Herbs and Pregnancy: Which are Safe and Which are Harmful

green leaves on brown wooden table

Which are Safe and Which are Harmful

During pregnancy, the body goes through a series of dramatic changes. Hormone levels shift, different organs and tissues stretch and shift into new positions, nutritional demand increases – all of these changes within manifest externally in the form of fatigue, stress, nausea, and pain. Meanwhile, pregnancy and postpartum are the most crucial periods for a woman to be healthy and of sound mind, for the sake of her own well-being as well as her child’s. Herbs are a great option for maintaining a state of optimum health, although there are some that should be avoided.

Helpful Herbs

There are two herbs in particular that act as overall uterine tonics. They are most effective when taken for the final three months of pregnancy. They tone and strengthen the muscles of the uterus, which will be a tremendous asset during childbirth. These herbs are anti-abortive, acting to prevent miscarriage. As antiseptics they prevent infection; as astringents they tighten tissue, and with hemostatic properties, they prevent excess bleeding during labor.

They are red raspberry leaf and squaw vine. Red raspberry leaf makes a delicious tea, similar in flavor to a robust black tea. It can be taken for the entire nine months of pregnancy. It is also mineral rich, providing calcium, magnesium, and iron. Squaw vine as an evergreen herb has been used by North American Native Americans for centuries, and can be taken as a tea or in capsule form.

Few women avoid some level of morning sickness during their pregnancy, whether it be mild nausea or vomiting. Morning sickness is due to the huge hormonal shifts that occur during the first trimester, as well as low blood sugar, and sometimes low blood pressure. Herbs that can be used to treat morning sickness are irish moss, meadowsweet, wild yam and black horehound. Also, gentle nervine herbs which will relax and calm the digestive system, such as chamomile and peppermint, are safe as well.

During pregnancy the body needs more nutrients than normal, particularly calcium and iron, as well as Vitamin K to prevent hemorrhaging. Herbs are beneficial sources of the extra vitamins and minerals, and are easily absorbed into the body. The most effective herbs to take for a nutritional boost are nettles, alfalfa, and dandelion.

Herbs to Avoid

There is an entire group of herbs to avoid during pregnancy, called the emmenagogues. Many are extremely mild, but it is still wise to be cautious of them. They should not be used because they can either stimulate the hormone oxytocin, which is released during labor to stimulate contractions, or act as laxatives. They are barberry, golden seal, angelica, yarrow, juniper, mandrake, pennyroyal, poke root, tansy, wormwood, black cohosh, aloe vera, and sage. Also strong stimulants should be avoided as they can be too harsh, such as horseradish and licorice.

The following five herbs are just a few of the most common herbs that should be avoided during pregnancy or while trying to conceive.

Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis)

The aloe plant currently has many therapeutic uses. It is used to treat wounds such as burns, scrapes, and sunburns. The gel from its fleshy leaves is often applied to the problem area and left to dry into a natural bandage. According to health writer Michael Castleman, aloe not only promotes wound healing but also helps to prevent infection. It is sold in capsule form as well as a beverage.

Castleman advises pregnant women to stay away from the internal use of aloe. This herb has been known to promote menstruation by stimulating uterine contractions.

Chamomile (Matricaria Recutita)

Most grocery stores carry wonderful herbal tea blends that can be brewed by the bag. Chamomile is a common ingredient in many of these herbal combinations because of its soothing effects on the body. It is often used as a digestive aid as well as to calm the nerves and reduce anxiety. This herb also has anti-inflammatory action.

Chamomile is often used by women suffering from menstrual cramps because it has an easing effect. However, pregnant women should avoid using chamomile (especially during early pregnancy) as well as women who are trying to conceive because this herb has also been known to promote menstruation.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis)

Renown herbalist, food scientist and author, Jethro Kloss, referred to goldenseal as one of the absolute best remedies to be found in the herbal kingdom. This plant’s root has many therapeutic properties. It kills many of the bacterias that cause diarrhea and enhances the immune system. It is also commonly used to treat stomach disorders and acute inflammations as well as topically for bacterial and fungal infections.

Castleman points out that goldenseal has been known to raise blood pressure which can be quite dangerous for pregnant women. He states that while some studies show that goldenseal can help to calm the uterus and reduce excessive menstrual flow, other studies show that this herb can also promote uterine contractions and should be avoided during pregnancy or while trying to conceive.

Juniper Berries (Juniperus Communis)

The internal use of juniper berries can have a diuretic effect on the body. This herb promotes urine production and has been used to treat bloating in premenstrual syndrome, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure. Large doses of this herb may irritate the kidneys.

Pregnant women and those trying to conceive should avoid the use of juniper berries because this herb has also been known to stimulate uterine contractions.

Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Licorice has long been used to treat nose and throat conditions such as coughs, colds, and sore throats. Castleman points out that it is also used to help remedy ulcers and infections brought on by disease causing bacteria.

He advises pregnant women to stay clear of licorice because it has been known to cause water retention. Water retention can lead to elevated blood pressure which can be dangerous for both the mom-to-be and her baby.

Conclusion

Pregnancy is a delicate time, when care and caution should always be a priority. Some herbs are ideal for some women, while they may not be safe for others. Always use herbs under the guidance of a health care practitioner.

Sources

Page, Linda Ph.D., N.D. Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone, 11th Edition (Quality Books, Inc.).

Hoffmann, David, The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies (Element Books Limited).

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