Although medicine has replaced most natural supplements with a synthetic substitute, there are many who still look to natural herbs and vitamins to provide essential nutrition to pregnant women as well as aid in the relief of some common discomforts. Here we can talk more about herbs and pregnancy and how they work together or not.
Many herbalists believe that herbs are often better, cheaper, and healthier than their medical counterparts. However, many medical professionals do not recommend herbal remedies for pregnant women, since safety has not been established through extensive research.
Unlike prescription drugs, natural herbs and vitamin supplements do not go through the same scrutiny and evaluation process by the FDA.
As a result, the quality and strength of an herbal supplement can vary between two batches of the same product and between products from different manufacturers.
Consumers have little way of knowing if a product will do what the label claims and how safe the product may be. Reliable information about the product may be hard to find, which makes researching these products’ effectiveness more challenging.
Herbs And Pregnancy: What Are The Risks?
Although herbs are natural, not all herbs are safe to take during pregnancy. The FDA urges pregnant women not to take any herbal products without talking to their health care provider first.
Women are also urged to consult a trained and experienced herbalist (or other professional who is trained to work with herbs) if they want to take herbs during their pregnancies. Some herbal products may contain agents that are contraindicated in pregnancy.
Herbs may contain substances that can cause miscarriage, premature birth, uterine contractions, or injury to the fetus. Few studies have been done to measure the effects of various herbs on pregnant women or a developing fetus.
Herbs to soothe morning sickness & nausea
Ah, the seemingly inevitable morning sickness… Nausea is usually due to hormonal fluctuations, low blood sugar, and nutrition needs.
To ease the discomfort and to help support the liver and the hormonal system, try any or all of the following: meadowsweet, dandelion root, fennel seed, and/or chamomile.
These herbs can be combined in a tea to sip on when nausea sets in. Take a quart jar and combine one tablespoon of each herb. Pour boiling water over the herbs, stir and steep for fifteen minutes. Strain. You can store this jar in the fridge—just drink it within a few days.
You can also try capsules of the above herbs, trying one at a time to see if one is more effective for you. Warm ginger root tea can also help. It doesn’t work for everyone, so try it and see if it works for you. If not, discontinue use. Also try eating easily digested food such as yogurt, miso soup, barley, slippery elm bark powder, and rice.
Herbs for general health & nutrition during pregnancy
For general health, nutrition, and balance throughout pregnancy, you can drink 3 to 4 cups of a tea containing red raspberry leaves, alfalfa, nettle, and red clover.
You can also use cramp bark and wild yam as miscarriage inhibitors, especially if you experience spotting during the first trimester. Use as a tincture, 1tsp per dose, twice daily, 3 days a week. Just be sure to use these two herbs under the guidance of your natural health practitioner.
Exhausted? Eat nourishing foods and rest. Drink dandelion root tea or nettle tea (or tincture) 2-3x per day.
Herbs And Pregnancy: Herbs Of Caution While Pregnant
Depending on the source, some information will list an herb as safe to consume during pregnancy, whereas another source may list the same herb as unsafe. Therefore, it is best to consult with your health care provider or someone trained in using herbs before taking any natural medicine or herb during pregnancy.
Some organizations that specialize in herbs have done extensive testing on their safety. Often these organizations will list herbs with their safety ratings for the general population and also safety during pregnancy and lactation.
These ratings can often be confusing and hard to interpret; this is why speaking with a professional who is familiar with using herbs during pregnancy is recommended. One key thing when understanding the safety ratings is to pay attention to what type of use the rating is for.
For example, the rating for rosemary is considered Likely Safe …when used orally in amounts typically found in foods. (Rosemary has a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in the US.) But in pregnancy, rosemary is considered Possibly UnSafe …when used orally in medicinal amounts.
Because rosemary may have uterine and menstrual flow stimulant effects, it is best to avoid using it, although there is insufficient reliable information available about the safety of the topical use of rosemary during pregnancy.
This is a prime example of how the method of use of the herb changes its safety rating. We know that rosemary sprinkled in your tomato sauce is not a risk to you and your baby.
If you were to use rosemary in a large dose, however, like that used in medicinal amounts, it could be dangerous for your pregnancy. The same goes for herbs such as garlic, sage, ginger, and tumeric.
All of these herbs could be contraindicated in pregnancy when used in large or concentrated doses, but are considered safe when used in amounts found in food.
