Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Natural Alternatives for Women's Health

Moving away from the issue of real food and how that effects our whole lives - including our fertility and child bearing - I wanted to focus this week on natural options for women's health issues. We will go more in depth on many of these topics in later posts, but I hope this post will serve as a good primer on the topic.

We use chemically treated cotton to sop up Aunt Flo's monthly visit, hormones and plastic to prevent an unplanned pregnancy and 1/3 of births in this country happen by c-section. But is there a more natural way than pills and chemicals to deal with the health and hygiene issues particular to women? I contend that there are many! A combination of factors sent me down this path, including a family history of ovarian cancer, bad emotional side effects from being on the pill and a concern that almost every birth I ever saw on TLC's A Baby Story ended up as a c-section (A procedure I'd always associated with emergencies and high risk pregnancies - not every other episode of a birth show. I knew on very basic level that these healthy women with normal labors should not be going in to get sectioned so quickly - and now I know the science of why as well). Here is what I've discovered.*

More Natural Menses
In treating PMS symptoms I have found that the best ways to help are to prevent through proper diet (check out the resources Nourishing TraditionsReal Food and Practical Paleo for more information). Even with a healthful diet however, hormone fluctuations that effect how our bodies function are a natural (and even essential) part of being a fertile female.

For cramps I recommend . . .
  • Warm epsom salt baths
  • Body rubs with warm grapeseed and/or coconut oil with a drop of your favorite relaxing essential oil such as lavender
  • Heating pads (electric pads work, but the infrared heat may be dangerous in large doses, rice or barley stuffed flannel pads are probably a better option)
For flow I recommend . . . 
  • The Diva Cup (or other menstrual cups) - I can honestly say, I've not had success in positioning mine - but for those who have been successful in this key step, I've not heard a single complaint. They are certainly as easy, if not more so, than non-applicator tampons
  • Cloth menstrual pads - The brand I use is Naturally Simple, but there are others available (including here). These are comfortable and reusable, which also makes them great to have in case of a SHTF-type situation where conventional pads are unavailable. You can also make your own.
  • If cloth pads or Diva Cups aren't for you, there are more natural options for feminine hygiene products such as Seventh Generation unbleached feminine hygiene products and other organic lines. (Though, honestly, for the money, I'd invest in organic cotton-based reusable pads).

Hormone-Free Birth Control
I cannot speak more highly of the Fertility Awareness Method for both hormone-free birth control, and for pregnancy achievement when ready. Not only does it help to identify most fertile periods for abstinence or barrier protection to be used (or for intimacy if trying to achieve pregnancy), it also helps us to be more in tune with our body's natural rhythms and to identify symptoms of potential fertility issues. The bible for FAM is Taking Charge of Your Fertility. TCOYF has charting resources available for free online, as does Fertility Flower. Both also have premium subscriptions with more features that might be especially useful for women trying to achieve pregnancy. I can happily recommend both, or either. You may also be able to find similar tools available for your smart phone. I use My Period Calendar, since I am not married, and therefore chart only for feminine health (rather than birth control or pregnancy achievement), this program provides all I need and is easily portable no matter where I'm going. In order to chart you will need to invest in a basal body temperature thermometer available at your local drug store, grocery store or discount store, usually for less than $10.

Natural Childbirth
This is one topic where my knowledge is more theory and science than practice, so I welcome comments from those who have experienced natural child birth first hand. My knowledge comes from books and films I've pursued in copious amounts over the last 5 years or so and the few births I've been privileged to attend. Since I don't have as much first hand experience here (yet) I'll stick to just a few key bullet points and then a long list of resources to allow you to dig deeper into this topic for yourselves.
  • Child birth in healthy women is not a medical condition to be treated but a physical process to be supported
  • The United States has one of the highest rates of c-section of any developed nation, and well over the rate that research shows to be beneficial to both babies and moms (which is to say the rate at which c-sections are truly life saving for the women and their babies who receive them). This is largely due to the interventionist friendly environment of the American OB-GYN system.
  • While c-sections and other interventions are great tools to have when truly needed - the vast majority of women do not and will not need them given proper support and understanding of the natural process of birth.
  • C-section rates go up just before shift changes and before the weekend at many hospitals - this belies the true reason for many unnecessary interventions - convenience for the doctor - not the health of the patient.

My favorite books about midwifery . . .
My favorite must-see midwifery films (in order) . . .
What ways do you tackle women's health in a more natural way?

*I am not a physician, these recommendations are based only on my personal experience and reading. In issues of both child birth and fertility especially, none of this should be a substitute for the advice of a trained medical professional with whom you have a trusting relationship.

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