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What type of alternative medicine should I try?
January 12, 2014 9:02 PM   Subscribe

I am exhausted, a bit depressed/anxious, and in general just feel completely drained. I know the root cause (12 month old baby who wakes up a couple times a night to nurse) but can't night wean right now due to his health issues. I'm interested in trying out alternative medicine to see if it can help me deal with the fatigue and depression, but I'm not sure what to pursue: acupuncture, massage (what kind?), or other?

To complicate things I have a wealth of local options: an alternative medicine college where I can get reduced-cost treatments by interns, several sliding-scale fee acupuncture co-ops, traditional Chinese medicine clinics, lots of full-price practitioners, and a couple alternative medicine practitioners in my clinic system ($0 copay) but with insane waiting lists. How do I choose?

[I've been checked by my regular clinic recently and my labs came back normal (thyroid, vitamin D, etc.), and saw a wonderful therapist for post-partum depression this past summer but am feeling way better emotionally than I was then and don't have anything new to talk to her about. I'd love to exercise more but only have limited time on weekends, and I have to save my break time at work to pump. I also read "The Mood Cure" this weekend and am skeptical but sort of curious about supplements but ultimately probably won't take anything because I'm breastfeeding a kid with health issues.]
posted by Maarika to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I recommend yoga. I know you say you have limited time, but if you have time for acupuncture or massage, you'd have time for yoga. And it can be done in the evening after baby goes to bed.

I honestly don't think that supplements etc would help that much when what you likely really need is sleep, except inasmuch as that in my experience, if you are tired, you can sleep during acupuncture and massage appointments. If there is some way (extra pumping, husband/other family members/friends helping) that you can get intermittent respite nights from nursing, I think that would be even better, although I don't know if it's feasible given whatever the details are of the breastfeeding situation.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:13 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I'd lean towards massage. Yoga is great, but when you're dead on your feet I can't imagine how you would find the energy to do yoga. Most of the poses takes strength and stamina and concentration to hold, don't they?

A good deep-tissue massage loosens up my entire body and makes me feel an inch or two taller, and helps me sleep better. You'd still need sleep, but at least you'd be carrying less tension in your body.
posted by Zelos at 9:27 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


If you have access to a cheap massage therapist of acceptable quality, try massage! Regardless of what ails you, really. Massage is relaxing and leaves you with a lasting feel-good glow. As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of massage: "gentle" and "intense." Go for "intense" if you have the tolerance to tolerate the discomfort of being kneaded with vigor.
posted by Nomyte at 9:31 PM on January 12


My recommendation is jogging or walking (or some form of exercises.)
posted by applesurf at 9:34 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


My therapist recommended The Depression Cure to me (not sure if it is like the mood cure book you mention?), and based on that research encouraged me to take a complex B supplement. I was feeling pretty terrible so it was either give supplements a try or finally bite the bullet and look into anti-anxiety meds, which I really didn't want to do. I have to say I have been really, really pleasantly surprised by how positively they are affecting my mood and anxiety levels. I didn't change anything else (diet, exercise, other medication), and noticed a difference in about four days. I know there might be complications with breastfeeding but perhaps something to talk to your doctor about.
posted by stellaluna at 9:42 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Yoga and walking make a tremendous difference in my mental health when I commit to doing them. They seem to help my brain and body process stuff that I wouldn't otherwise get through.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:56 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


St Johns Wort is on of the alternative therapies that has some scientific backing, so that's worth a go. Also Yoga.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:14 AM on January 13


I'd really suggest that you talk with your doctor about anything that you chose to pursue. To borrow from Tim Michin, "You know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? Medicine." I'm not saying that you shouldn't consider alternative things but make sure you and your primary care physician are aware of any possible side effects. For example, St. John's Wart is specifically contraindicated with quite a few medicines and is not generally recommended while nursing.

www.drugs.com/breastfeeding/st-john-s-wort.html

Similarly, there's quite a few things in traditional Chinese medicine that are known to be toxic, both from contamination and the actual compounds.

Toxins-warning-over-chinese-medicines.html
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22992190

Yoga and massage (and a weekly massage is something I'd recommend for you) can definitely be wonderful things but I'd encourage you to find ones that sell themselves based on providing regular exercise and meditation or relaxation rather than as "medicine" based on unproven or entirely mystical concepts. Well intentioned but poorly done yoga and massage can actually do damage.
posted by Candleman at 1:04 AM on January 13 [12 favorites]


Very few "alternative" supplements have been systematically tested for safety in nursing mothers or infants and many contain contaminants or ingredients other than what they claim, as several highly reputable recent studies have shown. So beware of taking anything internally.

I believe there is some evidence for yoga and acupuncture and meditation as approaches to mild forms of stress-related depression, and perhaps for sleep-cycle regulation. The most important alternative therapy it sounds like you need is better, and more, sleep, as is generally true for nursing mothers, so other alternatives might include spending what you would have spent on alternative therapies on other solutions that give you more time to rest or to recharge doing things that give you pleasure, "alternatives" as simple as some help with non-nursing housework etc.

The evidence for most of the "alternative" approaches, modalities, and therapies you will see widely advertised and attested to by endless anecdotal stories from your friends -- and very many mefites, who belong broadly to the demographic to whom this stuff is specifically packaged and advertised to appeal to their cultural sensibilities and Whole Foods tastes -- is, unfortunately, much, much, much thinner than this discourse would suggest, and sometimes quite contrary to the typical claims that are made for these therapies. (Indeed, there has been a withering recent barrage of new clinical evidence demolishing the claims of some of the most widely touted "alternative" therapies, to the point that Drs. Oz and Weil and company are getting really nervous about their paychecks).

