Taking Herbs During Pregnancy
This reprint discusses some herbs which may be useful, and only some of the many which should be avoided. Before taking herbs not mentioned below during pregnancy, further research on safety is needed than just reading this article. More information can be found in Herb Safety Guidelines.
It is definitely recommended that a good multvitamin / multimineral be used as well as ensuring adequate essential fatty acids, particularly omega 3's. The best single product is probably NSI Synergy Prenatal Formula, which contains adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, and some essential fatty acids, as well as a good amount of choline, which is now known to be important to fetus' nerve development. Also good is Enzymatic Therapy Doctor's Choice Prenatal Formula, although this does not contain any DHA omega 3, which should be supplemented separately. Jarrow Formula's Preg-Natal with DHA has the most omega 3 DHA and is also an excellent supplement.
These formulas are all excellent and are highly recommended prenatal supplements. The absolute worse prenatal formulas are typically those recommended by the average MD, in particular those which are available by prescription. The crappiest Walmart or drugstore prenatal formulas are usually better than these. Do not make this mistake - your future baby's health is too important to rely on the supplement recommendations of someone who may know next to nothing about vitamins, minerals, herbs, and essential fatty acids.
TAKE HERBS DURING PREGNANCY?
by Linda White , MD
Contributed by Marty Meyer at
Mothering is profound and mundane, rapturous and maddening. You alternately dance and tear out your hair. Boundaries dissolve. You are no longer an individual even after the birth. When you're pregnant - more than any other time - how you treat your body, mind and soul matters. Because we care about our health, many of us wish to treat unpleasant side effects of pregnancy such as morning sickness with gentle herbal remedies. Yet, the question arises: Should you take herbs when you're pregnant? Sharol Tilgner, a naturopathic doctor in Creswell, Ore., prefers to err on the side of caution. Her attitude is that during the first three months, a critical and vulnerable time for the baby's organ development, a woman should avoid all medicines including medicinal herbs unless advised otherwise by a health professional.
However, some herbs are part of the foods we eat daily, says Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbal Healing for Women (Simon & Schuster) and a teacher at Sage Mountain, a center for herb education in East Barre, Vt. The herbs traditionally used by pregnant women for centuries are food herbs, She states, Four herbs are particularly recommended by experienced herbalists and have been used safely by pregnant women for centuries. Rich in vitamins and minerals, red raspberry leaf, nettles, alfalfa and dandelion act as system supporting tonics for overall health of the expectant mother. Please note, however, that you should always check with your doctor before taking any herb while you're pregnant.
Pregnancy herbs are meant to be used whole, either eaten as a vegetable or taken as a tea or tincture, Gladstar stresses. She recommends pregnant women not use botanicals that concentrate isolated chemical constituents unless prescribed by a health practitioner.
Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus), termed the best all round herb for a healthy pregnancy by Catherine Hunziker, an herbalism instructor at the Rocky Mountain School of Botanical Medicine in Boulder, Colo., is a nourishing, building herb with an affinity for the reproductive system. In moderate dosages, Gladstar adds, red raspberry is a tonic that's been safely used by women for centuries. Rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and vitamins B, C, and E, raspberry also contains the alkaloid fragarine, the constituent that contributes to the plant's potency as a pregnancy tonic.
Taken in tea or capsule form, red raspberry increases fertility in men and women (especially when combined with red clover), tonifies the uterus, eases morning sickness and assists in plentiful milk production, according to Susun Weed, an herbalist from Woodstock, N.Y., and the author of Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years (Ash Tree).
If you have a history of miscarriage, delay using raspberry until after the first trimester, Hunziker cautions. After this time, Tilgner says you can drink two cups of tea a day every other day. To make a tea, add between one teaspoon to two tablespoons of the dried leaf per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 to 20 minutes. You can alternate taking red raspberry with other nutritive herbs such as nettles.
Nettles, rich in biochealated iron, calcium, protein and other nutrients, are virtually a pregnancy tonic by themselves, says Gladstar. Drinking a nettle infusion before and throughout pregnancy nourishes and strengthens the kidneys, increases fertility in men and women, nourishes the mother and fetus (by virtue of its high calcium content), diminishes leg craps and childbirth pain, prevents hemorrhage after birth, reduces hemorrhoids, and increases the amount of mother's milk.
Although nettles taken as a tonic are considered safe in pregnancy, concentrated extracts of stinging nettles (such as used to treat hay fever) can act as an abortifacient.
According to Gladstar, alfalfa is loaded with vitamins A, D, E, and K; eight digestive enzymes; and numerous trace minerals. Colorado herbalist Kathryn Cox, who specializes in women's formulas, recommends alfalfa in late pregnancy because the vitamin K it supplies promotes proper blood clotting, thereby reducing the risk of postpartum hemorrhage.
The fourth tonic herb commonly used by pregnant women is dandelion. Both the leaf and root provide many essential nutrients: vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, potassium and numerous trace elements. The root helps boost liver function, allowing that organ to detoxify the blood. The leaf is a mild diuretic much loved for its help in alleviating water retention during pregnancy.
Relieve Morning Sickness
Morning sickness afflicts millions of pregnant women. Fortunately, several natural remedies offer relief. First, eat small frequent meals and sip warm liquids. Foods rich in vitamin B6 (Whole grains, meats, blackstrap molasses) help alleviate nausea of all types. Because morning sickness is often worse when your stomach is empty, especially upon rising in the morning, keep snacks on hand.
