Complementary medicines such as homeopathy can offer women more choices in coping with pregnancy labour and the immediate postpartum period. They do not have the side effects of most conventional drugs and they are gentler and safer (Thomas 2001). In addition, homeopathy looks at every woman’s situation in a holistic way, taking into account not only her physical symptoms, but also her emotional and psychological and spiritual well-being. These facts make homeopathy uniquely suited to helping women in labour where so much of what we experience hinges on how and what we feel, think and believe on the inside as well as the physical symptoms we experience on the outside.
Homeopathic remedies are prescribed on the presenting symptoms including physical, emotional and psychological ones. In classical homeopathy there is not a one-size fits all approach, and remedies are not prescribed for a particular disease or condition. So for example, homeopathy does not treat mastitis but it can help with the symptoms associated with mastitis. As symptoms will vary from woman to woman it is likely that different women will be prescribed different remedies and even the same woman might be successfully prescribed different remedies at different points in time for what appear son the outside to be a very similar problem.
Homeopathic remedies are made up of a variety of different substances including plants, animals and minerals, which have been highly diluted and succussed (shaken). They come in the form of liquids, powders or pills and each remedy has a long series of symptoms that it can improve. The lists of symptoms associated with each remedy have been created during provings and choosing between the lists is called differentiation.
Key question: Is it safe?
The minute doses used in homeopathic remedies have been tested on healthy volunteers and have been found to be totally safe for mother and baby when used in the right way, without producing any undesirable side effects (Geraghty, 2002).
Key question: Does it work?
The jury is out on this one. The normal way of assessing whether medicines have efficacy are by double blind randomly controlled clinical trials. Very few such trials exist for homeopathy and most of those that do exist conclude that there is no difference between taking a homeopathic remedy than by taking a placebo.
Yet the anecdotal clinical evidence of homeopathy in practise seems to tell a slightly different story. Some women report that they would not consider labouring without the help of homeopathic support, other women report that they bought the labour kit, tried a few remedies and didn’t notice any difference. In terms of health care practitioners, many midwives use homeopathy with their clients during pregnancy, labour and afterwards and see it as an essential part of their birth support tool-box. This is especially true of midwives working in the community. In hospital settings homeopathy is less frequently used during labour in Ireland, although it is more popular in other countries.
The remedies that seem to be most universally accepted as helpful (and those that are easiest to self prescribe) are therapeutic remedies. These are remedies that are prescribed for symptoms that present in pretty much the same way for everyone. For example, pretty much everyone experiences bruising in the same way, pretty much everyone experiences grazing or cuts in the same way. So mothers and midwives, nearly always see the homeopathic remedies for bruising such as arnica, or the remedies for cuts and grazes such as calendula, as helpful.
Symptoms that are beyond the therapeutic remit tend to helped by homeopathy when remedies are prescribed by an experienced prescriber; either someone who is very used to differentiating between remedies in labour or by a professional homeopath or when birth partners only have a few symptoms that they expect to treat with homeopathy, for which they have been well briefed.
“In my experience as a homeopath (and as a birthing mother), I have found homeopathy to be very helpful in labour. I have noticed that after well-chosen remedies women’s energy increases and their coping capacity becomes stronger and they appear to have more reserves to draw upon. Much of the perceived difficultly of coping with labour depends on the quality and vibrancy of our thinking. Homeopathy it would appear, can help lift the emotional states that gives us repetitive thoughts, that causes anxiety or fear and instead enables us to engage more freely with our deeper wisdom.”
Krysia Lynch, Dublin based homeopath.
Some people say that the best test is as to whether homeopathy works for you or not is to use it and see. Whilst this is a logical approach, and helpful in general day-to-day life, during labour women need some certainty as to whether their support mechanisms will work. The best way to ensure that homeopathy will work for you during your labour is as with all birth support tools, to prepare effectively. In the first instance its best to ensure that you and your birth partner are familiar with the symptoms you want to use homeopathy for. Secondly, its important that you have a clear understanding of which remedies may help which symptoms and that you have those remedies and a means of differentiating between them. Thirdly, it may help to have a tailor made birth kit that your homeopath has prepared for you and guided you through. Fourthly, it may be helpful to attend a short course with your homeopath either privately or in a group to look at the process of prescribing remedies. Finally, you could engage a homeopath or a doula who is familiar with homeopathy to prescribe for you.
Key question: Is there any research showing homeopathy to be effective?
