Women began seeking safe alternatives for antidepressants during pregnancy several years ago, when research first showed that the drugs could affect their unborn child. Many women also try to avoid any pharmaceuticals when breastfeeding, including that vulnerable phase right after birth when the hormonal tides are shifting. Postpartum depression may be a result of these shifting hormonal tides combined with the exhaustion of caring for a newborn. Yet suffering from unmedicated depression, during pregnancy or breastfeeding, may carry its own risks for mother and child.
Why not try natural medicines known as homeopathics first? They are safe during pregnancy and can also promote an easier, shorter labor. Homeopathic medicines are regulated by the FDA as over-the-counter meds, although the labels have a warning for pregnant women (“seek professional advice”). That’s because the FDA requires this label on any medicine not yet tested on pregnant women. (This would include antidepressants which the FDA categorizes as Schedule C, “no well-controlled studies in humans”.)
There is good overall evidence, though, for the safety of these medicines during pregnancy. First, the historical record: unlike conventional medications, which are liable to be taken off the market or replaced by a new drug, the same homeopathic medicines have been used for 200 years. If they created a problem during pregnancy, we would know by now. And in a study of pharmacists in France, where these natural medicines are part of the national health care system, 95% of pharmacists recommend them to pregnant women.
There is some research on homeopathic medicines during pregnancy, such as a study done on laboring women in Israel. The study compared the use of Arnica (a common homeopathic medicine to stop bleeding) and Bellis perennis (a very similar medicine) with placebo. The two natural medicines significantly reduced bleeding during childbirth. (You can find Arnica in any health food store, although Bellis is harder to find in the US). In other studies, homeopathic medicines reduced the duration of labor by 40%, while others reduced the complications of pregnancy by almost 400%.
More benefits: homeopathic medicines are inexpensive (less than $10 for a tube of 40 doses), easy to take (they taste like tiny sugar pellets) and available in any health food store or online. Because the FDA strictly regulates homeopathic manufacturing facilities, the major national brands are all comparable in reliability and effectiveness.
For chronic conditions, including depression, a professional homeopath must be consulted to find the correct medicine for the individual and to manage the client’s care during pregnancy. For acute episodes, however, self-care with store-bought medicines is safe and can bring great relief. Here are a few of the most common for depression during and right after pregnancy:
Sepia is a powerful medicine for depression during or after pregnancy, and it will work especially well when the woman is exhausted, wants to get away from it all, and feels overwhelmed or “at the end of my rope.” The feeling of being too tired to cope and of wanting to get away from a 24/7 responsibility – such as the care of a newborn – can lead to postpartum depression for which Sepia is such an effective medicine. When a woman is breastfeeding, she may need Sepia when she feels totally drained and exhausted.
Sepia is also likely to work well when one or more of these physical symptoms is present: morning sickness, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, lower back pain, and uterine cramps relieved by a heating pad.
You may recognize the word Sepia as the name of a brown pigment (remember the old-fashioned sepia-toned photographs?). In fact the pigment was made from the ink of the cuttlefish, a type of squid, and the homeopathic medicine is made from a safe dilution of this same squid ink. The dark brown ink is almost identical to the human molecule melanin, the dark brown pigment that shows up in light-skinned women as the “mask of pregnancy” on the cheeks or the “linea nigra” from navel to pubic bone during pregnancy. It is one of the wonders of nature that almost the same molecule shows up in a little sea creature as in our own bodies, and a wonder of medicine that this sea creature substance can heal so many human ills. Sepia can heal these physical symptoms along with the depression.
Natrum muriaticum, or Nat. mur. for short, is the most widely-used homeopathic medicine for the long-term effects of silent (unexpressed) grief. Pregnancy can trigger a wide variety of upsetting emotions as the woman relives earlier events in her life, such as losing her special place in her mother’s attention and affection when her mother became pregnant with a younger sibling. The variety of homeopathic medicines for this type of triggered emotion is too great to cover here, because the emotions are so varied. Nat. mur. is included here as one example because it is so widely used has such an easy-to-recognize symptom picture.
Nat. mur. is used when there is a long-ago grief or loss about which the person may say, “I never shed a tear.” The feelings were so deep and so powerful that the person felt she had to control them or else fall apart altogether. Instead she chose to suppress her feelings, to soldier on, and to build a wall around her wounded heart, keeping potential new close relationships at bay lest she be hurt again. On the other hand, she dwells on these past hurts and may hold a grudge forever.
