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5 Safe Herbs for a More Comfortable Pregnancy and Better Birth

Like those of you who are pregnant, as a mom of 4 kids, I am no stranger to some of those miserable common symptoms that can plague pregnancy. For me it was awful first trimester nausea and then later, occasional insomnia.

As a midwife and medical doctor I have been using herbs in my practice with pregnant women for over 25 years and have found them to be helpful in treating many of the symptoms we have during those nine months of growing our babies including nausea, insomnia, yeast infections, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids. They can even tone your uterus for labor.

I want to introduce you to 5 of my favorite herbs known to be safe for use in pregnancy. At the bottom of this post you can also download an article that I wrote for Mothering Magazine called Herbs for the Mother-to-Be.

Are herbs safe during pregnancy?

Pregnant women commonly experience minor symptoms such as nausea, colds, and insomnia for which natural remedies can actually be gentler and safer than pharmaceuticals – many of which lack proof of safety in pregnancy or are known to be harmful.

While there is limited scientific research on the safe use of most herbs in pregnancy, there is good evidence of safety for several.

Overall, most herbs that are traditionally used to support pregnancy are safe for use in moderation. There have been almost no reports of adverse outcomes in pregnant women, and when they have occurred, it has been from using herbs that are not considered safe in pregnancy, or from products that have been tainted with unsafe herbs or even pharmaceutical additives – which has mostly been a problem with imported products from China and India.

Using herbs during pregnancy

The safest approach is to avoid using herbs during the first trimester of pregnancy unless necessary (for example, ginger for treating morning sickness), to only use those herbs known to be safe in pregnancy, and to consult with an experienced midwife, herbalist, or MD on the safe use of herbs in pregnancy.

There are many herbs whose use in pregnancy is definitely not safe for baby. A basic list of these can be found in the Mothering article.

Beverage teas that are known to be safe in moderate amounts (e.g., red raspberry, spearmint, chamomile, lemon balm, nettles, rose hips), and ingestion of normal amounts of cooking spices are considered safe in pregnancy.

Herbs considered safe in pregnancy

These 5 herbs are known to be safe during pregnancy and can help with a variety of common discomforts and problems while helping prepare your body for a healthy birth.

1. Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) for morning sickness

I think I’d rather go through natural labor without an epidural faster than I’d repeat those horrible weeks of morning sickness I experienced! I remember getting home from a particularly eventful car ride through the mountains during the early part of one of my pregnancies, laying flat on the living room floor, and telling my husband to just let me die now. I am sure I was green.

Ginger is a spicy, aromatic herb with which many of you are familiar for cooking. Did you know it has been shown to be safe and effective in treating morning sickness?

There are several ways to use ginger in pregnancy. Tea and capsules are commonly recommended in books and other sources, but my experience is that drinking warm or even cool tea when you are already sick to your stomach is not fun, and may even make you hurl! Ditto on capsules sitting in your stomach and the water or juice you need to take to chase them. Try these ginger products instead:

  • Ginger candies and crystalized ginger: Reed’s makes great ginger products. I learned to keep a small stash of ginger candies or pieces of crystalized ginger in my handbag at all times. It’s not 100% fool proof — sometimes that nausea can outsmart even ginger — but it really can cut the edge and ease your tummy. It can be nibbled in small amounts throughout the day; large quantities are not needed and in fact, up to 1 gm of what would be equal to the dried powder is the recommended daily dose.
  • Ginger Ale: while drinking soda is not ideal in pregnancy, treating nausea trumps and ginger ale is a great way to get in some ginger. The carbonation also helps many pregnant women with nausea symptoms. You can make your own ginger ale by grating 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger root and squeezing the juice into some carbonated water (plain or lemon flavored), adding some honey, cane sugar, or maple syrup to sweeten it, or you can get a good quality ginger ale with real ginger. Reed’s makes a good one of those, too.

Note: persistent or repeated vomiting in pregnancy can be a medical problem. Consult your midwife or doctor if you experience anything beyond typical morning sickness symptoms.

2. Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) for an easier labor

This herb is a mineral rich tonic, traditionally used to support a healthy pregnancy and tone the uterus to help a woman prepare for birth. Some studies have shown that it can help to expedite labor and reduce complications and interventions associated with birth.