Ginger is one of the best antinauseants available, says Weed. In one clinical trial of pregnant women with severe nausea and vomiting, 250mg of powdered ginger root taken four times a day significantly reduced their discomfort (European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Biology, 1990, vol.38). A scientific review of the use of ginger as an antinausea remedy concluded it's safe during pregnancy provided normal doses are consumed (HerbalGram, 1996, Vol 38).
What form of ginger should you take? Choose from fresh, dried, powdered, tea or crystallized ginger. To make ginger tea, Gladstar says to grate one to two teaspoon of fresh root into a cup of water, simmer for a few minutes, then add honey and lemon to taste.
An herbal blend of meadowsweet, spearmint, ginger and chamomile could be just your cup of tea, recommends Mindy Green of Herb Research Foundation. However if you're allergic to ragweed, you may also be allergic to chamomile. Aromatherapy, the therapeutic use of essential oils from plants, can also ease morning sickness. During pregnancy, your sense of smell is heightened. Foul smells may sicken you, but pleasant aromas such as oil of lavender, ginger, sandalwood or chamomile may alleviate nausea. Green, who's also the coauthor of Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art (Crossing Press), reminds you not to apply undiluted essential oils to your skin or take them internally. The safest essential oils to use during pregnancy are those from flowers, she notes. Diffuse the aromas of these oils into the air to benefit from their healing properties.
For heartburn, common in pregnancy, chew or make a tea of seeds of herbs such as fennel, anise or dill, suggests Gladstar.
Sleeplessness generally strikes during the third trimester when a belly full of revolving elbows and knees interferes with comfortable repose. Cox says herbs high in calcium soothe the nerves, promote restful sleep and ease muscle cramps. Her favorites for pregnant women are scullcap and oats (Oatmeal, oatstraw, or oatseed).
A warm bath might help you sleep. Gladstar recommends adding a cloth bag full of chamomile and lavender blossoms to the bathwater. Or, put aromatherapy to work for you by mixing a drop or two of essential oils of neroli, ylang ylang, lavender, rose, or jasmine, which help calm the nervous system.
Stretch Marks & Hemorrhoids
According to Green, massaging a pregnant belly and breasts with diluted aromatherapy oils can help the skin expand and thus prevent stretch marks. Topical use of essential oils mixed into carrier oils are generally safe for healthy pregnant women after the first trimester, she says. Her recipe is 15 drops lavender oil, five drops neroli oil, two drops rose oil and 800iu of vitamin E in four ounces of a carrier oil such as almond oil. Cox uses comfrey, calendula, mallow and raspberry in olive oil or a beeswax salve.
Gladstar's belly oils calls for 1/2 cup cocoa butter, 1/2 cup coconut oil, 20,000iu vitamin E oil, 2 teaspoons of grated beeswax, 1 teaspoon of lanolin, and 1/4 cup apricot, almond or grape seed oil. Melt the ingredients together and rub this emollient oil over your belly and breasts two to three times a day.
Caused by excess pressure on the vessels around the rectum, hemorrhoids (enlarged and painful blood vessels) are the bane of pregnancy. However, you can ease the pain by using nontoxic salves containing herbal comfrey and st. John's Wort, says Gladstar, especially when the salve is cooled in the refrigerator beforehand. (Cold temperatures constrict swollen veins.) Apply the cool salve two to three times a day.
Cox recommends a sitz bath of comfrey, yarrow, uva-ursi and sea salt for hemorrhoids. The blended dried herbs can be put inside a muslin bag and infused into warm water. She also uses a balm of comfrey root, calendula, yarrow and plantain mixed into olive oil and beeswax. Use this formula for a healing sitz bath after the birth; these same herbs soothe tears and sore pelvic muscles.
Herbs to Avoid
Experts agree pregnant women shouldn't take herbs with strong medicinal or potentially toxic effects. Some herbs listed below can treat complications of pregnancy. For instance, cohosh (contraindicated in pregnancy) may be recommended during the last weeks of pregnancy to stimulate contractions. As with any herbal remedy, consult with a licensed practitioner. Herbs to avoid during pregnancy.
- Herbs that stimulate uterine contractions: Birthwort, blue cohosh, cinchona, ergot, goldenseal and gotu kola.
- Herbs that stimulate menstrual flow: agave, angelica, black cohosh, chicory, feverfew, hyssop, horehound, lovage, milk thistle, mistletoe, motherwort, mugwort, osha, pennyroyal, poke root, pulsatilla, rue, sumac, tansy, thuja, watercress, wormwood and yarrow.
- Herbs high in volatile oils: osha, eucalyptus, nutmeg, yerba mansa, basil, catnip, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, peppermint, pennyroyal, rosemary, true sage and thyme. Using herbs to flavor food generally doesn't pose a risk. The concern lies with high doses in women susceptible to miscarriage.
- Plants high in alkaloids: barberry, blood root, goldenseal, coffee and mandrake
- Herbs that affect hormones: hops, licorice, motherwort, dong quai and wild yam
- Harsh laxatives: senna, rhubarb, casara sagrada, purging buchthorn, aloe, and yellow dock (in large amounts)
- Strong diuretics: uva-ursi and juniper berries.
Linda White, M.D., is a freelance writer, the survivor of two blessedly uneventful pregnancies, and the author of "The Grandparent Book", an update on child rearing.