Building Your Home Apothecary
Entering motherhood involves a simultaneous physical, emotional, and mental transition. It means becoming a full-time nurturer. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. First, a mother has to experience the tremendous task of giving birth and then transition into a caregiver, which is a long process that requires time and work. It’s common for women in the postpartum period to be sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, overcome with fatigue and stress. While the mother is experiencing her own emotions, her baby is adapting to the world outside the womb. The baby’s transition is also fraught with common issues, such as colic, thrush, diaper rash, and flaky skin. Using herbs, supplements, and other helpful aids is essential to supporting the transition. These types of product have the ability to make any mother feel confident that she has the ability to help herself and her child through difficulties naturally, without having to resort to worrisome products that can cause harm and are loaded with toxins.
This guide will walk you through the essentials needed to support both mother and baby during the postpartum period. Everything listed is safe and easy to use. Although certain products may sound unfamiliar, over time and with practice your confidence in your abilities to treat your little one will grow.
Before reading, please keep in mind that these are items for minor concerns that do not need medical attention. They are not to replace seeing a medical professional, if the need is there.
These herbs are all safe to be taken by babies, and can also be taken by the mother and transferred to the baby through breast milk. Simply consume the herbs 15 minutes before breastfeeding. If you’re unsure about choosing the correct herb or appropriate dosages, consult a health care practitioner or herbalist for advice.
Astragalus. Great for treating recurrent respiratory infections, astragalus is a safe and effective adaptogenic herb that provides support to the immune system and can also be used to speed up wound healing due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s one of the most popular herbs in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and has been used for thousands of years.
Catnip. Beneficial to both mother and baby, catnip has a gentle relaxing effect as it calms the nervous system. For this reason, it also helps to reduce colic in babies. For greater effect, pair it with slippery elm, chamomile, and fennel. It can also assist with gas - newborn babies must adjust to the larger doses of breastmilk they’re consuming, and gas is a common side effect.
Chamomile. This herb, most commonly found in teas, is a mild sedative that is safe for children of all ages. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and soothes a nervous stomach. Chamomile does belong to the ragweed family, however, so be cautious and avoid this one if you or your child has an allergy.
Echinacea. With your newborn in the process of developing an immune system and you adapting to a new schedule and responsibilities, this herb is essential. It mainly supports immune function, which helps to fend off viral infections.
Elderberry. Similarly to echinacea, elderberry has the capability to shorten the duration of colds and flu due to its impressively high antioxidant content (elderberries contain twice as many antioxidants as blueberries!), which helps to strengthen the immune system. Elderberry is also great for curing recurrent respiratory infections. Found commonly in syrup form, it’s a powerful natural medicine that you can utilize at home. Make a simple DIY elderberry syrup for your babe (as well as for older toddlers and children)
Diy Elderberry syrup
1 cup dried black elderberries
4 cups of water
2 Tablespoons fresh or dried ginger root (fresh is best!)
1 teaspoon ceylon cinnamon powder
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 cup raw honey
Directions - Add all ingredients (with the exception of honey) to a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 45 mins-1hr. Remove from heat, let cool & then mash the berries to extract as much juice as possible. Strain, then add honey and fully combine/mix in a mason jar. 1 tbsp for adults 1 tsp for kids - 1/4th tsp for babies/toddlers. When sick - use every few hours until symptoms subside & then occasionally/as needed.
Eyebright. As its name suggests, this herb assists with eye infections caused by blocked tear ducts. If your baby gets this type of infection, make an eyebright tea and dip a cotton ball into it. Rub it on the affected eye several times a day until it has healed.
Calendula. When it comes to healing minor scrapes and cuts as well as soothing rashes (such as diaper rash), calendula is one of your best bets. A DIY calendula salve can easily be made at home by mixing calendula petals with a high-quality oil (such as coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or hemp oil) and then thickening it up with beeswax to make a thicker balm.