Research into homeopathy is limited but increasing. One of the problems in undertaking research into homeopathy is in using double blind randomised double blind controlled trials to investigate a system of medicine, which depends so particularly on individualising treatment (Geraghty, 2002).
In 1991, three non-homeopath professors of medicine carried out a meta analysis of 25 years of clinical studies using homeopathic medicines in order to evaluate the overall results of the experiments (Kleijnen, Knipschild and Reit, 1991). Of the controlled trials reviewed, the researchers identified 15 that showed that homeopathic remedies were effective and they concluded that the review would “probably be sufficient for establishing homeopathy as a regular treatment for certain conditions”. The review was published in the British Medical Journal.
Whilst there are several clinical trials showing the efficacy of homeopathy in conditions such as asthma (Reilly et al 1994), diarrhoea (Jacobs et al 1994), rheumatoid arthritis (Gibson et al 1980), fibrositis (Fisher et al 1989), there is very little if anything on the use of homeopathy in labour and pregnancy. However, two well known homeopathic trials exist for homeopathic use in obstetrics and these relate to homeopathic callophylum, a remedy often used to help women who have the symptoms of weak or ineffective contradictions. The studies showed that women had an improvement in their emotional state during labour; this was a especially marked in woman who had a history of dysmenorrhoea. The duration of labour for women who were treated with homeopathic callophylum was reduced by 90 minutes in comparison to women that did not receive the remedy (Eid et al 1993).
How can homeopathy help just before labour?
The most common conditions that women attend a homeopath for in the last few weeks of their pregnancy is to help turn a breech presentation and to help soften the cervix when the 42 week deadline is approaching. Whilst you might read a lot on the Internet that quaffing a pile of homeopathic caulophylum will bring a labour on. This is not necessarily true. Caulllophylum in homeopathic potency is certainly a useful remedy, but it may not be a remedy helpful to you, many women report that they are helped by other remedies that their homeopath will identify as better suited to their individual symptoms. Homeopathy can be very successful either on its own or in combination with other therapies such as osteopathy, acupuncture yoga and spinning babies in turning breech or other presentations.
How can homeopathy help in labour?
Women and midwives report that homeopathy can help some women in the following ways:
1. It can help with the emotional, psychological and physical symptoms that make our perception of the labour too difficult to cope with. Homeopathy recognises labour to be a natural physiological event for the majority of women and most homeopaths that have experience in attending labours will tell you that there is no need to offer homeopathic remedies unless the woman’s capacity to cope is no longer within the normal range. Doing so would be an intervention.
Common symptoms include fear, anxiety, tiredness, exhaustion, weakness and a sense of being overwhelmed. Remedies useful for these symptoms include but are not limited to aconite, arnica, pulsatilla, gelsemium, kali phos ignatia and arsenicum.
2. It can help with the perception of pain. Common remedies used to help the perception of pain subside are aconite, arnica, belladonna, coffea, chamomilla, , causticum, caulophyllum, cimicifuga, gelsemium, lycopodium, pulsatilla, nux vomica, secale and sepia.
3. It can help with the symptoms of physical conditions such as back labour a swollen cervical lip and contradictions that do not seem to be effective. Common remedies include, but are not limited to arnica, apis, belladonna, caulophyllum, cimicifuga, kali carb, carbo-veg, china, cinnamonum, gelsemium, kali phos, nat-mur, secale, pulsatilla and sepia.
4. It can help with the symptoms of shock especially following an unexpected outcome or type of birth. Remedies commonly used are aconite, arnica phosphorus ignatia and staphisagria.
5. After the baby is born it can help you with symptoms of after pains and with the healing associated with any tears, cuts stitches and bruising. Common remedies for after pains include arnica, caulophyllum, chamomilla, cimicifuga, nux-vom, pulsatilla and secale. Those for symptoms of physical trauma include arnica bellis perennis, calendula, hypericum, staphisagria,
6. It can support breastfeeding by helping with symptoms of engorgement, milk supply, blocked ducts sore nipples and mastitis. Remedies used include bryonia, belladonna, silica, pulsatilla, phosphorous, phytolacca, graphites, calendula, castor equi, pulsatilla and silica.
How do I know what remedies to take?
With so many remedies listed for each section above it can be a mind boggling exercise trying to identify which remedy is the one that will be the best suited to a woman at any one time. In one sense homeopaths say that this is the beauty of homeopathy in that there is no one size fits all remedy. Yet on the other hand it is the issue that leaves people exasperated with homeopathy and usually leaves birth partners baffled, and homeopathic birth kits un-used!
