Pregnancy Health Hacks

pregnancy-health-hacksAs I am nearing the end of pregnancy, I thought I would share some “health hacks” that I found helpful during pregnancy.  All of these “hacks” are safe, natural methods for dealing with pregnancy symptoms and in preparing for labor.

Chiropractor Adjustments – I’ve been seeing a chiropractor regularly for years and can’t imagine life without it.  I continued my regular visits, increasing frequency to once every week or two, depending on how I was feeling throughout my pregnancy.  Not only did I not suffer from lower back pain, which I know is a very common pregnancy ailment as the belly grows, but she was also able to help with other symptoms.  I ended up having some shoulder and neck pain as I started sleeping on my side that she addressed.  She kept my hips in alignment, helping greatly with the round ligament pain.  And, most surprisingly, she was also able to adjust my stomach to relieve most of the indigestion/heartburn caused by pregnancy (up until the last week before the baby dropped). Lastly, my chiropractor is also trained in acupuncture, which can be a great help for natural labor induction- now that I am past my due date, I’m going to see just how well it works!

Prenatal Massage – I’ve always considered massages more of a treat than a necessity, but I really tried to get at least one prenatal massage each month throughout pregnancy.  Studies show that massage during pregnancy can help improve sleep and reduce stress/anxiety.  Of course, they are also greatly helpful for pain relief and overall relaxation (you deserve it, mama!).  Look for a massage practice that has staff specifically trained and certified for prenatal massage AND one that has a special pillow so that you can lay face down, instead of on your side.  Those 30 minutes of laying “on your stomach” were magical because you never get that luxury.

Magnesium & Potassium – Suffering from middle-of-the-night painful leg cramps?  These two supplements are a must; they worked to completely take those cramps away for me.  Magnesium is also beneficial in helping to calm you before bed, leading to better sleep, and for helping to keep you regular if you are suffering from constipation.

Probiotics – I highly recommend everyone take probiotics regularly, not just pregnant women.  We encounter so many antibiotics in our food and other toxins in our environment- we need to consistently restore our levels of healthy bacteria. The health of our digestive system has a strong correlation to the abilities of our overall immune system, so probiotics are essential for supporting your immune function.  They are also helpful for keeping your bowels moving if you are suffering from constipation.  Lastly, I definitely believe that regularly using probiotics was a big reason I tested negative for Group B Strep.

Essential Oils – I am a big fan of essential oils and use them every day for both my health and around my house.  Here are a few that I used most commonly during pregnancy:

  • Copaiba – An anti-inflammatory oil, this helped relieve my indigestion; I rubbed it on my chest/throat/stomach.
  • DiGize – Another one to help with indigestion and to prevent constipation.
  • Peppermint – Great to smell or add to water when you experience morning sickness; it helps relieve nausea.  I plan on bringing it into labor also in case I experience nausea then; but I will put it away while I am breastfeeding since it can cause a decrease in milk supply.
  • Thieves – I put a drop of Thieves on the bottom of my foot every day and diffused it often to boost my immune system.  I also cleaned my house with it to keep everything chemical-free.
  • Frankincense – I definitely suffered from the “daughter stealing beauty” thing and had lots of breakouts on my face from the hormones.  Frankincense mixed with coconut oil was the only thing that works to heal blemishes fast.
  • Lavender – Very useful for overall relaxation and to help promote good sleep.  Mix some with distilled water and mist over your pillow each night. It’s also very moisturizing, so I found it helpful when I was itchy from my belly stretching.
  • Clary Sage – Only to be used at the end of pregnancy when you are full-term, this oil helps ease the pain of cramps and promotes uterine contractions.

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – I drank this tea often throughout my third trimester.  My midwife recommended it as a way to tone pelvic and uterine muscles to prepare the body for productive labor contractions.  It’s full of great nutrients like magnesium and vitamin C that are also beneficial for sleep, nausea, leg cramps and immune function.  For more information, Wellness Mama wrote a great blog post about the benefits of this herb.

