By Susan Perri, Clinical Herbalist
Your little one is finally here, to enjoy and cherish. In the cozy space of the first intimate moments of growing into each other, both mother and baby can benefit from natural and non-invasive remedies for the common postpartum complaints.
Current research shows no link between colic and digestive disturbance, as had previously been believed. However, for the first eight weeks of life, a baby’s digestive system is maturing and working out all the kinks, so to speak. This natural process could have a role in the upset of colic. I often feel in witnessing these babies that there is some root issue of insecurity involved, that the transition from womb space to earth space has not been smooth. These babies need some extra closeness and attention to foster grounding and security about being here. Whatever the cause, most babies outgrow colic by the age of 4-5 months.
The following are flower essences, very dilute vibrational remedies which work on a soul level to promote balance and wellness. These are specific for emotional distress and can be applied to the skin’s surface or taken internally, 1-3 drops up to four times daily.
Corn: for grounding on the physical plane and a deep earth connection.
Wild rose: helps difficulty with grounding and accepting being in one’s body
Manzanita: for joy about being in one’s body, deriving a sense of pleasure and fullness from physical life. Feeling connected and secure on a physical level.
These botanicals are categorized as antispasmodics, which soothe abdominal and intestinal cramping, and carminatives specific for expelling excess air in the digestive tract. The appropriate dosage can be given to the baby in tea (infusion) form. The tea should be warm, to a temperature consistent with breast-milk, and can be administered with an eyedropper. If necessary, slide the eyedropper into baby’s mouth alongside the nipple while nursing. Give the baby some tea in this way each time you nurse if colic is consistent, or use only at times of distress. These herbs can also be given at regular feedings as preventive care. Nursing mothers can drink these teas freely to pass along their benefits via the breastmilk.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamo-milla, Anthemis nobilis): an old time remedy for colic and stomach upsets of all kinds; chamomile has the added benefits of relaxant qualities. The warm, apple-like flavor of chamomile flowers makes a lovely tea and provides fast relief of colic. Chamomile tea can be added to baby’s bath as a calming way to receive its benefits.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria): a member of the mint family, catnip is an excellent remedy for excess gas in the belly. Catnip holds both antispasmodic and carminative qualities, stilling cramps from gas bubbles and moving those bubbles along and out.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): sweet and aromatic, any part of the fennel plant can be used. A seed decoction is a good method of preparation, and baby won’t mind the taste of this one.
Mint (Mentha): any type of aromatic mint will work, though traditionally it is spearmint and/or peppermint that are used. Mint helps to chill an overworking digestive system, while helping to move out extra air.
Consider also the way in which you feed your baby. Are you able to slow down and give this intimate act your full attention, or are you impatient to get to other things? The way in which we give nourishment is taken in by the baby, just as much as the milk itself. Babies are incredibly aware beings, especially during this postpartum time when they are still so close to the spirit world. Make feeding time a sacred space where you can tune in and really focus on your baby.
The nursing mother’s diet can play a critical role in eliminating colic in a baby. Certain foods definitely act as antagonists, or may cause an allergic reaction experienced as colic. Any of the Brassica group of vegetables should be avoided if colic is an issue, and these include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and collards. Onions and garlic are other culprits. Common allergen foods such as wheat, cow’s milk, nuts, and chocolate may also contribute to the problem of colic. Try a simple elimination diet, where all possible irritants are removed from the mother’s diet for one week. If your baby experiences significant relief or cessation of colic symptoms, you can be sure that something in your diet was a major contributing factor. By the age of 4-5 months most babies are strong enough in their digestion to be able to handle these foods, and you can slowly and individually re-introduce them. If you re-introduce these foods one at a time and your baby reacts, you will know what the offending food is and can continue to steer clear of it.
A common occurrence in newborns, jaundice is the body’s way of excreting bilirubin, a by-product of blood cell decomposition. Since the newborn liver is so new and small, it can be an overwhelming task to process these pieces and things get backed up. Jaundice is a sign of liver deficiency, but it is important to note that this type of newborn jaundice is a normal physical response and will clear up within a few days. Baby should be alert and have an appetite. If this is not so and baby seems overly yellow in color, including palms and soles, and is running a fever, please seek medical attention as this can signify a more serious problem.
Nurse a jaundiced baby frequently, as the extra fluids will help. Exposing baby’s bare skin to sunlight, even if it is through a window, will help to process the bilirubin. Liver function can be assisted and nourished by classic hepatic or liver tonic herbs. Use the following on their own or in combination together. These three combined have a lovely synergistic effect and are deeply nourishing and restorative to the liver. They are quite safe, and suitable for use by infants and children. A decoction can be made from the roots and fed to baby with an eyedropper while warm. Or try dropping 3 tincture drops in a teaspoon of purified warm water, and giving this to your baby. Again, a good way to give tincture or tea drops is to slide the dropper, with its appropriate dosage, alongside your nipple while nursing. This can be done every 3 hours. Another good way for baby to receive herbal healing is through the mother’s milk, so nursing moms can partake of these remedies too.
