MotherWork Series

Alternative Medicine Empowers Breastfeeding Mothers 

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By Natasha Joseph ©2013

Herbs, Homeopathy, Natural Remedies are commonly thought of as a modern day fad, particularly for certain earth-loving, tree-hugging individuals. Alternative medicines, however, have been used by women since time immemorial. The term alternative medicine distinguishes itself from allopathic medicine which is most commonly used today especially within first world nations. By reconnecting with our original sources of breastfeeding management, and often now with science behind them, we can empower ourselves to treat our own breastfeeding concerns or approach them with our care providers from a position of informed choice.

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That is if you even have a care provider. The current state of Health Care is that many individuals do not have equal access to it. Health Care is expensive in the United States and not all families can afford to pay health care premiums. Alternative care is much less expensive. Herbs are cheap and can be ordered in bulk and thus shared among many families. Many natural remedies use common food and household items. Even a one time visit to an alternative health care pracitioner can be cheaper than paying a health care premium or having to use the Emergency Room when a situation has been left untreated so long as to warrant such a trip. By providing ourselves with information on alternative health care we can make sure that all families have a reasonably affordable way of dealing with breastfeeding concerns.

“knowledge is power”

Knowledge of alternative health options does not limit itself in rewards to those who do not have equal access to health care. Those who do have access to varying levels of health care can benefit by allowing themselves to make informed decisions. This means that parents do not have to be guided by, and sometimes even bullied into, the authority figure making decisions for you without you understanding what is going on. You can know what options are available to you and what questions to ask your care provider so that you can feel comfortable in your decisions and make the best choices for your family. Too often we are forced to seek help from a care provider and be at the mercy of making decisions with information we only learned that very day. Care providers are here to help us and we can make the most use of their care by being confident in our decisions.

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So alternative care is often cheap and it allows us to make confident decisions. We also know that it is easy. Here is what I mean by easy. Many methods of alternative health care can come from your own backyard. You can collect or grow herbs within your own community. In the technology age you can even find alternative medicine at the tip of your fingers. Additionally, administering alternative care is often as simple as wrapping an herb in a hot washcloth and putting that on the affected area. If you care to explore just how easy alternative medicine can be go to your local library and check out a book on plants native to your area. Look up their medicinal values and then look up how to make a simple home made tincture or salve. Most of you will find it no harder than making a simple meal for your family.

For many of us the most difficult part of using alterntive health care is diagnosing the problem and remedy accurately. Finding the herbs and making them into medicines or purchasing care from a provider or store is something most of us can do with comfortable ease. Of course alternative medicine can become quite complicated as can any form of medicine. Many people spend their entire lives learning how to administer just one form of alternative medicine. For the home user however we can proceed in the beginning stages knowing that this is something we can accomplish.

Herbs and Spices

Sometimes people are concerned that alternative care is not safe. That anything being broadcast as cheap, easy, and empowering is just too good to be true. Fortunately we live in an age where science is valued and cultural knowledge can be accessed in the nearest big city. We can read the research studies behind various forms of alternative medicine and various medicines themselves. We can find knowledgable practioners who can educate us on safety, many of whom carry cultural knowledge that has been passed down from the beginnings of their culture of origin. Still many home remedies involve nothing more than simple table food. One way we encourage women to deal with moderate to severe swelling and discomfort of engorgement* is to briefly put a cabbage leaf on the breast. Safety is important and there are things we need to be aware of such as the way certain herbs can interact with prescription medications, side effects, and dosage limitations. That said, if we take alternative medicine seriously, as we do allopathic medicine, then we can make sure that we use it safely. Alternative care as a whole is not inherently unsafe, that comes from the knowledge and care of the user and practioner.

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If I have not yet convinced you that alternative medicine is worth exploring and arming yourself with as a tool for parenting then please think on it a bit longer. I encourage you to cast a wide circle and talk to people you know and trust and see what types of alternative medicine they may have used. You may find yourself happily surprised and informed. As the old adage goes, knowledge is power.

“Breastfeeding is natural. Not all things natural are uncomplicated.”

For those of you who believe in the power of alternative medicine then you are probably wondering how to access the necessary information that will allow you to use it confidently. The most simple form of information is person-to-person. After all, throughout most of history this information was passed onto us from generation to generation and within tight knit communities. So ask friends, family, and community members. Talk to people you love and trust. Then go home and research it or run it by others you love and trust. That may even include a care provider. You can take a class online or in your local community. You can read a book. You can talk to an endless list of alternative medicine pracitioners. There are countless ways to learn about alternative medicine. It is relevant to note that one should make sure their information is from a reputable source. I do know that for some of you this is not enough, this is too broad. For you I will give you a start. Find a copy of “The Nursing Mother’s Herbal” and read it. For the rest of you, find a learning method that appeals to you and move forward with confidence knowing that you are equipping yourself with information that will benefit your family and future generations.

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Breastfeeding is natural. Not all things natural are uncomplicated. Breastfeeding can be considered the first thing a woman learns as a mother and the first thing she teaches her child. It is a learning experience that mother and baby go through together. It is sometimes frought with difficulty and problems. This is particularly true in societies that focus on individualism so much so that community and extended family is harder to come by and if present is often lacking in necessary information because of common cultural misconceptions. It is even moreso true if that society also lacks equal access to health care and generational knowledge of medicine. For some of us this describes the very culture we are living in now. Together we can create change. We can empower ourselves with information to treat our breastfeeding concerns, to talk with care providers in an informed manner, and to pass this information on to as many people as will listen. To pass this information on to our very children so that they will have one less area to struggle in their future. Arm yourself with information and take charge of your health care! Live Long and Prosper.

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*engorgement can be a symptom of an underlying issue. Cabbage leaves are not meant to be used long term for engorgement symptoms and long term use can potentially impact the breastfeeding relationship in a negative way. As with any condition using a remedy along with seeking care from someone trained in the field of breastfeeding is most effective.

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