Evening Primrose Oil – Another recommendation from my midwife, the oil of evening primrose can help soften the cervix to prepare the body for labor.  You can find the capsules in your local pharmacy and it’s usually recommended to start after 36 weeks.

Ginger Candy – I carried this in my purse constantly when I was battling pregnancy nausea (aka morning sickness that lasts all day).  You can make them or find them in a store; the hard candies last a bit longer in your mouth, but crystallized ginger is also yummy to chew on.

Controlling Blood Sugar – I wrote a whole post about the diet, exercise, supplements and water intake that helped me keep my gestational diabetes under control – check it out here.  If you want to limit weight gain during your pregnancy, this is definitely the protocol to follow; plus, the diet+exercise simply make for a healthier lifestyle that will help you avoid much of the discomfort of the 3rd trimester.

Is there anything natural you tried during pregnancy that helped you?  Please share!

Natural Pain Relief

For most of my life, I struggled with some level of back pain on a daily basis.  Chronic pain is just awful and, unfortunately, far too common.  It affects every area of life – relationships, work, exercise, activities; it’s hard to focus on anything other than that pain.  I tried different medications and therapies with no relief, and then suffered the side effects of pills… too much ibuprofen over time actually sent me to the hospital for a week (even though I used as directed by my doctor!).  In fact, recent research has shown that over-the-counter pain relievers increase risk for heart attack and stroke, can have a significantly negative impact on a woman’s fertility, and cause kidney damage.

Eventually, I started looking to natural alternatives to address my health issues and found significant relief.  I still have my bad days, but have found some great solutions that really help.  If you’re looking to try something new without the dangerous side effects of medication, here are my top 5 methods for natural pain relief:

Curcumin SupplementTurmeric

Yes, the spice!  Turmeric has been widely used in Indian medicine for centuries; one of its components – curcumin – is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Research has also shown that turmeric helps aid in the “prevention of cancer, protection against heart disease, reduce Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, ease pain and inflammation, boost bone health, protect the immune system from bacterial infections, and increase the liver’s ability to remove toxins from the body.” (Source)

I take a curcumin supplement daily to help with inflammation & my back pain.  You could also add it to your diet – try this delicious turmeric tea recipe or my Coconut Curry Chicken recipe.


Topricin CreamTopricin

This anti-inflammatory pain relief cream is a safe alternative to medication that is effective for muscle, tendon, ligament and nerve tissue pain. It is safe for the elderly (as it does not interfere with medication), kids, pregnant women, and for all skin types.  It has no odor or fragrance, no petroleum and is non-greasy &, non-staining.  When I have back pain, I rub this on and the results are instant.  Plus, its actually working to promote healing, not just masking the pain.


Pain Relief Essential OilsEssential Oils

  1. PanAway – This blend of wintergreen, helichrysum, clove, and peppermint combines oils that each have anti-inflammatory properties, making for a super-effective combo.  It “…reduces pain and inflammation, increases circulation, and accelerates healing.  It relieves swelling and discomfort from arthritis, sprains, muscle spasms and cramps, bumps, and bruises” (Source: Essential Oils Pocket Reference).  Mix a couple drops with some coconut oil and rub on the area of pain.
  2. Deep Relief – This blend takes the combo above to the next level by adding some additional oils to the mix.  It comes in a roll-on tube already mixed with liquid coconut oil for easy spot-on application.  Here is what it contains:
    • Wintergreen – relieves head and muscle tension
    • Helichrysum – restorative support for nervous system
    • Clove – anti-inflammatory, supports immune function
    • Peppermint – anti-inflammatory, helps relieve headaches
    • Copaiba – supports the body’s response to irritation
    • Lemon – purifying properties
    • Palo Santo – relieves pain and inflammation in joints and muscles
    • Balsam Fir – relaxes the body and soothes muscles
    • Vetiver – grounding, helps with stress and tension

If you’re interested in trying out essential oils, check out my guide to getting started.  Bonus – PanAway comes in the Young Living Premium Starter Kit!