Since it doesn’t have the most pleasant taste when taken as a tea by itself, I generally recommend mixing it with some spearmint and rose hips for a delicious tea that can be taken daily, 1-2 cups throughout the second and third trimesters. The recommended dose is from 1.5 – 5 gm daily in tea.

Pregnancy Tea

2 tbsp red raspberry leaf

2 tsp spearmint leaf

2 tsp rose hips

Mix together and place into a reusable tea bag. Steep in 8 oz of boiling water for 20 minutes, strain and drink 1-2 cups daily.

3. Echinacea (Echinacea spp) for colds

Pregnant women get colds just like everyone else, and because natural hormonal changes in pregnancy already make your nose feel stuffy and a big belly can make it feel harder to breathe, colds and coughs can be extra miserable.

Echinacea has been shown to reduce the length of colds and also prevent them from recurring. It can be used either during a cold or to prevent them. It does not actually help with cold symptoms, but our friend ginger does! Ginger can reduce chills, coughing, and aching muscles when taken as a hot tea using 1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger per cup of boiling water, 1-3 cups daily.

Echinacea is best used in the form of a tincture, which does contain a small amount of alcohol, but this tiny amount is not considered dangerous when taken in the recommended dose of up to 5 mL of the tincture (about 1 measured teaspoon) up to twice daily. Capsules can also be used according to recommended package dosing for individual products, if you are uncomfortable with using a product containing alcohol during pregnancy.

4. Cranberry (Vaccinium Macrocarpon) for UTI prevention

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common during pregnancy. Medically they are treated with antibiotics the first time, and if a second infection occurs, the medical recommendation is to place pregnant women on antibiotics for the entire pregnancy to prevent further infections.

While cranberry should not be used to substitute for appropriate medical care, it has been shown in numerous studies to prevent UTIs. If you have a history of them, or have had one already during pregnancy, talk with your midwife or doctor about trying cranberry for prevention. While antibiotics are sometimes necessary, newer research is showing that exposure to antibiotics during pregnancy can have long-term consequences on our babies, including development of asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.

Cranberry can be used in the form of cranberry juice (even Ocean Spray has been shown to work, but I recommend less sugary types from the natural foods store or fresh juice made at home in a juicer using ½ cup of fresh frozen cranberries and 2 apples) or cranberry capsules dosed as recommended on the product.

Note: Untreated UTIs in pregnancy can cause serious problems; if you suspect you have one, consult your midwife or doctor.

5. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) for better sleep

Pregnancy is often a time of disturbed sleep whether from vivid dreams, new concerns over becoming a mom, or the discomfort of your growing belly making it hard to find just the right position. One of my favorite herbs for gently and safely promoting relaxation and sleep is chamomile. It is soothing for your tummy and tastes delicious, too.

Chamomile can be taken up to several cupfuls daily if you are stressed, and taken before bed for sleep. I generally recommend 1-2 cups in the evening, but do not drink tea within an hour of going to sleep or you’ll surely be up to pee (though this happens in pregnancy anyway!). To make chamomile tea steep 1 large or 2 small tea bags in 8 oz of boiling water for up to 10 minutes, or better yet, purchase organic chamomile blossoms from a company like Mountain Rose Herbs online and brew yourself a small teapot full using 1 tablespoon of the herb per 8 oz of water.

Summary

Herbs can provide substantial relief for common complaints and concerns that arise during pregnancy and childbirth. Nonetheless, like any medicines, they should be used with caution. Many herbs that have not been evaluated may nonetheless offer simple, safe, gentle, and effective solutions for common problems of pregnancy, ranging from anemia to yeast infections.

Herbs for the mom-to-be: Sound advice for using medicinal plants to treat common pregnancy ailments
Mothering January • February 2008

 

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Comments

  1. Je lis ces articles et je sens beaucoup de douceur derrière ces propos.

  2. Dr. David McNiff says:

    This is a list of foods. There are so many herbs and supplements which are applicable for pregnant and nursing mothers. Big Pharma has essentially paralyzed the health industry with fear. There are many qualified practitioners who are very comfortable and successful with real herbal combinations and formulae, many of which have been around for over 1800 years. It’s time to not harbour so much fear, seek a qualified practitioner, and realize things such as pregnancy are not an illness to suffer through.