Here’s a great recipe with step-by-step instructions:
¾ cup of calendula oil (you can also make your own)
¼ cup coconut oil
1 oz of beeswax
15-18 drops of lavender essential oil
Pinch of dried turmeric powder (optional, for color)
Add water to the bottom pot of your double boiler. Boil, and then pour your calendula oil into the top pot and place above. You can also create a double boiler if you don’t have one. The main idea is that the oil needs non-direct and even heat to prevent burning.
Bring your double boiler to a low heat and slowly add beeswax, and then coconut oil. Once everything has melted, add lavender essential oil and a large pinch of turmeric powder (optional for color). Stir the mixture, and then immediately turn off your burner.
Slowly pour into each tin, and allow the salves to cool. It’s helpful to use a heat resistant measuring cup.
Probiotics. 80% of our immune system is found in the gut (i.e. the small and large intestines). To optimize gut health, an adequate amount of good bacteria and a sufficient ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria is needed. Probiotics provide the good bacteria strains so they can colonize in our guts. A baby’s immune system is not fully developed until they’re at least 3 years old, and early supplementation with probiotics can help to encourage healthy immunity and support a baby’s long-term health.
Vitamin C. This powerhouse antioxidant assists with preventing the onset of viral infections, especially during cold and flu season, by supporting the immune system. Make sure children are given vitamin C throughout the day, as it’s a water-soluble vitamin that, if not used, is promptly excreted. It can be given through supplements or food sources (such as oranges, guava, black currants, kiwis, and strawberries).
Vitamin D3. Vitamin D is essential to supporting the healthy development of the immune system. More can be given during times of acute illness to support immune function.
Cod Liver Oil. Fish oils contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) that boost brain health and development, improve immunity, and help to prevent allergies and respiratory infections. Cod liver oil has additional benefits in the forms of vitamins A, D, and K. Supplementation can help with your baby’s cognitive development as well as his or her eyesight, bone structure, and more. This is safe for babies to begin taking in small amounts (¼ to ½ tsp daily) from the age of 3 months onwards.
Bone Broth. Bone broth contains trace minerals, each having their own benefits to support overall health, and gelatin, which supports a strong gut lining and increases immune function. Bone broth is highly bioavailable, which means the body can readily absorb and utilize a large amount of the nutrients in contains. Homemade broths are easy to make and very cost-effective. If buying from a store, make sure you’re getting one that is made from the bones of organic, grass-fed animals.
Coconut Oil. Everyone’s favorite, coconut oil is anti-microbial and can be used as the base for all kinds of natural DIY products, from soaps and salves to healing balms. Coconut oil is an absolute staple in every at-home apothecary kit or pantry.
Aloe Vera. Aloe vera gel or juice is a great remedy for burns or other inflammatory skin conditions. It can also be used as the base in many great DIY products such as healing salves and soothing lotions.
PRODUCTS (STORE-BOUGHT & DIY)
Bentonite Clay. This is a potent detoxifier that provides immune support. It can be used during bath time for overall health support, as well as on bumps, bug bites, or rashes.
DIY Diaper Salve. A homemade baby bum balm can soothe and heal diaper rash and other skin irritations without any of the harsh ingredients found in conventional products. One way to make a diaper salve is to mix equal parts coconut oil and pure shea butter then add some zinc oxide powder to further soothe skin irritation. Another great option is to mix chickweed in coconut oil with cocoa butter. Beeswax is also a helpful ingredient used in homemade salves to thicken the final product - learn how to make DIY herbal salves here.
Calendula Salve. The DIY calendula salve (see above in the Herbs section) is another great option to use as a baby bum salve.
DIY Garlic Ear Oil. One of the top reasons that babies and young children must visit the doctor is due to ear infections. Children’s ear canals aren’t fully formed until they’re about 3 to 4 years old, so their ears can have issues with draining properly which results in mucus accumulation and bacterial build-up.
The Scratch Test- If you’re not sure that a herb will be safe for your child or have never given him or her a plant before and want to be cautious, you can perform a scratch test. Take a small amount of the herb, tea, or tincture and gently rub it on the inside of your child’s arm. Wait for 24 hours to see if there is any negative reaction before using the herb.
The following herbs can be taken as tinctures or infusions. You can purchase your herbs from a herbal dispensary, your local health food store, or a reputable online retailer such as Mountain Rose Herbs.
