Sacred birth, sacred earth
More information is slowly coming out on how our early experiences can effect our lives in the long term. For example, the use of drugs in labour has been shown to increase the likelihood of those babies reaching for drugs as a teenager (i.e. when they are under stress).
Epigenetics is showing that while we are born with specific DNA, triggers in the outer environment can alter how DNA expresses. Too much or too little stress can leave genes silenced or dormant, and this will effect not only the person with these genes, but the genes they pass on to future generations. While this is not a new concept in homeopathy, it is exciting that it is slowly being shown in the scientific world. (For a more in depth look at this see Is society being reshaped on a microbiological and epigenetic level by the way women give birth?20)
Our experience of birth and life in the early days has an effect on the way our neural pathways are formed. Because these nerve pathways are still forming, every experience we have at this time creates an imprint that can continue to affect us throughout life. When we have positive experiences, the brain in effect gets wired to experience positive experiences more often. The more loved, safe and supported we feel, the easier it is to experience this. Whereas if we experience repeated traumatic events (which can be as simple as being left alone a lot), the brain secretes stress hormones and becomes ‘wired’ to experience stress more. While single traumas can be easily healed with good emotional support and presence, repeated traumas can create lifelong effects on our mental health17.
Changing the way we birth, changes the way we are in the world. When we don’t have to dig deep through thousands of layers of the onion back to our birth or before, we can start evolving. If we take birth back to a more physiological natural state, we give babies a start in the world where they can grow without having to trawl through layers of toxicity and trauma. Being wired positively, experiencing the world as safe and loving, they carry this out into the world and pass this on to future generations.
When we start to respect the mother and birth as sacred, intervening only when there is a need, we start to recognize the amazing ability of nature to heal itself and women’s innate ability to birth. Just as we can’t survive without the earth’s gifts of food, water and air, we could not survive in the womb without the mother. As we start to heal birth, we start to heal the wounded feminine within us all. With this, we start to act with more consideration and love for not only ourselves and others, but for the earth we walk on. Sacred birth, sacred earth.
Midwifery, Homeopathy and Empowerment.
By their very nature, both midwifery and homeopathy can be empowering as they do not seek to ‘do for’ women, but rather to support them to do their own healing. One works directly ‘with women’ (the literal meaning of ‘midwife’), the other with the vital force. Both aim at supporting nature rather than imposing on it. While the homeopath seeks to boost the vital force to realign and rebalance itself thereby creating healing, the midwife seeks to support normal birth, to empower a woman to birth knowing she is well supported, while at the same time being able to know and help when things aren’t going normally. When using homeopathy in birthing, women become aware of their own strength and their own sense of achievement is not detracted from in any way19.
When carried out properly, midwifery, just like homeopathy can facilitate a woman to experience birth as a source of empowerment. Giving birth can be an initiation into one’s deep inner power. Supporting a woman to feel empowered in her birth journey means that she feels in control, trusted in her strength and inner wisdom to give birth and her ability to make choices along the way. A midwife offers guidance and information only so that a woman can make a clear informed choice. When a caregiver (whether homeopath or midwife) takes over, or when important choices are made for the woman rather than by her, a belief and feeling of being helpless and dependent is reinforced. When a woman takes responsibility for her choices, this boosts confidence and gives a sense of empowerment. This sense of empowerment will help her in caring for her new child and the numerous decisions she will continue to make for her and her family’s wellbeing. The effects of a woman feeling empowered have far reaching consequences, not just in her own sense of self confidence, but in her ability to then strengthen and encourage others to empower themselves, which in turn has a ripple effect in changing our society21.
Empowered women = empowered children. As a homeopath, we can empower clients with first aid homeopathic kits, birth kits etc. Just like a midwife, a homeopath will hopefully be creating empowered people in the world, not fostering dependence.
