Wow. It’s five months into my motherhood stint, and the realities of the 24-hour nature of this undertaking have recently intensified with a little something called sleep regression, followed by another little something called teething. My previously enviable situation of having a very young baby who slept through the night has disintegrated. We are now up at all hours. Last night, my baby wouldn’t even go to sleep until after 9 pm, a couple of hours after his usual bedtime. Until now the sleep regression stuff had mostly affected him staying asleep, so this was unusual. And this was after a night where I probably got a maximum of 4 hours of sleep, and we had a day filled with some trying moments.
Needless to say, I’m completely exhausted. With all the sleep deprivation I’ve been experiencing, my mind turned to the possibility of a class of herbs called adaptogens for support. Adaptogens modulate the effects of stress on your body, making you more resilient, and help boost your immunity. According to David Winston and Steven Maimes:
“Adaptogens are remarkable natural substances that help the body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic functions, and help restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors and provide a defense response to acute or chronic stress. They are unique from other substances in their ability to restore the balance of endocrine hormones, modulate the immune system, and allow the body to maintain optimal homeostasis.” (Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief (Healing Arts Press, 2007))
Setting about my research, it took delving into some highly specialized resources to find the adaptogens that are compatible with breastfeeding, as most of them aren’t. I am so fortunate to be studying with Aviva Romm. She has put together a top-shelf women’s herbal program that draws upon her 20+ years of experience as a practicing herbalist and midwife. Aviva is also a trained physician and has the science savvy as well as the herbalist and midwifery arts at her disposal. I’m just loving the course, as it satisfies both sides of the brain. There is also a wonderful global community of women who are taking the course, and many of them are midwives and herbalists and are fantastic resources as well.
From my research, which included Aviva’s books as well as tapping the well of the women’s herbal community, there emerged two main adaptogens that are optimal for use while breastfeeding: ashwagandha and shatavari. Some information about each, again with quotes from Winston & Maimes:
- Ashwagandha: “It is believed that this herb gives its users the stamina and strength of a stallion. In ayurvedic medicine, this herb is . . . used for prolonging life, stimulating the mind, and enhancing vigor and sexual prowess as well as for its recuperative powers.” Unlike many adaptogens, which have stimulating properties, ashwagandha is calming, so it’s a good one for when you’re feeling high-strung and strung-out.
- Shatavari: This one sounds like one to watch out for! ”The word shatavari literally translates as “she who has hundreds of husbands.” It has been used for millenia as an aphrodisiac and to enhance fertility in women (and men as well)…. In modern ayurvedic practice, shatavari is still used as a female reproductive tonic. Animal studies have confirmed that it enhances fertility and libido…. Shatavari is also used as an adaptogen and as an immune system and nutritive tonic…. There is a long history of this plant being used to increase milk flow in lactating women.”