Liver Tonic Herbs
Yellow dock root
A type of yeast infection, thrush occurs in the baby’s mouth and/or the mother’s nipples. The mouth is a perfect breeding ground for this type of infection, as yeast thrives in warm and moist environments. The natural sugars in breastmilk provide nourishment for the yeast, and it is transferred from baby’s mouth to mom’s nipples. For the baby, thrush is obvious by red cheeks on the outside with white patches on the inside of mouth, along with a general fussiness that is amplified at feedings. The mother will likely have red, sore, and itchy patches on her nipples. Do not remove the patches from mother or child, as this will cause more discomfort, and possibly bleeding and a more serious infection.
The herbs that follow are classic antifungals. The best method of treatment, again, is for mom to pass these along in her milk, as some of them are quite bitter. Start out with low doses and slowly build them up. The best bet for giving any of these directly to the baby is usnea, the mildest tasting.
Black walnut hulls
Use 1-2 drops of tincture in a teaspoonful of warm purified water and administer by eyedropper, or use one dropperful of the infusion (black walnut hulls should be prepared as a decoction) 3 or 4 times daily. Use a cotton swab to apply tea or diluted tincture doses directly to the patches on the insides of baby’s mouth and on the mother’s nipples. Unsweetened yogurt with active cultures can be spread on these patches to provide instant cooling relief. It would be wise for mom to avoid sweets in her diet, as yeast thrives on sugars.
Seborrheic dermatitis, or cradle cap, most commonly affects the scalp but may also be found on the eyebrows and eyelids, the ears, nose, and groin area. The sebaceous (oil) glands are secreting too much oil in their opening and maturation process. Cradle cap can appear as early as two weeks of age and is usually cleared by the completion of baby’s first year, along with the completion of the maturation process for these glands. The overproduction of oil clogs the gland’s ducts and looks like greasy yellow scales on the skin’s surface. Cleanliness is an essential factor in treatment and prevention, as infection can occur otherwise, indicated by open sores or discharge. Nursing mothers should avoid sugar as this can hinder the healing process and contribute to clogged pores. Mothers can supplement their diets with an essential fatty acid (EFA) oil, such as flax, borage seed, or evening primrose.
Cradle Cap Oil
2 cups olive oil
1 cup flax seed oil
1/4 cup evening primrose oil
1 tsp powdered or liquid vit. B6
1/4 oz. dried comfrey herb
1/4 oz. dried calendula herb
In a glass jar, combine all oils and blend well. Add the dried comfrey and calendula. Cap tightly and let sit, out of any direct light or heat, for 2-4 weeks. When steeping is complete, strain the oil through a cloth lined sieve. To complete the oil, add the vitamin B6, mix well, and store in a clean and dry glass bottle.
This oil will be used on the baby’s head and any other affected areas. Rub in a generous amount and allow it to sit for up to fifteen minutes so it can work its softening magic. Gently shampoo and rinse, carefully combing away any loosened scales and flakes. It is very important not to pick or force these scales, as you may create a larger wound and put your child at risk for an infection. Complete this process with an application of witch hazel extract, found in any drugstore for topical use. Apply the witch hazel with cotton balls; its astringent action will help to control the oiliness. This process can be repeated several times a week if necessary.
To avoid diaper rash, change your baby frequently, or even better, allow baby to go bottomless for part of the day. In warm weather, let baby’s bottom be exposed to fresh air and sunlight. These help to prevent and treat diaper rash. A yeast diaper rash is more stubborn, and it results when a normal diaper rash goes untreated and yeast bacteria grow in the moist little folds of baby’s groin area. A yeast diaper rash is redder, patchy and blotchy, and may be more tender and itch. Keep baby’s bottom as dry as possible; consider giving up on diapers while baby is awake, change diapers often, and use this powder.
Diaper Rash Powder
3 cup cornstarch
1 cup bentonite clay
1 tbsp. baking soda
1 tsp. myrrh powder
For a yeast diaper rash, add 1/2 tsp. of any or all of the following:
black walnut hull powder
goldenseal root powder
barberry root powder
Blend together well using a wire whisk and store in a container with a shaker top.
In addition, zinc oxide ointment is specific for diaper rashes. It forms a protective barrier on baby’s skin, to keep excess moisture off of the rash and promote healing. This is fast acting and readily available in drugstores.
This text intends to provide information on the traditional uses of native plants, not to prescribe. If your child is not well, please seek the assistance of a competent health care provider.
Susan Perri is a Clinical Herbalist, author, and mother. The article is excerpted from her book The Complete Herbal for Pregnancy and Childbirth.