Keeping birth normal
Homeopathy can be a great way to keep a birth normal. Constitutional treatment before and during pregnancy is like setting the scene, preparing the new child and mother in the best way possible. Pregnancy may bring out a whole different set of symptoms than the woman normally has as the fetus starts to make its own needs apparent. This is a fantastic time to start working through whatever arises to prepare both mother and child for a healthy start to life and hopefully a smoother birthing journey.
Working through any past traumas or present stress in the mother’s life is vital, as maternal psychological distress crosses via hormones to the fetus and has an impact on fetal development and later mental health of the neonate23. Fears, resistances, family patterns and emotional traumas that arise in the period leading up to birth can also be important to work through in order to have a normal birth. For example, a history of sexual abuse is highly likely to be triggered at birth or even in some of the procedures and vaginal exams that may be offered before birth, this in turn can cause even more trauma16. Being aware of potential anxieties and having the appropriate remedies on hand can be key, as apprehension and fear are well known to impede labour and birth by the secretion of adrenalin18.
So in preparing a woman in the last few weeks for birth, what can we as homeopaths do besides normal prescribing? What may come up in the birth period? My intention with this article is to bring up a few things that may be useful for a homeopath to know to help prepare a woman for birthing, especially in the last few weeks of pregnancy. I will not focus just on remedies, but more background information and resources for a few things that can come up in “normal” birth.
Uterine preparation – Caulophyllum
Caulophyllum is for healthy TONE of the uterus. Healthy uterine muscle tone holds the baby safely in until it is time to let it go and then contracts regularly, slowly opening the cervix and moving the baby downwards and out. It then expels the placenta contracting the uterus back down to prevent bleeding. Lack of muscular tone can lead to a range of things – repeated miscarriages, premature labour, prolonged pregnancy, weak irregular contractions, uncoordinated contractions, and labour that stops and starts. Caulophyllum can be taken from 34-36 weeks to tone up the uterus, (30c once or twice a week). I have seen primiparous (first time mums) women taking Caulophyllum in the last few weeks of pregnancy, have gentle 4-6 hour labours.
Caulophyllum can also be useful for retained placenta or post partum haemorrhage if the cause is muscle tone. This may happen after a long labour where the woman (and her uterus) are exhausted and just give up contracting.
Optimal fetal positioning
Position of the baby is a big one. Optimal positioning of the baby for birth is in an anterior position (this means the baby’s back is towards the mothers front; OA = occiput anterior). Making sure the woman is not lying on her back and leaning backwards in armchairs, but spending time leaning forwards can help this process along. When the baby is OP (occiput posterior) at the start of labour, the baby’s back is against the mother’s back, and this can make for a much longer and more painful labour. Often the baby will turn during labour, and sometimes it will birth in that position, so it is by no means a disaster if the baby is OP. However, the extended and more intense back pain can lead to women getting exhausted and desiring drugs and hence needing further interventions. So attempting to remedy this situation earlier can be valuable. It is good to remember that there may be a valid reason the baby is in this position. It may be due to lack of space in which case craniosacral work or specific stretches in the last weeks of pregnancy may be very helpful. www.spinningbabies.com is a great source of information for getting baby in the right position and engaging well using stretches.
Kali carb is the classic remedy for an OP labour and can help a baby turn before a woman goes into labour too. Breech presentation is the other ‘malposition’, in which the baby’s head is not down in the mothers pelvis, but up near her breasts. Once again, some breech births can be done safely when there is a trained birth attendant present. Many hospitals however are still working in the dark ages and will automatically call a caesarian if they know a baby is breech. Pulsatilla is the classic remedy for breech presentation to turn the baby head down. Breech will often be discovered in the last few weeks of pregnancy, so Pulsatilla can be given then to turn the baby. Babe in a transverse position (lying crossways): Arnica. The other two remedies in the repertory for abnormal position of baby are Aconite, and Medorrhinum; and then there is Plumbum “as if he(baby) had lack of room”.
Group B Streptococcus (GBS)
Many hospitals in Australia now routinely screen for GBS at 36 weeks.
