Welcome to Birthing Ayurveda, where we follow one woman's pregnancy experience week by week—from a positive home pregnancy test all the way to delivery.
In Ayurveda, the kidneys and adrenals process vata and are very responsive to changes in vata (much like the liver holds and processes pitta). The kidneys are also the opening to the water channel (ambu vaha srotas) and the adrenal glands are the root of the fat channel (meda vaha srotas).1 And so we see that the two organs are important in the balance of the earth and water elements. They pull on the reserves of these two elements in the body to bring balance to and nurture vata.
This week I experienced some disturbances with the kidneys specifically. To start with, I had my first urinary tract infection in years. If you recall from last week’s blog post on anemia and how it can cause inflammation in the body, seeing this occur right after being told that I have anemia was pretty interesting (though incredibly uncomfortable!). I had been traveling a bit and I knew my vata was imbalanced, and so it did not surprise me to see the inflammation manifest in the urinary tract.
Secondly, after a flight, I noted that my feet and legs were quite swollen. Again, though a common complaint in pregnancy, this is a sign that the kidneys are having to process more and are having a hard time.
I will again put in a note here that you should let your health care provider know immediately if you have either of the above two concerns. A urinary tract infection, if not cared for successfully or in a timely manner, can lead to pyelonephritis (a kidney infection) which can worsen quite quickly and dramatically in pregnancy. And swelling can be a sign of other pregnancy imbalances, like preeclampsia.
For the urinary tract infection, I tried a number of helpful things before seeking more help from my midwife. The following pointers can be very supportive:
Well, there was a point where I just couldn’t handle it. It felt like it was coming and going, and I did not want to risk getting a kidney infection so I caved in and took a course of antibiotics. I have made sure to take probiotics daily since then to support my gut flora, which will also impact my vaginal flora, and thus Charlie’s (what we call the baby) flora as well (the vaginal flora is thought to start colonizing the baby’s gut during delivery).
I noted that gokshura is recommended in the ancient Ayurveda texts during the third trimester because of the stresses of pregnancy on the urinary tract (even anatomically—imagine your large uterus compressing the kidneys and ureters especially when you lie down) and its benefits on the reproductive tissues, in general. But, unfortunately, there have not been enough or adequate studies to show its safety in pregnancy in human beings. Here are a few other pointers for caring for your urinary tract and helping with the common occasional swelling that proved to be helpful to me.
1 Lad, Vasant. Textbook of Ayurveda Volume 1: Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda (Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press, 2002), pg. 288.
2 William Cayley. Are Cranberry Products Effective for the Prevention of Urinary Tract Infections? American Family Physician. 88, no. 11. (Dec 2013):745-746.
3 Vasant D. Lad and Anisha Durve. Marma Points of Ayurveda: The Energy Pathways for Healing Body, Mind and Consciousness with a Comparison to Traditional Chinese Medicine (Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press, 2008), pg. 223
4 Lad and Durve, Marma Points, pg. 175