Blessed Thistle. This is especially great to take during the first few weeks post-childbirth, as it helps with uterine bleeding, mild irritability, milk production, and digestive functioning. It is best taken in tincture form and can be combined with fenugreek for best results.
Dandelion. This highly nutritive herb also aids in digestion. It can be added to meals as well as used as a coffee alternative (try the Dandy Blend as the new base for your bulletproof latte!).
Gotu Kola. This herb reduces nervous exhaustion while also promoting mental clarity. It’s also a connective tissue tonic, which is helpful for restoring uterine and ligament tone.
Fenugreek. Commonly found in herbal lactation teas, fenugreek is a potent and effective galactagogue. This means that it increases breast milk production by supporting secretion of the hormone prolactin.
Lavender. This popular herb relaxes the nervous system, helps with insomnia, stimulates milk production, and helps with the let-down reflex needed in breastfeeding.
Motherwort. A uterine tonic, motherwort is beneficial in decreasing postpartum cramping and pain. Its main benefit, however, is in relieving symptoms of anxiety.
Milky Oats. Consistent consumption of dried milky oats is a fantastic way to boost your diet with additional vitamins and minerals, as it’s rich in silica, magnesium, phosphorus, chromium, iron, calcium, alkaloids, protein, B vitamins, and vitamins A and C. It’s mainly used to soothe and strengthen nerves as it contains nutrients that feed the nervous system. It’s particularly helpful in times of stress, exhaustion, overwork, or emotional trauma.
Nettle. Everyday use will help relieve you of an overall sense of tiredness and feeling drained. Nettles are also packed with trace minerals and vitamins that will help to keep you nourished when you’re less focused than usual on preparing and cooking your own meals.
Oregano. As a new mom, the last thing you want is to get sick yourself. Oregano is a potent immune-booster that has the power to destroy pathogenic bacteria without disrupting the balance of beneficial bacteria in your body. Oregano can be cooked with or taken as an oil - and oil of oregano is a very powerful item to have in your at-home apothecary. While it should certainly not be taken daily, it can keep any cold or flu at bay when you feel the first inkling of a sickness coming on.
Red Raspberry Leaf. This herb helps to tonify the uterus and pairs well with all other herbs. Try a nettle & red raspberry blend.
Skullcap. This powerful herb helps to nourish and restore the nervous system when it has been constantly overthinking, has a touch of the blues, is exhausted from lack of rest, is on edge and excited, and is overall overstimulated.
Witch Hazel. This astringent herb helps to tighten tissues which decreasing swelling and pain.
Vitamin D3. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with depressive symptoms, and vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common in those living in the northern hemisphere. Most people don’t spend enough time outdoors (the sun is our main source of vitamin D), and the small amount of vitamin D found in foods compounds the issue. Higher amounts of vitamin D are necessary during postpartum because the newborn baby is in greater need, and it will also boost your mood and immunity.
Multivitamin & Mineral. Ideally, you began taking these several months before conception, and now you can continue taking prenatal vitamins after the birth of your baby. Taking a multivitamin/mineral is important to take for as long as you’re breastfeeding. Prenatal vitamins help you get the right amount of all the essential vitamins and minerals, both for the health and proper development of your baby and for your own health. For example, folate and the other B vitamins can help to prevent postpartum depression. Vitamin A and vitamin C will boost not only your immune system but also your baby’s if you’re breastfeeding.
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). Omega 3 fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fats that aid in brain and eye development in infants as they pass through your breast milk. Fatty acids also benefit the mother as they can soothe inflammation, help control blood pressure, and reduce symptoms of postpartum depression. EFAs work by stimulating the production of prostaglandins, which control the inflammatory response in the body. The two most common and useful fatty acids are EPA and DHA, which are found in fish oils. DHA specifically helps in breast milk production and supports the development of the newborn’s brain, eyes, and central nervous system. Either choose a multivitamin that contains EFAs or select a stand-alone supplement labeled as mercury-free. You can also consume foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as cold water fatty fish (wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, herring, etc.), coconut products (coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut butter, raw coconut meat, etc.), avocados, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds.