In order to effectively chose remedies the birth partner will need to have a differentiation guide. Most homeopathic remedy kits usually come with a guide or you can buy guides or books to help you.
“I would usually suggest to parents that they simplify the number of remedies that they plan to use. If they have had no or little experience of homeopathy it is probably best to make a private appointment with a homeopath to go over how to select remedies for presenting symptoms. Another option is to go to a small course with other parents to be.”
Krysia Lynch Dublin based homeopath.
Where do I buy remedies?
Homeopathic remedies for birth can be either bought as birth kits from homeopathic suppliers or they can be dispensed by prescription from a homeopath. The most commonly used birth kit is the Helios 18 remedy birth kit. It is available from Helios on line and sometimes in Health food shops around the country. Nelsons also do a birth kit but it has fewer remedies, it is also available on line. Getting remedies from your homeopath is usually more efficient as they will only prescribe remedies that you will most likely need and in the potencies that are best suited to you. They will also be in a position to tailor-make kits for you for certain circumstance; e.g. just for breastfeeding support. In addition to homeopathic remedies, mothers report flower essences or Bach remedies helpful during labour. The most common remedy that most women use is Bach Rescue Remedy. This is available in most pharmacies.
Homeopathic support during pregnancy
Whilst some women and midwives report that homeopathic remedies may be useful in a therapeutic capacity during labour and immediately afterwards, women who have been treated constitutionally both during and before their pregnancy often find that they feel a greater benefit from homeopathic treatment. Homeopaths argue that not only can homeopathy help with the symptoms of the minor ailments of pregnancy such as heartburn, piles, nausea sciatica, bloating, insomnia cramps and backache, but it can also help with promoting vitality and improving general health.
One aspect of homeopathic care during pregnancy that many midwives recommend is the use of tissue salts. Tissue salts are very low dose homeopathic remedies. In fact, some people argue that since they have only been diluted to a 6X potency they are almost a mineral supplement. There is a standardised tissue salt program that matches tissue salts to different phases of the pregnancy depending on which minerals are in greatest demand by the growing baby and the mother’s changing body. They include salts such as Silica, Ferrum-Phos, Calc-Phos and Calc Flour. If you go to see a professional homeopath you can get a program that is specifically tailored to you.
How do I take the remedies?
If you decide that homeopathy is for you then you can take your remedies in either liquid form or in pellet/tablet/powder form. Most birth kits come in pellet/ tablet form. If you want to take your remedies in liquid form during labour you can add a table or pellet to a quantity of water. Alternatively you can just take one of the tablets as a dose. As tablets are medicated on the outside homeopaths advise that they are not handled, but either dispensed onto a spoon and taken that way or either dispensed into the cap of the remedy bottle and tipped into your mouth. Remedies can be repeated once their effect subsides. If the remedy has been repeated several times and has had no effect it should be discontinued and another remedy tried. As a general rule of thumb the remedy should not be taken any more than six times if it has not had a noticeable effect.
“ I always suggest that my clients use homeopathic remedies during labour. I have been using it as a labour support for the last twenty years for my home birth clients. I suggest that women purchase in advance a pack of small bottles of water at the local supermarket and that they put a pill into the bottle and then label the bottle with the remedy name and potency. The bottle can be shaken before it is sipped. Each sip equals one dose.”
Dublin based Home Birth Midwife.
The value of attending a professional homeopath
Whilst there are many guides for homeopathy and using homeopathy in labour, it is always better to consult a professional homeopath. A homeopath can identify which remedies might be best suited to you, both in terms of a constitutional prescription during pregnancy but also in terms of simplifying charts and remedy choices for use by your partner during labour.
You can find a homeopath by consulting the Irish Society of Homeopath’s webpage http://www.irishhomeopathy.ie/homeopaths/index.php Members of the ISH abide by a code of ethics and have undergone a rigorous two-year registration program in addition to their primary degree. However, there are many professional homeopaths that offer an excellent service that are not members of the ISH, and you can find them by asking around in your community.
Another factor to bear in mind is whether your homeopath is experienced in treating conditions of pregnancy. Many homeopaths do not have extensive experience of pregnancy and others base their entire practice on it. Some homeopaths also run short courses on homeopathy and pregnancy and birth, which may give you more information as to their practice and on how homeopathy can help during pregnancy and labour.
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Irish Society of Homeopaths (Pregnancy) http://goo.gl/qmIz1C