Drink Water

I know, that sounds way too simple, but listen… Our body is made up of 75% water and our brain tissue is 85% water. Adequate hydration is essential to our bodies and brains functioning properly.  We tend to think that we are “thirsty” when our mouths become dry and we crave a drink, but this is actually the last outward sign of dehydration – if you are feeling this, your body is screaming for water.

Chronic pain is a huge indicator of thirst.  For a while, painkillers may work, but eventually the brain will become so dehydrated that it will register all pain until it gets enough water.  And, until it does, the pain will increase and the body will limit the mobility of those areas in order to “prevent the production of additional toxic waste” that water, if available, would wash out. If you are experiencing consistent back pain, leg pain or headaches, take note.

I’ve started making sure I drink 8 glasses of water per day (if not more) to stay consistently hydrated.  When I do have back pain, the first thing I do is drink several glasses of water to see if the pain passes.  Surprisingly, it actually works most of the time. And if it doesn’t, no harm, and I move on to the other options above.


Chiropractor

If you haven’t visited a chiropractor, you are seriously missing out. I have seen dramatic healing by visiting my chiropractor regularly.  I started off seeing her 3 times a week when my pain was constant, and as I improved, it became less frequent.  Now, I see her for adjustments and some PT or massage every two weeks.  What I have found incredible about adjusting my spine is how much it also affects the overall nervous system and brain.  It’s improved the health of my body as a whole… it sounds a bit crazy, but my chiropractor has also helped with my allergies, ear infections, headaches and digestive issues.

It can be hard to find the right one, but if you’re in Austin, I have a great recommendation for you: Tracie Schwab at Backbone Wellness Center.  Plus, most insurance companies will cover your visits (with a copay) up to a certain number each year.


While these natural methods may not work for all types of pain, I pray that they help provide some safe relief next time you are suffering.  Let me know how they work for you or if you have any other suggestions!

 

 

“You’re Not Sick; You’re Thirsty”

Is it possible that the majority of illness originate from something as simple as dehydration?  Could we be treating ourselves with medicine when we should just be drinking more water?  I recently read Your Body’s Many Cries for Water by F. Batmanghelidj, MD, which explores this possibility.

Water

Our body is made up of 75% water, and in particular, our brain tissue is 85% water. Adequate hydration is essential to our bodies and brains functioning properly to stay healthy.  But many of us are suffering from chronic dehydration because we live in a society where coffee, tea, alcohol and manufactured beverages like soda have become acceptable thirst-quenchers.  While many of these contain water, they also contain dehydrating agents that only make our body’s more thirsty.  And, sodas, in particular, are addictive (both the caffeine and sugar), taking away our natural thirst for water, even when it’s plentiful and available.

We tend to think that we are “thirsty” when our mouths become dry and we crave a drink.  But this is actually the last outward sign of dehydration – if you are feeling this, your body is screaming for water.  And as you age, your body begins to ignore “dry mouth” more and more, making dehydration easier. Our vital organs receive the water, nutrients and hormones they need to work only by enough water existing in the body to deliver those elements, so it’s obviously essential to our basic functioning.  Just in case you need a few more reasons to drink more water, here are some that really stood out to me:

