It's rememdies are tailored to an individual's symptoms and there are no side effects. Loulou Turner examines a popular alternative
From the moment you first find out you’re pregnant, your body is no longer your own. It’s a time of questioning every little thing you pop in your mouth – including the odd painkiller you may have previously relied on. No surprise then that this is a time when mums-to-be start weighing up the benefits of complementary health treatments such as homeopathy.
A bit hippy-dippy?
Homeopathy used to have something of an image problem. It was considered a bit hippy-dippy, popular with knit-your-own-yoghurt types who actively shunned anything modern medicine might have to offer. In fact I was first introduced to it when I sent my daughter to a nursery where the children were given daily aromatherapy massages to the sounds of whale music playing in the background. Say no more! Nonetheless, there are plenty of modern mums out there who swear by it. Fans argue it offers a viable alternative for treating common, everyday ailments, whether you’re pregnant or not. Plus it provides a whole range of safe, effective and inexpensive remedies – all with the aim of triggering the body’s natural system of healing itself. For those who rely on them, homeopathic remedies are now widely available in high street chemists, including Boots. And many GPs now offer homeopathic treatments on the NHS. Its enduring appeal may be due, in part, to the bad press that some traditional medicines have attracted over the years. Studies such as one published in The Lancet, claiming that children given paracetamol in the first year of life had a 46% increased risk of developing asthma symptoms later in life, only add to every mum’s confusion.
For children or adults with common, recurrent infections an appointment with a qualified homeopath might be worth considering – particularly if your GP’s only solution is to prescribe multiple courses of antibiotics.
Lack of alternative medicine
The lack of alternatives is what drives some GPs to train in homeopathy as well. Dr Charlotte Mendes da Costa finished her medical training 20 years ago and qualified as a GP four years later, but a year before that she also started training in homeopathy.
‘Of course, there’s a lot of conventional medicine I wouldn’t dismiss,’ she says. ‘But over the years I started to see a number of patients that I couldn’t help because the drugs that I prescribed didn’t work.’
Today she continues to integrate homeopathy into her general practice, using whichever treatment she feels is most likely to help her patients. In her experience she’s found that it’s particularly helpful in alleviating menstrual and menopausal problems, as well as being a useful option for treating complaints during pregnancy.
So what is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is a system of natural healing developed over 200 years ago by a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann, who was shocked by medical practices which included blood-letting, purging and using poisons such as arsenic, and wanted to reduce the side effects. Homeopathy doesn’t interfere with conventional medicine and should be seen as a complementary treatment, not as an alternative. It’s been available on the NHS since 1948 and was championed by Nye Bevan, the architect of the NHS. There are four NHS-funded homeopathic hospitals in the UK. The largest, the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (now part of the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine), treats around 2,000 patients per week.
What’s in them?
Homeopathic remedies use plants and minerals to help the body heal itself. They’re widely available in chemists and health food shops and because they’re made through a process of extreme dilution, they have no side effects. You can safely give them to babies and children of any age and they can be used alongside conventional medicines.
Tales from the maternity ward
Nyree Wright is an independent midwife who initially used homeopathy just for herself but has started to integrate it into her work. ‘I don’t use it for every birth, just when I feel it might help. I view it in much the same way I view water births and TENS machines – the worst-case scenario is that nothing happens and it doesn’t work, but at least no harm has been done.’
Minimising medical intervention and trying to give mothers more choice is what motivated Dr Clare Willocks, a consultant obstetrician who works for the NHS in Lanarkshire, to train in homeopathy. ‘I’ve witnessed many times how much homeopathy can help a birthing mother to avoid medical intervention,’ she explains. ‘It’s particularly good at balancing the cocktail of birthing hormones. For instance, if a mother is stressed she will produce adrenaline which can slow and even stop contractions, but the right homeopathic remedy can be helpful in restarting them so the need for medical intervention is reduced.’
The new mum
Julie Corsham’s first labour was long and difficult. ‘I didn’t feel in control and ended up with a c-section,’ she explains. ‘So eight years later, pregnant for a second time, I decided to try the homeopathic route. I loved Miranda Castro’s book, Homeopathy for Mother and Baby. I’ve lost count of how many copies I bought – it’s the kind of book you lend to friends and never get back! I found the whole experience of a homeopathic birth wonderfully empowering and my partner felt he was helping by giving me remdies every now and again. Nowadays you can watch Miranda on YouTube.’
To find a homeopath in your area visit britishhomeopathic.org
The advice included in the article is for information purposes only. If you have any questions or concerns please discuss these with your midwife, GP, or other medical professional.
Here’s homeopath Jane Harter’s guide to five common complaints and remedies to try
Sepia You feel washed out, irritable, worse for thinking about and smelling food but actually better for eating. You may fancy vinegary food and pickles.
Ipecac Constant severe nausea and frequent vomiting which doesn’t relieve the nausea. You can’t keep anything down, vomiting food and bile. There may be a bitter taste in the mouth, but the tongue isn’t coated.
MastitisBelladonna For hot, red, throbbing breasts that may have red streaks around the nipple. Also good for engorgement when the milk comes in.
Phytolacca Your breasts are very hard and very sensitive, but more purplish than red. When the baby feeds the pain can radiate out from the nipple all over the body.
TeethingChamomilla Your baby is very irritable and fretful; nothing you do seems right. Often they can only be calmed by carrying them around and rocking them constantly. One cheek is often hot and red and they may have green, slimy poo.
Silica (Silicea) Teething seems to take forever, the baby is grizzly and dribbly and has a sweaty head.
ColicColocynthis Your baby’s abdomen is tight and cramping pain comes in waves, which makes them draw their knees up. Hard pressure seems to help.
Dioscorea The pain makes your baby arch backwards, and he is better when being carried about.
ChickenpoxRhus Tox Your child is very restless and can’t keep still because of the itching, which may be relieved by a warm bath.
Ant Tart The spots are slow to come out and your child is dopey and sweaty. The remedy can be particularly helpful when your child is also chesty and coughing with the chickenpox.
Five more remedies to have in the house
Aconite Good for treating fevers and illnesses that come on very suddenly, often after being chilled or in a cold wind. Symptoms will usually be worse around midnight and your child may be fearful and anxious. Also good for dry, barking coughs and croup.
Belladonna Useful for illnesses with hot dry
Chamomilla Useful whenever a sick child is very irritable with pain, so helpful for earaches and tummy aches as well as teething.
Pulsatilla For illnesses that make your child warm, very clingy and tearful, and needing lots of cuddles. They don’t want to drink and are better for being kept cool and taken into fresh air.
Arnica For bumps and bruises. The first remedy to reach for whenever there is a tumble. Also useful after labour to promote healing.
Jane Harter LCH RSHom practises in north London. For appointments,