Points to know:
- Group B streptococcus is a bacteria that can colonise the gastrointestinal tract and va-gina and is very common.
- GBS status can change from week to week, so being GBS positive in early pregnancy does not mean it will still be there in a month’s time.
- When a baby is born vaginally, if the mother is GBS positive at the time of birth, the baby may pick up GBS. This occurs in less than 1 in every 2000 births. Of these 1 in 25 of those infected die.
- Early onset GBS in the babe usually occurs in the first few hours, and babe can become infected in the blood, lungs and brain, and can die.
- Symptoms in the newborn include lethargy, poor feeding, unstable temperatures, fast or slow breathing. Often appears in the first 12 hours.
- If a woman is found to be positive at 36 weeks, they will be encouraged/offered (depending on the care provider) intravenous antibiotics when they go into labour and for every 4 hours until the baby is born. While it is not always made clear that this is a choice, the option to not have antibiotics is there. Extra observations of the baby are carried out on all babies with positive GBS mothers for 24-48 hours after birth whatever the case.
- Having antibiotics in labour means they will have a cannula inserted into a vein at the start of labour.
- Antibiotics do not have a lasting effect on GBS, they reduce colonization for a short time only. So it is no use treating early in pregnancy as it is likely it will return by due date. A recent study1 found that five times more babies that were treated with antibiotics in labour for GBS, contracted GBS after discharge compared to those who had no antibiotics in labour.
- A Cochrane review7 of using antibiotics in labour to prevent GBS in the baby states that there is no adequate evidence on the efficacy of this practice. While the current studies show there may be a reduction in the incidence of early onset GBS of the newborn with the use of intrapartum antibiotics, the studies reviewed may show this due to a high risk bias. More research is needed.
- Antibiotics kill all bacteria including the “good” bacteria. This means the baby is born into a sterile environment and does not receive bacterial colonization of the newborns gut from the mothers vaginal flora. We already know this is important and sometimes those born by caesarean section are now smearing vaginal material on their breasts to give babies the bacteria they missed out on by having a surgical birth. This lack of healthy gut flora that comes from the va-gina and helps colonise the babies gut can persist for extended periods and maybe even a lifetime. Immune problems, allergies, asthma and even diabetes and obesity have been linked to this2.
- Wiping out the good gut flora can lead to increased thrush infections which can lead to breastfeeding issues.
- Antibiotics in labour also leads to antibiotic resistant bacteria in the gut of babes and increases the risk of E. Coli infection which is even more dangerous (41% mortality) than GBS (6.7% mortality)9.
- A long term study5 assessed children up to 7 years of age and found that antibiotic exposure (erythromycin) in pregnancy was associated with an increase in functional impairment of the child and an increased incidence of cerebral palsy compared to those who did not receive antibiotics. Another found that the use of antibiotics in pregnancy increases the incidence of persistent wheezing and early onset wheezing in children8. Fetal exposure to antibiotics also increases the incidence of childhood asthma6, eczema and hayfever8.
Women have a choice whether to be screened for GBS or not. If they choose to have the swab done and the results are positive, they have a choice whether to have antibiotics in labour or not. It constantly surprises me how many people think they do not have this choice. While it is a health care providers responsibility to inform one of all the benefits and the risks of any course of action, it is up to the woman herself to take responsibility and make her own choice. I would highly recommend doing your own research into these things as hospital information can sometimes be one sided aiming at fulfilling hospital policies, and care providers are often overworked and have a lot of boxes to tick off.
Babies are at higher risk of getting GBS when mother is GBS positive and there is:
- rupture of membranes more than 18 hours before birth;
- preterm labour or rupture of membranes (before 37 weeks);
- fever during labour;
- urinary tract infection due to GBS;
- previous baby that had GBS disease.
Alternatives to antibiotics in the GBS positive woman
- Choosing to do nothing – baby will have extra screening for 48 hours after birth in most environments when mother is found to be GBS positive.