Most "alternative" therapies are probably safe placebos, inert substances, or mildly pharmacologically active at the trivial margins of human biochemistry (even if a lot less "natural" or "traditional" than their acolytes claim, and of course most medicine is "natural" in the broader sense, and a whole lot of mainstream medicine is more bound to "tradition" -- meaning habit over evidence - than it likes to admit. You should be skeptical and conduct due diligence on any medical claim, whether mainstream or alternative.

I will attest that my own experience with acupuncture, which I undertook *as a skeptic* many years ago out of sheer curiosity, was that its only significant effect on me was -- to my confirmation-bias suspecting impression -- that I slept a little deeper and better on the days I was treated. It provided none of the other benefits being touted by its practitioners (at one of the only two legitimate ND programs in the country, by the way), but it did make me drowsy.

Just be careful because, as you well know, what you ingest, your child ingests.
posted by spitbull at 7:23 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


How's your diet? Sticking to whole foods and cutting out white flour, sugar, and processed foods can really improve your mood and give you more energy. It's the safest "alternative medicine" there is! Also, are you co-sleeping? If not, can you cosleep until you can night wean, so you can get more rest while your baby nurses?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:24 AM on January 13


You're likely very Iron deficient among other things (hi nursing mom!!) so get your regular doc to prescribe those awesome iron pills + natal vitamins. You're still nursing, you should still be taking them.

Other than that, a great acupuncturist is the best thing ever. A so/so acupuncturist is a waste of money. Check with friends/yelp/etc..

My acupuncturist (who is amazing!!) will recommend you get some lab work from your regular doctor to check thyroid, vitamin deficiencies etc - so I will, too.

At first you should go twice per week, after that, once per week for relaxation and maintenance.

No kidding, it's the only time each week that is just for me. I leave each session feeling transformed and able to cope with the challenges of caring for others.
posted by jbenben at 7:56 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Will your baby take a bottle instead of the breast? Because when BLF Jr. wakes up but Ms. BLF is still snoring, I will totally give Jr. a bottle of pumped breastmilk to buy Ms. BLF a few more hours of contiguous sleep. Because holy crap she needs it. (And junior is only seven months old.)

So the alternative therapy I'd suggest you invest in is a night doula. Or whatever they call it when your baby is a year old. Babysitter? I know, not very alt. But it will do you as much good as anything else mentioned thus far. Second up I'd suggest needling, already amply discussed immediately above.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 9:23 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


No alternative therapy can fix a major sleep deficiency. Nor can mainstream therapies for that matter. So perhaps explore techniques and strategies for getting better zzzz's instead?
posted by storybored at 9:54 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


I agree with storybored. Acupuncture and massage might feel good, but they won't have an effect on the underlying issue of sleep deprivation.

I went through a long period (about 18 months) of waking frequently at night due to illness, and now my normal routine is to wake and get up once or twice each night.

What I've discovered is that in order to feel rested during the day, I need to go to bed ~10 hours before my morning alarm. I'm not necessarily awake for a cumulative two hours throughout the night, but the waking I have to do interrupts my sleep to the extent that I need to budget 10 hours of "bed time" in order to get the rest I used to get out of ~7-8 uninterrupted hours of sleep.

Finally, I don't know what your nursing routine is but I would make sure that you're following basic sleep hygiene guidelines and staying in a restful, dim, dull environment when you nurse (e.g. no watching TV on your laptop or playing cell phone games).
posted by telegraph at 10:03 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Any treatment that involve you regularly getting out of the house without Junior and having a therapist/practitioner (massage, yoga, whatever) focusing on you for an hour, instead of you focusing on Junior/the house/work/whatever for an hour ought to be beneficial to your mental and emotional state at this point in time, regardless of what the modality is! (That being said, I do second, third, and fourth the recommendations above that you run anything you ingest through your doctor, to ensure that it's not going to harm you or the kiddo.)
posted by telophase at 10:34 AM on January 13


  1. Stay away from all Chinese herbs, and herbal medicines in general as long as you're breastfeeding.
  2. I'd recommend acupuncture for fatigue. It's been very helpful for me in the past.

posted by alms at 11:09 AM on January 13


Thanks for your ideas, everyone. Say I was able to find a way to get uninterrupted sleep at night. Given a year+ sleep deficit, roughly how long would it take to "recover" from that hole?
posted by Maarika at 11:22 AM on January 13


I had terrible sleep the first year of my son's life, and when we transitioned him to his own room and he started sleeping through the night, that first uninterrupted night of sleep made me feel about 100x more human. The second uninterrupted night made me feel like I'd never felt better in my life. It really doesn't take that long to come back from a sleep deficit.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:50 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Yoga helped me get over the "sleep debt" created by my sleepless monster baby, but truly the only thing that made a big difference was being able to sleep uninterrupted.

I saw it mentioned above, but it bears repeating. Any way to pump and have someone else give baby his overnight bottles? Even just once or twice a week of uninterrupted blissful sleep will immediately help you feel like a new person.

Hang in there! Babies are HARD. But it gets better.
posted by katypickle at 2:03 PM on January 13


You'll probably start to feel much better after a week of uninterrupted sleep. In fact you will feel better (if not 100%) after the first day or two.

I also recommend yoga or walking--yes, you're tired, but exercise really does raise your energy levels.

But really, the sleep thing is key.
posted by elizeh at 4:02 PM on January 13


Agreeing that sleep is the medicine you need here. You'll probably begin to feel better after 2-3 days, and mostly recovered after 2ish weeks.
posted by moira at 5:41 PM on January 13


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