  3. Jessica-Alice Hopkins says:

    You failed to point out the taking Raspberry Leaf tea in the first trimester is dangerous!

    • There is no evidence that RRL is dangerous during the first trimester. It is not an abortifacient and is not toxic. It is very unlikely to cause contractions. However, I do generally recommend no herbs during the first trimester unless medically needed.

    • Raspberry leaf tea saved my baby when I was at risk of miscarriage my first trimester. Had a blood clot on my placenta that the tea helped to obsorb into my body without harming baby after massive bleeding.

  4. You left out lavender, it is also safe. Good article though.

  5. I think I will go for ginger because I normally have morning sickness

  6. Thanks – this is a great post! I drank a pregnancy tea with RRL for one of my pregnancies. I think it was SO helpful during and after. Unfortunately, I experienced preterm labor last pregnancy. Is it contraindicated for people who have experienced preterm labor?

  7. Kristina Gatewood says:

    Jessica Alice, you failed to read her article then. She said she doesn’t generally recommend herbs in the first trimester. Read thoroughly before you make such comments. :)

  8. I was under the impression that the Nourishment Tea from your pregnancy book is safe throughout all of pregnancy, but now that I am reading this post I am second-guessing… Did I read the book incorrectly?

    • yes it is safe though i have removed the comfrey from the tea as data emerged on it not being safe since the original book came out. that said, i’ve not received one single report of a problem in over 20 years! no worries if you’ve had to old version — just remove the comfrey.

      • Thank you for responding. I was mostly concerned that maybe the tea was not safe for the first trimester after I read this post… I have the 2003 edition of your book, and it is by far my most loved and used pregnancy book! I am looking forward to reading the upcoming edition as well.

  9. Thank you sooooo much for this wonderful, informative article!!! It’s been extremely helpful to me!

  10. Hi there,
    A few comments:
    Echinacea tincture does come in a non-alcohol, glycerin-based form from the company Herb Pharm (easy to find in many health food stores).
    In your Mothering article you listed coffee under herbs to avoid. I have been allowing small amounts of coffee because it is usually stated that under 150mg caffeine/day is fine. Is there a reason I should be avoiding it altogether? I am now 19 weeks pregnant (my first at 43!) and would be grateful if you could let me know. A little bit has helped with fatigue.
    Thanks so much,
    Katie

    • Coffee is not optimal in pregnancy — 150 mg is the max safe dose — but that doesn’t mean everything under that is ok. It’s not entirely harmful, but the caffeine does reach the baby, and it also affects your stess hormones, blood sugar, and can affect appetite. I’m sure you’ve not caused any harm so no worries- but it’s not on my list of yeah, sure, no problem. Best with your pregnancy and baby! :)

  11. Can anyone tell me whether Rooibos organic earl gray is safe during pregnancy, I am 5 months pregnant and I love tea.

    • i don’t know of any problems with rooibos, but black and green tea should be kept to a limit. congrats on baby!

  12. Melissa says:

    I’ve had recurrent miscarriages and nothing has come up in the testing indicating why, but I’m told my testosterone level is slightly high. I’m looking into natural ways to reduce that, in case it’s contributing to the problem, but as you can imagine I’m very nervous about anything I ingest. In my case, would you recommend spearmint tea? Would you suggest discontinuing for the first trimester? (All my losses have been in the first trimester, although one was at 12 weeks.)

    • Hi Melissa
      Sorry to hear that you’ve struggled with miscarriage. I will be offering many blogs on my website in the months to come about preventing miscarriage. I don’t think spearmint would help or hurt…Much more to come! Please stay tuned. Best wishes, Aviva

  13. Thanks for this great post on herbs during pregnancy. I am finding crystallized ginger and Reed’s candies to be very helpful for morning sickness but can only find the 1 gm/ day dried ginger root recommendation. Do you have any sense of how much crystallized ginger is equivalent to one 250 mg capsule? Thank you.

  14. Tanx a million Aviva. U’r truely great.

  15. thanks for the post..i am on my first trimestr of first pregnancy…nowadays suffering from strong tendency of vomitting..cant eat food well..happy to hear that ginger is good to overcome that..thanks a ton

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