Herbs And Pregnancy: Herbs To Avoid While Pregnant
The following herbs are considered Likely UnSafe or Unsafe during pregnancy :
- Saw Palmetto – when used orally, has hormonal activity
- Goldenseal – when used orally, may cross the placenta
- Dong Quai – when used orally, due to uterine stimulant and relaxant effects
- Ephedra – when used orally
- Yohimbe – when used orally
- Pay D’ Arco – when used orally in large doses; contraindicated
- Passion Flower – when used orally
- Black Cohosh – when used orally in pregnant women who are not at term
- Blue Cohosh – when used orally; uterine stimulant and can induce labor
- Roman Chamomile – when used orally in medicinal amounts
- Pennyroyal – when used orally or topically
Pregnancy And Herbs: Recommended Herbs While Pregnant
Depending on what type of health care provider you see, he/she may recommend using herbs to help promote the health of your pregnancy.
Remember, never try to self dose or diagnose with any medications, including herbs. Because each pregnancy is different, with its own specific details, the best way to use herbs is under the care of a midwife, physician, herbalist, naturopathic or homeopathic doctor.
Choosing to use herbs during pregnancy is a personal choice, but to ensure the best outcome for you and your baby, you should be well educated on the types of herbs, parts of the herb (root, leaf, etc…) and the way that they could be used (caplet, tonic, tea).
The herbs that are considered safe to use during pregnancy are often food or tonic herbs. These often will be found in either tablet form, tea, or infusion form.
Herbs for labor support
St. John’s Wort oil is wonderfully healing and if rubbed on the perineum, prevents tearing during delivery. You can start to use this oil in the last month of pregnancy. Use it post-delivery to heal tearing.
During labor, motherwort can be used every hour as a tea or tincture to calm and relax the body. red raspberry tea/tincture/or ice chips help move labor along (especially if you’ve been drinking red raspberry tea throughout your pregnancy).
You can also try flower essences. Rescue Remedy can be taken under the tongue as needed for anxiety, stress, and fear (in fact, it’s good throughout pregnancy). Once the baby is born, place a few drops of RR on the top of her head; this helps ease her journey into the world.
Blue Cohosh reduces childbirth pains and aids in a quicker delivery. Because it prepares the uterus for expelling the baby, be sure that you use this ONLY in the last month of pregnancy. Try 15 to 30 drops of tincture, 3 times a day.
After labor, try the homeopathic, arnica (30c & 200c) to heal the body and restore mental and physical energy.
Pregnancy Herbs: Common Herbs Used In Pregnancy
The following herbs have been rated Likely Safe or Possibly Safe for use during pregnancy:
Red Raspberry Leaf – Rich in iron, this herb has helped tone the uterus, increase milk production, decrease nausea, and ease labor pains. Some studies have even reported that using red raspberry leaf during pregnancy can reduce complications and the use of interventions during birth.
You may see pregnancy teas that are made from red raspberry leaf to help promote uterine health during pregnancy. (Read about herbal teas for more information)
There is some controversy about whether this should be used throughout pregnancy or just in the second and third trimester, so many health care providers remain cautious and only recommend using it after the first trimester.
- Peppermint Leaf – Helpful in relieving nausea/morning sickness and flatulence
- Ginger root – Helps relieve nausea and vomiting – shop for tea
- Slippery Elm Bark – (when the inner bark is used orally in amounts used in foods) Used to help relieve nausea, heartburn, and vaginal irritations
- Oats & Oat Straw – Rich in calcium and magnesium; helps relieve anxiety, restlessness, and irritated skin – shop for tea
Additional herbs rated Likely Safe or Possibly Safe:
- Blond Psyllium – when used orally and appropriately
- Black Psyllium – when used orally with appropriate fluid intake
- Garlic – when used orally in amounts commonly found in foods
- Capsicum (Cayenne, hot pepper) – when used topically and appropriately
The following herbs have been rated as having Insufficient Reliable Information Available by the Natural Medicines Database, although many are recommended by homeopathic physicians, herbalists, and midwives who treat pregnant women.
More extensive research and discussions with your treating health care provider will help you make the decision about what herbs are safe for you to use.
- Dandelion – Rich in Vitamin A, calcium, and iron; dandelion root and leaf can also help relieve mild edema and nourish the liver
- Chamomile (German) – High in calcium and magnesium; also helps with sleeplessness and inflammation of joints
- Nettles (Stinging Nettles) – High in vitamins A, C, K , calcium, potassium, and iron. Used in many pregnancy teas because it is a great all around pregnancy tonic.
Note on the safety of Nettles: Natural Medicines Database gives Nettles a rating of Likely Unsafe, even though it is used in countless pregnancy teas and recommended by most midwives and herbalists.
This may be contingent upon which part of the Nettles plant is used (the root or the leaves) and how much is used. According to other sources, the use of Nettles is encouraged during pregnancy because of its health benefits.
Other Popular Herbs
The following are commonly used herbs which have a safety rating of Possibly Unsafe when used orally.Again, these are herbs you would want to do more extensive research on and discuss with your health care provider before using.
- Ginseng (American & Korean)
- Evening Primrose
- Kava Kava