Midwife Monday: Let’s talk epsom salts!

Dear Alaska, it’s real white out there these days. The six inches of snow this weekend were unexpected. The icicles on our deck our four feet long now. Mmkay, just wanted to let you know that this is the month where winter turns to spring…in case you forgot. Bring on the break up.

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Happy Monday! I had to start out with something cold because we’re talking something warm today!

For those that don’t know (I didn’t), there is a period in Alaska during April where all the ice and snow melts – Alaskans call this the “break up.” To me, your windshield wipers are on almost all the time because the roads are wet like it’s raining, but it’s sunny out. And the trees turn green overnight. It’s lovely and beautiful and I’m ready for springtime to be here.

So, epsom salts.

What are they? What benefits do they offer? Who uses them? Are they safe for pregnancy? Let’s dive in!

What are epsom salts?

Epsom salts are magnesium. They are also commonly known as “bath salts.” They come in a variety of styles, colors, and scents. You can generally buy a 8-pound bag at Wal-Mart or similar store for $7-8. I personally like the Dr. Teal brand in lavender and eucalyptus. They make your bathroom (and you) smell amazing!

Who can use epsom salts?

Anyone; there are big benefits to pregnant and postpartum women. I’ve also used them for many years after long or hard runs while marathon training and think they help with recovery quite a bit!

What benefits do epsom salts offer?

Epsom salts offer benefits to just about everyone and have a very little risk or harm associated with them (see below for the review of evidence).

For non-pregnant individuals, they can help with muscle soreness after a tough workout or a long car ride, relaxation before bed, sleep, and GI issues like hemorrhoids or constipation.

For pregnant patients, the list is similar: common aches and pains of pregnancy; hemorrhoids; muscle strains; constipation, swelling; and sleep.

Postpartum, epsom salts are recommended as “sitz baths.” A sitz bath is a warm water bath filled only to 4-5 inches; then 2 cups of epsom salts are poured into the bath. The woman then sits her bottom and legs into the bath to soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Sitz baths are lovely for anyone who has had a baby – especially for a mama who has a very sore bottom or had stitches to repair a vaginal laceration. I’ve seen people recommend sitz baths daily to up to 4 times a day. Again, there’s very little harm and the bathtub is a nice place to clean up the normal postpartum bleeding that is inevitable…The other benefit I loved with sitz baths was the 20 minutes to soak, rest, relax or read – really, just to take a little relaxing break from the needs in the newborn period and give myself some self care. It was lovely.

What does the literature say?

Not much. I glanced into the literature and only found 3 articles related to “epsom salt” and “pregnancy” since 1970. One was a case study on someone who ate too much epsom salt and was subsequently poisoned (don’t eat them); another individual also ate them and had hypermagnesemia (high magnesium level in the blood; again, they are not for eating!); and a 2010 article published on “Useless perinatal therapies.” I couldn’t access the article but requested it to review the details when it comes through the inter-library loan.

Since there isn’t evidence to state that epsom salts are safe or harmful, providers call this: anecdotal evidence. It doesn’t mean that the intervention is harmful, but it doesn’t mean it’s safe. This is where you as the patient, mama, woman, etc. get to decide if it’s the best option for you!

Last thoughts…

I remember buying epsom salts a few years ago at Wal-mart – and by “buy,” I mean I was purchasing 3-4 8-pound bags. The cashier was this older woman and she looked at me and said: “Epsom salts! These are an old home remedy that no one uses anymore.” I couldn’t agree more. At that point in my life, I was marathon training and I needed my muscles to recover and heal between runs. Then with my daughter, I had terrible swelling most of the third trimester. Epsom soaks helped reduce some of the swelling and discomfort, and the soaks helped me sleep. With my son, I had another 2nd degree tear. I soaked my bottom a few times a day and it made a world of difference in the soreness and healing while I was caring for my baby and toddler.

Does anyone use epsom salts? Any favorite scents or brands to recommend? Anyone else LOVE a bubble bath? Practice some self care today! Light a candle, draw a bath, pour some epsom salts in there and settled in to the bubbles with a good read (or glass of wine).

Happy Monday!

Jamie

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