This “Nat. mur” type of depression tends to be worse hormonally, whether the woman has PMS or is pregnant. When pregnant, she may be thrown off base by weepiness coming up, apparently out of nowhere. She may have long-ago memories of upsetting events from, say, her mother’s other pregnancies. She may be overly serious and responsible, trying so hard to “do a good job” at being pregnant that she misses the chance to enjoy bonding with the baby within her. Nat. mur. can help her process her ancient hurts, find her long-lost sense of fun, and relieve physical symptoms such as water retention.
Lac maternam or Lac humanum: these very similar homeopathic medicines are made from mother’s milk and are used for women who have issues with mothering, self-care, lack of nurturance in childhood, and sometimes with their breasts and/or breast-feeding. I often have women in my practice who come in for help with weight loss or starting an exercise routine. “I’ve read all the books and I know exactly what to do,” they’ll say, “but I just can’t do it because I’m not good at taking care of myself.” In fact women who need this remedy typically using reading as an escape from their feeling of isolation, loneliness, and tendency to care for others at their own expense.
When this lack of self-care stems from a lack of good mothering when a client was a child, chances are that one of these “mother’s milk” remedies can help. And if she’s pregnant, it’s urgent that she resolve this issue, because a woman with issues around nurturance may have difficulty nurturing her child well. She may provide adequate nutrition in terms of physical food substances yet fail to provide the all-important emotional “food” of unconditional love and acceptance.
Finally, Ignatia or Gelsemium may be needed for “hearing bad news” during pregnancy, whether the “bad news” is a miscarriage, a diagnosis of a genetic disorder in the unborn child, or even a tragic event such as a death in the family while the woman is pregnant. If she reacts by becoming hyper-emotional, perhaps with hysterical sobbing, Ignatia will help her find her inner strength. If she reacts by going numb and becoming emotionally paralyzed, Gelsemium can help her mobilize her resources to cope with the tragedy.
Directions: Get the 30c potency (strength) commonly available in health food stores and online, unless you know yourself to be hypersensitive (sensitive across the board to medications, supplements, odors and vibrational energies). Hypersensitives should get a mild 6c potency, even if you have to special-order it. Dissolve two pellets in your mouth as one dose. Take it once a day if your symptoms are mild and ongoing; up to four times a day if they are sudden and severe. Basically you want to take enough until you can feel it starting to work, then back off and let it keep working (like coasting on a bike). Do not repeat until the symptoms start to come back. If you do not get benefit from your self-dosing, seek a professional homeopath for the best possible results.
Castro M. Homeopathy for Pregnancy, Birth and Your Baby’s First Year. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
Johannes CK, van der Zee H. Homeopathy and Mental Health Care: Integrative Practice, Principles and Research. Haren, The Netherlands: Homeolinks Publishers, 2010.
Reichenberg-Ullman JL, Ullman RW. The Homeopathic Treatment of Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar and Other Mental and Emotional Problems: Homeopathic Alternatives to Conventional Drug Therapies Edmonds, WA: Picnic Point Press, 2012.
Ullman D. Homeopathic Family Medicine. Ebook available from www.homeopathic.com.
 Damase-Michel, C., Vie, C., Lacroix, I., Lapeyre-Mestre, M., Montastruc, J.L. Drug counselling in pregnancy: an opinion survey of French community pharmacists, Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2004 March, 18;13(10):711.
 “[An] example of significant results from a homeopathic combination remedy was in the treatment of women during their ninth month of pregnancy. Ninety women were given the 5c potency of the following remedies: Caulophyllum, Arnica, Cimicifuga, Pulsatilla, and Gelsemium. They were given doses of this combination remedy twice daily during the ninth month. This double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that women given the homeopathic medicines experienced a 40% (!) shorter labor than those given a placebo. Also, the women given the placebo had four times (!) as many complications of labor as those given the homeopathic medicines.” Quoted with permission from Ullman D: Homeopathic Family Medicines. Reference: Dorfman P, Lasserre MN, Tetau M. Preparation a l'accouchement par Homeopathie: Experimentation en double-insu versus placebo. Cahiers de Biotherapie, April 1987, 94:77-81.
 “A recent study of 22 healthy women in their first pregnancies tested Caulophyllum, one of the medicines used in the study cited above, which was administered in the 7c potency during the active phase of labor (one dose per hour repeated for a maximum of 4 hours). The time of labor for those women given the homeopathic medicine was 38% shorter than for women given a placebo.This trial was not double-blind; however, the researchers recently completed a double-blind trial and confirmed their earlier results.” Quoted with permission from Ullman D: Homeopathic Family Medicines. Reference: Eid P, Felisi E, Sideri M. Applicability of homoeopathic Caulophyllum thalictroides during labour. British Homoeopathic Journal, 1993, 82:245.