- Say no to unnecessary vaginal exams, artificial rupture of the membranes and fetal scalp electrodes, as these may all increases the risk of infection by carrying bacteria from the va-gina up to the uterus.
- Healthy diet in pregnancy, reduce sugar intake which promotes yeast and unhealthy gut flora. Increase fermented foods – yoghurt, miso, sauerkraut, kombucha etc.
- There are now a number of studies showing this has positive results on GBS strains.
- A fresh clove slightly crushed inserted into the va-gina overnight for 5-8 consecutive nights inhibits GBS growth.3 Garlic is antibiotic. There are no known contraindications.
- Normal constitutional prescribing. Most GBS positive women are asymptomatic.
- For babies at higher risk (as above), the use of prophylactic Group B Strep nosode may be considered.
PROM/Premature Rupture of Membranes
This is defined as rupture of membranes before labour and occurs in 8-10% of term pregnancies13. 60-80% will go on to labour within 24 hours12. If labour does not start within 24 hours this is known as prolonged PROM. Antibiotics are generally offered at 18 hours, and there is often pressure to induce labour at 24 hours. However, risk has only been found to increase at 96 hours after rupture of membranes.
A Cochrane review11 recommends that antibiotics for pre labour rupture of membranes should not be routine practice, but restricted only to those who show signs of infection. Although antibiotics have been shown to reduce infection, the rates of infection after PROM, even in those who do not take antibiotics are very low11. Once again, the risk of infection for prolonged PROM is no higher12, however if the child is preterm there is an increased risk of infection.
We’ve already looked at antibiotics, so the same can be said here for ROM.
In cases where there is only small leakage of the amniotic fluid, we may give tissue repair remedies such as Calendula to attempt to repair the tear. Induction remedies may be another option here.
Preventing Post Partum Haemorrhage – Arnica
I recommend Arnica to all birthing women to take in the second stage of labour when she is pushing baby out and then immediately after birth. It is such a valuable remedy for shock, soft tissue damage, traumatic and long births, and to reduce the loss of blood and post partum haemorrhage. We are lucky enough to have a little medical research on this:
A randomized double blind placebo controlled study using Arnica and Bellis to prevent post partum bleeding showed a significant effect on haemoglobin levels 72 hours after birth. The placebo group had significantly decreased haemoglobin levels as opposed to the Arnica/Bellis group who only had very slight decreases in haemoglobin22.
While it is beyond the scope of this article to go into many things that may come up before birth, I hope I have covered some of the more common ways that we as homeopaths, can help to keep birth normal. Other things to consider researching and discussing with your clients before birth may include third stage management, delayed vs. early cord clamping, vitamin k injections for baby at birth, the effect of drugs in labour on breastfeeding and bonding to name a few. I have developed some short online courses aimed at pregnant women, midwives and doulas to learn some basic homeopathic remedies for labour, birth and the postnatal period. These can be accessed at https://www.openlearning.com/Bloomingmoon
- Berardi, A., et al. (2013). Group B Stretococcal Colonisation in 160 Mother-Baby Pairs: A Prospective Cohort Study. Journal of Pediatrics 163(4): 1099-104.
- Buckley, S.J. (2009). Gentle birth, gentle mothering. Celestial Arts: USA.
- Cohain, J.S. (2010). Case Series: Symptomatic Group B Streptococcus Vaginitis Treated with Fresh Garlic. Integrative Medicine 9:3, 40-43.
- Donnelly, L. (2014). Group B Strep: A Holistic Approach. Midwifery Today, Spring 2014; 19-22.
- Kenyon, S., Pike, K., Jones, D.R., Brocklehurst, P., Marlow, N., Salt, A. & Taylor, D.J. (2008). Childhood outcomes after prescription of antibiotics to pregnant women with spontaneous preterm labour: 7 year follow up of the ORACLE II trial. The Lancet 372, 1319-1327.