B Vitamins. Depression has been linked to low levels of B vitamins. Vitamin B12 deficiency is often correlated with depression in the elderly, while vitamin B9 (folate) deficiency is linked to depression in adults and adolescents. One theory behind this is that low levels of vitamins B6, B9, and B12 may cause decreased synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, all of which play a role in mood regulation. The B vitamins are also easily depleted, especially by high levels of stress and excessive sugar intake. Since the B vitamins are water-soluble (meaning they’re not stored in the body long-term), mothers need to ensure that they’re consuming and absorbing adequate amounts of foods high in them every day (such as dark leafy greens, beef liver and other animal products, seafood, and bananas). Supplementation is also a good idea.
Zinc. This essential trace mineral supports the immune system and helps to protect the body from the damage caused by free radicals. Pregnancy affects how your body absorbs zinc, so new mothers can often be deficient. Supplementing with zinc will improve your energy levels while also benefiting your baby (if you breastfeed), reducing the incidence and severity of colic. You can also increase your intake of zinc-rich foods, such as oysters, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and dark chocolate.
Magnesium. This miracle mineral is essential to so many bodily functions. It helps to reduce depression and irritability, has anti-inflammatory properties, helps soothe and relax muscles, and is also highly beneficial to your baby’s bone strength, heart health, immune system development, and more. Sleeplessness and high levels of stress can deplete the mineral, and many North Americans are deficient to begin with. Adding a supplement is wise, and you can also focus on eating more magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, sea vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts, and whole grains.
Iron. Many women are deficient in iron to begin with, and iron is especially important for the health of new moms. Iron is necessary for healthy brain function and for proper oxygenation of all of the cells in our bodies. Add a supplement or increase your dietary intake of iron-rich foods - some great sources are liver and other meats, eggs, fish, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, and blackstrap molasses. (Add a vitamin C source, such as citrus fruit or raw broccoli, to your iron-rich meal or take vitamin C at the same time as your iron supplement to increase absorption.)
Adaptogenic Herbs. Adding adaptogenic herbs to your supplement regime, such as maca and ashwagandha, can help to regulate your body’s response to stress by supporting your adrenal glands. They can reduce irritability and make you feel at once more calm and energized. Medicinal mushrooms are also a good option to explore.
Apple Cider Vinegar. The benefits of ACV are huge: it acts as a powerful alkalizer (reducing acidity in the body), helps to regulate blood sugar levels, improves skin health, boosts gut health, relieves symptoms of acid reflux, and so much more. Make sure to buy raw ACV with the mother intact. Add it to salad dressings, teas, and elixirs, or have a tablespoon mixed in with water in lieu of lemon water first thing in the morning. This is a great one to have in the pantry or fridge at all times.
Fire Cider. This ancient remedy is an incredible immune booster that will keep any cold or flu at bay. It’s also beneficial for digestion and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. You can easily make a jar and store it in the back of your fridge for whenever you need it - it’ll keep for many months. A shot a day is also a safe way to reinforce your health and immunity. To make fire cider, simply combine a combination of immune-boosting herbs, roots, and peels with apple cider vinegar and let it marinate indefinitely. Common ingredients to include with the ACV (chopped up into small pieces) are garlic, onion, ginger, horseradish, turmeric root, hot peppers or chilies, orange or lemon, herbs (parsley, rosemary, thyme, cayenne), and peppercorns. You can also add some raw honey to sweeten it up a touch. Here’s a great recipe to try.
Cinnamon. Add cinnamon to teas, tonics, and elixirs for its potent anti-inflammatory benefits. Cinnamon is also a great source of antioxidants and is helpful in fighting infections and viruses.
Lemons. Another great cold- and flu-buster, lemons are full of nutrients and have dozens more medicinal benefits. They can help with indigestion, treat fever, ease the pain of sunburns and bee stings, soothe respiratory disorders, stop internal bleeding and nosebleeds, cure indigestion and constipation, and so much more.
