Herbal sitz baths; here is one type of bath that I have seen work time and time again, particularity for genito-urinary purposes. Sitz baths are pretty much exactly like they sound – a bath that you sit in. Sitting in a bath is actually quite different than laying in a bath, however. A sitz bath covers the hips and pelvis, while the legs and torso are not immersed in the bath. This posture ensures that the blood flow of the body is concentrated around the area in the water.
I attempted to make directions with specific quantities of water and herbal infusion, but had to stop because each sitz bath is a little different. That being said, here is a solid starting place:
- Add 3 ounces of dried herbs to just boiled water in a large pot with a lid. Steep for 20-30 minuets, covered. Like with other herbal baths, straining is optional and is dependent upon personal preferences. Do you like bits of re-hydrated herbs floating among your bath water and possibly sticking to you when you leave the bath, or would that bother you?
- Pour the herbal infusion into a bin/sitz bath. Add tap water to adjust water temperature. Hot water is generally used, but alternating between hot and cold is also recommended. A cold or room temperature sitz can be quite therapeutic as well, especially if there is a hot, itchy or inflammatory condition.
- Lower yourself down in the bath carefully, and soak for 20-30 mins. It is a smart idea to try your sitz bath out before adding the water, to make sure it is possible to get in and out easily. Don’t hesitate to ask loved ones for a hand. Fold up a towel to sit in the sitz bath to make it as comfortable as possible.
- If no infection present, the water may be reheated and used again – or use the bath at room temperature.
- Use as frequently as needed, once a day during an acute situation, every other day or weekly for health maintenance.
When I started out as a doula, I read about sitz baths for healing the perineum after birth, but I never heard of anyone actually using one. At one of the birthing hospitals in Duluth, I noticed a locked door with a sign on it that said “Sitz Bath”. I inquired with a nurse about the “Sitz Bath” room, she said there was a indeed a special sitz bath tub in there, but she never heard of anyone using it. Here is the sitz bath that eventually came up with, it was the one I used most with doula clients, friends and sold to midwives:
- 3 tablespoons comfrey herb (root and leaf mixed)
- 3 tablespoons yarrow
- 3 tablespoons uva ursi
I chose comfery because of its soothing, tissue healing properties. I am in the works on writing a post about the constituents of time-honored Symphytum officinale, so more to come on that front. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), another ‘wound wort’, stops bleeding and is especially effective in healing stitches and tears. Even if there’s no tears, yarrow is still helpful because it moves the blood and disperses bruising and inflammation. Matthew Wood says it can “actually help the arteries suck up blood that has flowed out through a torn vessel into the tissues” (70). Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a creeping, evergreen, berry-bearing member of the Ericaeae family. The leaves are very antiseptic with an affinity for the genito-urinary system. I first became familiar with this plant while researching herbs for bladder infections. Tannin-rich uva ursi helps heal the skin by tightening the tissues and discouraging infections (75, Earthwise Herbal).
There are a variety of herbs that can be used to postpartum your sitz bath. Sea salt is a great addition, as are any astringent, tonifying herbs. If there is a lot of bleeding add a stiptic like Shepard’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), or if there is a over-relaxed state, add astringents and tonics like Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) or cranesbill (Geranium maculatum).
Here is another herbal sitz bath I heard about from Mary Bove, ND from a 2009 lecture on herbs for pelvic congestion. Although I was familiar with and had good success with herbal steams for genitourinary complaints (particularly pelvic congestion and inflammation), for some reason I never thought to do a sitz bath for pelvic congestion. Bove says these herbs are particularly beneficial for labial varicosities.
- Lady’s mantle
- White or red oak bark (Quercus spp.)
- Bayberry root (Myrica spp.)
- Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
For a while, I thought of sitz baths as a modality of delivering herbal medicine useful specifically to postpartum women. While postpartum sitz baths are indeed incredibly useful in that way, it is not the only application of sitz baths. There are so many genito-urinary complaints that sitz baths can be useful for, but what about the other areas of the body that are immersed in a sitz bath? Could digestive problems be comforted with sitz baths; what about the lower vertebrae and pelvic bones? Oh the possibilities…