- Murk, W., Risnes, K.R. & Bracken, M.B. (2011). Prenatal or early-life exposure to antibiotics and risk of childhood asthma: A systematic review. Pediatrics 127(6), 1124-1138.
- Ohlsson A, Shah, VS. (2014). Intrapartum antibiotics for known maternal group B streptococcal colonization. Cochrane Database Syst Rev; 6:CD007467.
- Rusconi, F., Galassi, C., Forastiere, F., Bellasio, M., De Sario, M., Ciccone, G., Brunetti, L., Chellini, E., Corbo, G., La Grutta, S., Lombardi, E., Piffer, S., Talassi, F., Biggeri, A. & Pearce, N. (2007). Maternal complications and procedures in pregnancy and at birth and wheezing phenotypes in children. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 175, 16-21.
- Schuchat, A. (2000). Risk factors and opportunities for prevention of early-onset neonatal sepsis: A multicenter Case Control Study. Pediatrics 105 1 pt 1: 21-26.
- Wickham, S. (2003/4). The War on group B strep. AIMS journal 15:4, 7-9.
- Flenady, V. & King, J.F. (2011). Antibiotics for prelabour rupture of membranes at or near term: Review. The Cochrane Library 2, 1-22.
- Marowitz, A. & Jordan, R. 2007. Midwifery management of prelabour rupture of membranes at term. Journal of Midwifery and Womens Health, 52, 199-206.
- National Institute for Clinical Excellence (2008). Clinical guideline No. 70: Induction of labour. RCOG Press: London.
- Casanueva, E., Ripoll, C., Tolentino, M., Morales, R.M., Pfeffer, F., Vilchis, P., Vadillo-Ortega, F. (2005). Vitamin C supplementation to prevent premature rupture of the chorioamniotic membranes: a randomized trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 81, 859-863.
- Adams, J., Frawley, J., Steel, A., Broom, A. & Sibbritt, D. (2015). Use of pharmacological and non-pharmacological labour pain management techniques and their relationship to maternal and infant birth outcomes: Examination of a nationally representative sample of 1835 pregnant women. Midwifery 31, 458-463. www.elsevier.com/midw
- Barlow, J. & Birch, L. (2004). Midwifery practice and sexual abuse. British Journal of Midwifery 12 (2), 72-75.
- Buckley, S.J. (2009). Gentle birth, gentle mothering. Celestial Arts: USA.
- Buckley, S.J. (2010). Ecstatic Birth: Nature’s hormonal blueprint for labour. www.sarahbuckley.com
- Cummings, B. (1998). Empowering women: Homoeopathy in midwifery practice. Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery 4, 13-16.
- Dahlen, H.G., Downe, S., Kennedy, H.P., Foureur, M. (2014). Is society being reshaped on a microbiological and epigenetic level by the way women give birth? Midwifery 30, 149-1151. Available at: .
- Leap, N., & Edwards, N. (2006). The politics of involving women in decision making. In L.A. Page & R McCandlish (Eds.), The New Midwifery: Science and sensitivity in practice. USA: Elsevier Ltd.
- Oberbaum, M., Galoyan, N., Lerner-Geva, L., Singer, S.R., Grisaru, S., Shashar, D., & Samueloff, A. (2005). The effect of the homeopathic remedies Arnica montana and Bellis perennis on mild post-partum bleeding: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Preliminary results. Complementary Therapies in Medicine 13, 87-90.
- Parcells, D.A. (2010). Women’s mental health nursing: Depression, anxiety and stress during pregnancy. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing 17, 813-820.
- Steen, M., & Calvert, J. (2006). Homeopathy for childbirth: Remedies and research. Midwives: The official journal of the Royal College of Midwives 9(11), 438-440.
- Steen, M., & Calvert, J., (2007). Homeopathic remedies for self – administration during childbirth. British Journal of Midwifery 15(3), 159-165.
- Steen, M., & Calvert, J., (2007). Self – administered homeopathy part two: A follow-up study. British Journal of Midwifery 15(6), 359-365.