its speed, efficiency, and pain management. However, like so many births, things didn’t go exactly as I planned or expected. My baby was still breech at 37 weeks (despite ALL the things I did to prevent and reverse that: yoga, walking, swimming, handstands and somersaults in the pool, acupuncture and moxibustion, Webster technique chiropractics daily for weeks, Spinning Babies & other inversions, etc). When I had exhausted all other baby flipping techniques, I decided to go in to the hospital for the ECV (external cephalic version) – that’s where the doctors manually press on your belly and try to maneuver the baby out of the breech position. It has a 1% chance of resulting in an emergency caesarean section and, sure enough, I became that small statistic. (We later found it was due to a tiny tear that the procedure created in my placenta.)
While I didn’t use herbs for the actual delivery, I definitely used herbs for recovery. Right after the surgery, I started researching as much as I could about natural ways to recover from a caesarean (since I never planned on birthing that way and wasn’t prepared with the herbal knowledge before delivery of how to cope with that). I knew that just because I didn’t birth vaginally didn’t mean herbs wouldn’t (or couldn’t) play a role in my recovery. They certainly played a role in my pregnancy, and do in my daily life, so I became determined to find ways to heal my body as quickly, naturally and effectively as possible while also helping my body adjust to motherhood and the new life I am now nourishing on the outside of the womb.
Red Raspberry Leaf
As I wrote about in my previous article, red raspberry leaf is – like for many women – one of my go-to herbs for female reproductive health. I had a relative bring me my red raspberry leaf herb (as well as my pregnancy blend, which I also discussed in my previous article and which contained red raspberry leaf) while I was in the hospital. I made 64oz infusions each of the three days I was there in hospital and got plenty of strange looks from some of the nurses when I asked for hot water for my loose herbs in glass jars. (Some of the nurses said my tea looked like weed. To them, I gave an education on the medicinal benefits of the herbs my teas contained). I noticed that when I was breastfeeding while drinking my red raspberry leaf tea, I could actually feel my uterus contracting back to its smaller size in those first few days after birth. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling (but not entirely painful either); but it did make me feel better mentally and emotionally – to know that my body was recovering and going back to the way it was after the sudden and emotionally traumatic experience I had of needing a sudden, unexpected delivery. I didn’t find anything in my research about red raspberry leaf tea causing you to feel your uterus contracting right after delivery, but since red raspberry leaf does tone the uterus and breastfeeding promotes the uterus contracting back, it seems logical to me that these two things in combination created that sensation. Whatever the case, my OBGYN was extremely satisfied with the speediness of my uterus contracting and said on the day following surgery that my uterus felt like it was already much lower and nearly back to its normal size and location. I attribute that to not only the fact that this was my first pregnancy but also to the red raspberry leaf I drank religiously throughout pregnancy each day and immediately after birth.
Breastfeeding Tea Blend
This is the only postpartum-specific herbal remedy that I made when I was pregnant that I actually got to use (R.I.P sitz bath blend, labour tincture and tea, “labour-aid” electrolyte drink, etc). Thus, I was very pleased when, upon using it for the first time, I instantly saw an increase in my milk supply within one day. It contains equal parts fenugreek, fennel seed and hops; half parts hibiscus and rosehip; and quarter parts anise and cardamon. It’s a warming, comforting, fragrant blend made with plenty of galactagogues to stimulate the production of breastmilk. Since breastfeeding also helps bring the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size, this tea serves a dual purpose: to increase breast milk production so baby is be well-nourished and to help get mom’s body back closer to its “before” state. I started drinking this tea on day 4 postpartum after I was home from the hospital and on the same day my milk first started coming in.
The first salve I ever made was a yarrow salve. At the time (which wasn’t too long ago), I wasn’t too sure how to use up the seemingly large 2oz quantity I made before it went bad. But that simple yarrow salve proved to be quite useful in those first few weeks post-surgery, and now I’m glad I made such a large quantity. Yarrow is excellent for healing deep wounds. Being a styptic herb, it helps stop bleeding (like from a slightly over-strained stitch) while also encouraging blood flow (like the uterus’ natural release of lochia postpartum). Homer even speaks of its use on deep arrow wounds received in battle. I figured, if it was good enough for the Greeks, it was good enough for me to use on a wound that was much more neatly stitched together than what I imagine a Grecian battle field wound dressing would have been like. I applied a fresh yarrow poultice several times a week once I returned home from the hospital as well as applied the salve daily after showering. After two weeks of allowing the wound to heal, I also started lightly massaging the salve into my skin at the incision area. C-section incision massage helps your skin and all the deeper layers heal and regain their former elasticity.
As I wrote about in a precious article, comfrey is excellent for wound healing. It works very quickly if applied topically; however, it’s so effective that sometimes what appears to be healed on the surface can be less fully healed underneath. For this reason, I applied my yarrow salve and poultice immediately after delivery and didn’t start using comfrey until several weeks postpartum once my incision site had healed and left a deep red scar. That’s when I switched from using my yarrow salve to my comfrey salve, while still also using the yarrow poultice to continue encouraging deeper healing.
I also took Susun Weed’s suggestion (as she talks about on her website, online videos and books) and made a comfrey infusion. However, since I was also aware of the potentially negative effects on the liver that comfrey could have in large doses, I made a weak infusion by cutting the herb quantity in half. I chose to make an infusion in my specific situation instead of sticking with only the topical salve because I wanted the benefits of comfrey to be felt both deeply internally and topically/externally. I took this mild infusion only four times (twice a week for two weeks – a short period of time as also to avoid any negative effects), then continued on using just the comfrey salve on my incision area – something that I continue to do now six weeks postpartum.
With so many herbs being involved in my recovery and playing their own roles, I can’t say which herb(s) helped more than others, if or how they all interacted with each other, or how each herb helped me heal specifically. All I can say is that I had an extremely easy and fast recovery (I was able to walk easily enough the day after surgery and felt mostly back to my normal self physically by 2 1/2 weeks), a very healthy milk supply, and a respectable amount of energy for being a new mom getting little sleep. For me, this child birthing experience – even if it was the polar opposite of what I’d been preparing myself for mentally, spiritually and physically – really drove home not only the value of herbs in my daily life and how powerful and potent their medicinal properties really are, but also the amazing innate abilities of the human body!