Many women having babies complain of all sorts of aches and pains during pregnancy and after birth pains that seem all the more irritating because you have to consider carefully what you take to relieve them. However, many of the alternative therapies have solid records of success in making pregnancy a more comfortable experience.
Manipulative therapy by registered osteopaths or chiropractors can help to relieve the lower back pain that afflicts more than half of all pregnant women before and after the birth (J Bone Joint Surg Am, 1994; 76: 1720-30; Orthopaedics, 1993; 16: 1339-44).
Osteopathy with myofascial technique (which relieves pain by applying pressure at specific trigger points on the body) can also help to relieve the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which causes numbness, tingling and pain in the hands and wrists of up to a quarter of all pregnant women, according to two studies (J Am Ost Assoc, 1993; 93: 127-8; J Am Ost Assoc, 1994; 94: 647-63).
Varicose veins and the associated cramps are often present during the last stages of pregnancy. An extract of Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry or European blueberry) contains flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that can protect and strengthen the vascular tissue, and can help to treat or prevent this bugbear of pregnancy (Minerva Ginecol, 1981; 33: 221-30).
As for labour, one of the most tried and tested methods of easing labour and improving its efficiency is to drink an infusion made from six grams of the leaves of Rubus idaeus (raspberry leaf) three times per day throughout your pregnancy, increasing the frequency to up to five times a day during the last three months (Lancet, 1941; ii: 1).
Hypnosis can transform painful contractions into painless, but very powerful, pushing sensations, reducing your need for any pain relief. As having a hypnotist on hand at the right time is unlikely, the usual technique is a form of selfhypnosis training over the three to four months prior to delivery. Osteopathy can also play an important role in getting labour going. In one study, two osteopathic physicians brought on uterine contractions using cranial manipulation on a group of women who'd reached full term (J Am Ost Assoc, 1992; 92: 1183-6).
During labour and birth, any manipulative therapy should employ only gentle techniques (such as soft tissue
or myofascial stretching) to assist the natural forces of labour. You should also avoid any sort of manipulative therapy if you have undiagnosed vaginal bleeding, ectopic pregnancy, threatened miscarriage, low lying placenta, premature rupture of membrane (preterm), premature detachment of placenta, preterm labour, a prolapsed umbilical cord, or eclampsia or severe preeclampsia.
Occasionally, the ligaments supporting the pubis can rupture during labour, causing acute pain in the region as well as in the thighs and back. Besides bedrest and the use of a pelvic binder to reduce the separation, chiropractic or osteopathic treatment of adjacent areas can stabilise the pelvis and reduce soft tissue swelling (Tettambel MA, 'Obstetrics', in Ward RC, ed, Foundations for Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1997: 358).
Although breastfeeding is always preferable, there are occasions (such as neonatal deaths or stillbirths) when lactation needs to be suppressed. In India, fresh jasmine flowers (Jasminum sambac) threaded onto cotton and placed on the breasts are a highly successful remedy for the suppression of breast milk. In one study of 60 women, who needed to dry up their milk production, half were given the dopamine agonist bromocriptine, the usual medical method of stopping milk production (which also causes many side effects), and half had threaded jasmine flowers applied to their breasts, held in place by adhesive tape.
After levels of breast engorgement, milk production and hormone levels were compared, both treatments were found to be equally effective (Aust NZ J Obstet Gynaecol, 1988; 28: 68-71). Jasmine flowers can also be used after months of breastfeeding as a painless way to stop milk production.
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, homoeopath and osteopath.