Herb Safety in Pregnancy
By Erin Borbet
In addition to the traditional medicine systems that developed clinical herbal practices over thousands of years, there used to be a knowing amongst women about which herbs are safe, helpful and appropriate during pregnancy – largely drawn from experience and regional plant growth. Women could self-prepare their formulations, or have them delivered by elders in their community – buoyed by decades of passed-down knowledge.
As modern women, we have largely become separated from the natural world, and now relate to the plant realm with confusion and uncertainty – typically as part of the sea of supplements lining health food store shelves. Herbs are readily available to anyone looking to include them, and yet, choosing the appropriate ones for you might mean a random google search or game of hunt and peck – both largely ineffective and potentially dangerous ways to use herbs during the unique time of pregnancy.
Herbal Benefit in Pregnancy
Herbs offer an incredible opportunity to nourish various aspects of a woman’s physiology when she is pregnant, can tap into the psycho-emotional aspect of her wellbeing as well as alleviate common prenatal discomforts. In fact, many herbs are simply an extension of food, and can easily be included in meals and beverages – offering both preventative and therapeutic benefits.
Just because a woman is pregnant does not mean she must endure a host of uncomfortable symptoms – from sleep issues to digestive complaints or an over-active nervous system. In fact, a woman who enjoys her pregnancy and remains in good physical and emotional health will have better birth and post-partum outcomes. Herbs can play a huge role in this insurance.
Herb Safety in Pregnancy
Many women feel drawn to using herbal remedies as a more “natural” approach during pregnancy, but just because something is herbal/natural does not mean it is safe. For example, the common culinary spice Sage is contraindicated in pregnancy and lactation (if you intend to nurse) in doses any higher than moderate cooking amounts.
Herbal does not necessarily equal safer, and just like making a decision about a medical intervention, it is important to enlist appropriate support when deciding on an herbal intervention.
A big conundrum in the herbal world is lack of scientific research. Ethically, it is extremely difficult to perform clinical trials during pregnancy, thus resulting in a significant lack of herbal research. Because modern prenatal care is largely governed by scientific Obstetrical standards, this can create a good deal of uncertainty with respect to how (or why) to include herbs as part of a woman’s prenatal care.
But the lack of scientific evidence on herb-safety during pregnancy does not prove them as inherently unsafe, either. Thankfully, we have the wisdom of centuries of herbal use during pregnancy to rely on – the experience of all the women, herbalists and midwives who came before. Some might argue this to be even more reassuring than a study done over a much shorter period of time with a much smaller sampling of women.
Rule of Thumb
This reality of relying on empirical data over scientific data may come as a relief or cause increased anxiety – for both women and their care providers. When deciding to include herbs in your prenatal care, it is important to educate yourself and come to a conclusion that feels safe and supportive for you – just like all the other important decisions such as where to birth and your labor support team.
In general, herbal formulations beyond gentle teas should be avoided during the first trimester (unless working with a skilled herbalist, in conjunction with your prenatal care provider). The following are the most common ways in which to incorporate herbs during pregnancy:
- Food (such as dandelion greens in salad or stir fry)
- Infusion (dried herb usually steeped for several hours)
- Freeze-Dried Capsule
- Liquid Extract Capsule
Depending on the severity of the symptom, desired result and herb profile will reveal the most appropriate mode of herbal application. For purchasing herbs, if you have an herbal dispensary in your area, check their availability of organic herbs. My favorite resource for buying bulk herbs online is Mountain Rose.
The Bottom Line
Using herbs during pregnancy takes skill, knowledge and an inclusion of the idea that women are inherently healthy and able to safely (and relatively comfortably) carry a pregnancy to term without intervention – herbal or otherwise. Herbal medicine honors the inherent wisdom within nature and works with it. The safest way to incorporate herbs during pregnancy is under the guidance of a skilled herbalist or other trained practitioner, in conjunction with your prenatal care provider.
This simple, tonifying tea offers nourishment and gentle circulation to the uterus, while providing essential trace minerals and vitamins important for pregnancy – including iron, folate and protein. Various pre-made versions of this tea are readily available on the market, but you’ll get more nutrition from blending your own due to the freshness of the herbs.
Enjoy one cup per day starting in the second trimester as your “pregnancy tonic” – think of it like an addition to your prenatal vitamin. By the third trimester, you can increase to two cups daily – it’s delicious warm or chilled!
- Nettle Leaf, 1 Part (rich in trace minerals, vitamins, protein and offers a calming effect on the nervous system)
- Red Raspberry Leaf, 1 Part (nourishes muscles and improves circulation to the uterus and pelvic floor)
- Milky Oat Tops, ½ Part (nutritious and eases anxiety)
- Alfalfa, ½ Part (gentle diuretic, reduces digestive bloating, provides key nutrients and is an excellent source of Chlorophyll)
- Rose Hips, ¼ Part (provides bioflavonoids and vitamin C)
- Spearmint, ¼ Part (enhances flavor and vents the wei qi (immunomodulator))
Store herb blend in an air-tight container. Steep 1 Tbsp of above mixture in 1 cup of water for 15-20 minutes, cover while steeping, drink 1-2 cups daily warm or chilled.
- Go Ji Berries
An ancient health tonic used in traditional Chinese herbalism, the little red wolfberries are quite easy to find in supermarkets today and are particularly supportive to the kidney system in the body – which is easily taxed during pregnancy. Snack on a handful of berries or add a few to steep in your tea each day (they are delicious to eat once they’ve plumped up in the warm water for a bit).
Erin Borbet holds her Masters of Science in Oriental Medicine, is a Licensed Acupuncturist, Board Certified in Chinese Herbal Medicine, a DONA Trained Labor Doula, Certified Nosara Yoga Instructor and eternal student of the healing arts. She helps women unlock their healthiest self so they can truly live a thriving and purposeful life through her virtual consulting practice.
After nearly a decade of private practice in New York City, she has particular expertise and additional training in the fields of Infertility, Hormonal Imbalance and Chronic Childhood concerns. Erin currently lives in a small town in the Teton Mountains outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming with her husband and two daughters. https://www.erinborbet.com/