  • Morning sickness during pregnancy is the main indicator of a baby and mother’s dehydration.  Water is essential to cell expansion during a baby’s first stage of life.
  • Chronic pain is a huge indicator of thirst.  For a while, painkillers may work for pain monitored by the central nervous system, but eventually the brain will become so dehydrated that it will register all pain until it gets enough water.  And, until it does, the pain will increase and the body will limit the mobility of those areas in order to “prevent the production of additional toxic waste” that water, if available, would wash out. If you are experiencing consistent back pain, leg pain or headaches, take note.
  • Dyspeptic (gastritis, heartburn, constipation) pain is an emergency thirst signal.  “Digestion of solid foods depends on the presence of copious amounts of water” and “water provides the only natural protection against the acid in the stomach.”  Antacids contain a lot of aluminum (so does your deodorant, by the way), which combined with brain cell dehydration are proven causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Stop popping those antacids and drink a couple glasses of water instead.
  • “Fully 75 percent of the weight of the upper part of the body is supported by the water volume that is stored in the disc core.”  While proper posture is helpful, adequate water is essential if you are experiencing back pain.  Exercises that stretch the back and help “vacuum” water back into the disc space will help both neck and back pain.  I personally find that laying on the bed with my head off the edge for a minute or so helps a great deal.  Of course, my chiropractor adjustments help tremendously as well.
  • Dehydration affects the regulation of body temperature.  Many migraines and headaches are caused by “heat stress” because of dehydration that may occur due to lack of drinking water, drinking alcohol, or an allergic reaction that releases histamines (blocking hydration).
  • Dehydration leads to stress in the body and causes hormones to go into crisis mode.  As a result, dehydration contributes to chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.
  • Using caffeine to override your body’s available energy will lower levels of stored energy, meaning that your hormones will not be able to react appropriately later and the brain has less energy to work from, leading to less focus and attention span.  This dehydration effect is exacerbated when elderly people with memory problems or children with learning disorders drink anything other than water, especially soda.
  • Adequate water and salt intake are essential to maintaining blood volume that prevents hypertension.  The body will do all it can to retain water and sodium (helps balance water in and out of cells), yet the current “treatments” for hypertension prescribe diuretics.  Water is the best diuretic – if you are drinking enough water, your body will respond and eventually flush out the toxic edema fluid rather than the water your body desperately needs.
  • Cholesterol is essential to the function of our cells because it helps our cells retain water.  In the state of dehydration, you will develop high cholesterol as its working in overdrive to prevent cell dehydration.
  • “The sensation of thirst and hunger are generated simultaneously to indicate the brain’s needs.” We cannot tell the difference, and thus often overeat when our body’s are really just crying out for water.  Then, dehydration causes our brain to crave more energy, thus causing us to crave sugar.  So, we overeat, eat unhealthy foods and gain weight simply by being dehydrated.
  • Asthma and allergies are indicators that the body has resorted to an increase in production of the neurotransmitter histamine, the sensor regulator of water metabolism and its distribution in the body.”
  • In some cases of chronic dehydration, our brain begins to inhibit insulin so the pancreas can provide water for food digestion – a crucial function to provide energy to the body.  Ultimately, this can cause insulin-independent diabetes, and instead of drinking more water & eating a balanced diet to get the body to behave normally again, people take chemical override medications to force the body to produce more insulin.
  • Salt is crucial to ensuring we have an “ocean” of water outside our cells, but the table salt we eat in most foods is a chemical and not mineral-rich.  Remove sodium preservatives and table salt from your diet and replace with unrefined sea salt to keep your body’s hydration in balance.

The simple way to prevent the damage from chronic dehydration is to drink enough water.  Your body needs a minimum of 8 glasses of water per day, more, especially, if you are drinking alcohol or caffeine.  If your urine is not colorless, you are not hydrated enough.  Drink water slowly, throughout the day.  I typically drink a glass of water before and after each meal, and then at least one in-between each meal as a rule of thumb.  If I am feeling sick, my allergies are flaring or my back pain returns, I immediately drink lots of water, and only water, until the symptoms pass. I have truly noticed a difference.

Are you drinking enough water?  If any of the above dehydration-related illnesses stuck out to you personally, you must read this book. It has very detailed chapters on each of the effects of dehydration and testimonials for how water has healed people.  Go read it (or borrow from me!) – it’s fascinating!