The Whys & Hows of Postpartum Herbal Baths

Benefits of postpartum herbal baths

Postpartum herbal baths can be both physically and emotionally helpful. I have had clients tell me—sounding sort of amazed—how much physical relief from postpartum tenderness and pain they felt after taking tub or sitz herbal baths. The herbs help with healing, soothing, and preventing infection.

A postpartum bath is also a great way to pamper someone who has recently given birth. This is important and special because the focus is so often on the newborn to the exclusion of the postpartum experience of the birthing person. To help make the bath special for those clients who would enjoy this, I set up a soothing atmosphere in the bathroom, with dim lighting, sometimes even candlelight.  They can soak and relax while I or another support person care for their baby. 

Sometimes after the bath has cooled a bit, a parent will also want the baby to join them in the tub, which can be a very sweet bonding time, and the best of both worlds for the newborn to receive skin-to-skin contact as well as enjoying the familiar sensation of warm water. Although babies otherwise don’t get into baths until their cord stump has fallen off, the herbs in the postpartum bath will promote drying and healing of the cord stump.

One more reason I love to make postpartum herbal baths for my clients is that it was such a nice experience for me when my child was born. Soon after birth, we spent time in the tub together and it was so calming for both of us, a sweet way to have skin to skin and also a warm, wet, reassuring environment in which he could begin to adjust to his new world.

How to enjoy your postpartum herbal bath

Health care providers offer varying advice on bathing postpartum. I’ve had clients who preferred to take a sitz bath and found it very soothing, so if tub immersion isn’t right for you that’s totally fine. The same goes for whether or not to bring the baby into the bath with you.  Another option I’ve also heard about is using the preparation in the peri bottles to add more soothing and healing for the early postpartum days when urination causes stinging. 

When I stop and think about it, I’d have to say that each family I’ve seen has used the bath experience in their own unique way. I’ve seen the bath happen while the partner was out. I have seen partners preparing and helping with the bath. Some baths are in full natural light, others in a dimly lit room. Some mothers remain alone in the tub and others are joined by their babies.  I’ve seen older siblings in the tub, too. I’ve brought food and drinks to some and other times just left the person to their own meditation or relaxation. It’s all very sweet, however people choose to enjoy their bath.

I offer the bath because I think if I didn’t, most of my clients wouldn’t bother with it. I think it can be difficult to imagine the benefits, and also it might seem daunting to prepare the herbal infusion. After experiencing a postpartum herbal bath, many people not surprisingly want to take more. In fact, one or two baths a day for the first 3-5 days following birth are often recommended for optimal benefit.

How to prepare your postpartum herbal bath

Just as there is no one way to use the postpartum bath preparation, there are also multiple ways to prepare and purchase them.  I prepare the postpartum baths for my clients, shopping locally in Ann Arbor at the People’s Food Coop, Arbor Farms, or Whole Foods. 

There are many herbs that can be used in postpartum baths, and the recipes vary. I use the standards: lavender flowers (for relaxation and antiseptic properties), calendula flowers (for soothing and healing tissue), and a healing leaf such as comfrey or plantain. Sea salt is another nice ingredient.  It’s also easy to find and purchase pre-packaged postpartum herbal baths online.

For more detailed information about bath ingredients from an expert herbalist, as well as suggestions for online sources for prepared herbal bath mixtures, see this article from Aviva Romm, Healing Herb Baths for New Mamas.

You don’t have to be super precise when mixing up an herbal bath. Start by boiling a good amount of water in a pot, somewhere between 2-4 quarts. Turn the water off when it comes to a boil and add the herbs–approximately ½ cup mixture of the herbs you’ve chosen.  Allow to steep, covered, for 1-3 hours. Then strain the herbs through a metal mesh strainer and discard (you don’t want to sit in the herbs themselves when you are in the tub, just the mixture you have steeped them in. Add all of your liquid into the bath when you are ready. 

Safety tips

Immersive baths are not recommended following a Cesarean birth.

Have a helper available to support you as you enter and exit the tub.

Have a helper hand the baby to you after the bath has had a chance to cool down a bit. Your baby’s skin will be more sensitive to heat than an adult’s will be.

Herbal baths should be refrigerated within 24 hours of preparation (remove the herbs first), and used within three days.

Make it clear to your household that the bath preparation is not tea!

And of course, enjoy!

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