Raw Honey. Honey is a great addition to any at-home apothecary due to its many health benefits, from acting as an anti-allergen to a wound healer to a natural cough syrup. Manuka honey, in particular, is costly for a reason - it’s the most potent, bioactive, healing honey available. Honey has many medicinal benefits and is also often used as the base for various homemade syrups and treatments. As an added bonus, it works well as a lovely, moisturizing face mask. Honey should not be given to babies under the age of 1. Buy local if possible for added health benefits.
Fermented Foods. These are beneficial to include in your pantry and in your diet on a daily basis as they’re a great source of naturally-occurring probiotics. Eating probiotics will ensure you have a healthy balance of good gut flora, which will support your immune system and also your baby’s, if you’re breastfeeding. Great fermented foods to keep on hand include raw sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, natto, and tempeh. You can make your own at home easily and affordably.
PRODUCTS (STORE-BOUGHT & DIY)
Herbal Sitz Bath. After birth, a sitz bath (a shallow bath wherein only the lower part of the body is submerged) is helpful for soothing the body, calming inflammation, promoting healing, and decreasing the chance of vaginal infection. You can create your own herbal addition to the bath for additional benefits. Helpful herbs include witch hazel, calendula, myrrh, lavender, yarrow, sage, and rosemary.
Breast Pump. Sometimes, a mother needs a break from nursing. Breastfeeding may be painful, your baby may have developed thrush (causing the yeast on you to be painful), or you and your partner may want to have a romantic date night alone. Breast pumps provide a solution to all of these concerns - you get a rest from breastfeeding, and your baby still gets the nutrient-rich breast milk.
Nipple Salve. A nursing balm can be highly beneficial to counteract the soreness that can result from breastfeeding. You can easily DIY this one by using shea butter or cocoa butter, olive oil, and/or beeswax with the addition of soothing herbal extracts such as calendula, chamomile, and marshmallow root.
Nourishing Skin Oil. New mothers need plenty of massage with nourishing oils post-childbirth to heal aches and pains, release stress, and relieve muscle tension. The skin has undergone a lot of stretching and possibly tearing, and needs deep healing as well. Massages also promote the release of oxytocin, which will result in better breast milk production. Create your own healing DIY skin oil by using a blend of medicinal oils, such as mustard oil (highly warming and healing), coconut oil (more cooling if you live in a hot place and need soothing action), almond oil (which absorbs very well, smells delicious, and reduces stretch marks), grapeseed oil (nourishes the skin and helps to tone and tighten it), and/or avocado oil (a light oil that soothes scars and stretch marks, and absorbs very well).
Belly Wraps. These are used to help slim and support your belly, waist, and hips post-pregnancy, giving you some added protection. Wrapping a postpartum woman’s belly provides physical, postural support and can help to speed up the recovery process. It promotes abdominal wall healing and recovery from diastasis recti, supports your spine and posture realignment after giving birth, puts pressure on the torso to speed up healing, relieves lower back strain, and acts as an overall stabilizer.
Magnesium Flake Baths. These are an easy and effective way to increase your magnesium levels, as magnesium is very well absorbed transdermally. As a bonus, they call for soaking in a warm bath for at least 20 to 30 minutes - something that all new moms should hopefully be able to indulge in at least once a week.
Essential Oils. Having a kit of various healing essential oils is beneficial, as essential oils can be helpful in everything from fighting off common illnesses to healing skin conditions, alleviating pain, improving digestion, and more. Some of the most popular healing oils include tea tree, lavender, rosemary, frankincense, sandalwood, lemon, peppermint, eucalyptus, and orange (which is especially helpful for postpartum)
Hydrosols (Floral Waters). Flower waters are soothing and balancing. They can be used as part of your normal skin care routine to calm inflamed or irritated skin, or as a salve on minor burns, rashes, and sores. With lovely scents like rose and lavender, hydrosols also have relaxing aromatherapeutic benefits.
Building up an at-home apothecary over time will empower you as a new mother to support and care for both yourself and your baby in a natural and holistic manner. With healing herbs, supplements, and DIY recipes, you will be able to confidently take charge of your and your child’s health.