Herbal Medicine During Pregnancy
Many women ask me about the safety of using herbs during pregnancy. This is a tricky question. Some herbs are very helpful to pregnant women. Others must be used with care or only at certain times in the pregnancy. Overall, it is best to consult with a skilled herbalist when creating herbal formulas to support you during pregnancy.
Herbs to Avoid:
The following are general guidelines of herbs to avoid during pregnancy.
Avoid herbal laxatives. This includes sienna (Senna alexandrina), cascara (Cascara sagrada), and Chinese rhubarb (Rheum palmatum).
Avoid herbs are used to regulate the menstrual cycle without professional guidance. Some of these herbs will help prevent a miscarriage while others will cause a miscarriage.
Refrain from using herbs that contain alkaloids. This includes tobacco and coffee, but also goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). Goldenseal is found in many over the counter herbal cold medicine products.
If in doubt, ask a herbalist.
How Herbs Can Help
Let’s follow a hypothetical woman named Lisa through her pregnancy to explore how herbs can benefit her overall well being.
During the first trimester, Lisa is tired, constipation and struggles with morning sickness. A nourishing herbal tea made with nettles, rosehips and a pinch of peppermint will make an excellent tonic for the Sue in her first trimester.
Nettles are potent green food, high in iron and other minerals. Nettles will give Lisa the energy boost she needs while nourishing her body. The rosehips are pack with vitamin C and bioflavonoids. In the tea, the rosehips will help Lisa’s body absorb the minerals from the nettles. They will offer protection to Lisa’s blood vessels to help prevent haemorrhoids and varicose veins.
Peppermint is a traditional remedy used to relieve morning sickness.
Ginger is also used to ease nausea. A delicious tea to calm morning sickness is: ½ tsp of freshly grated ginger in one cup of peppermint tea, steep for 20 minutes and add a little honey. Add a slice of lemon to this tea and it becomes a soothing cold remedy for pregnant moms.
If morning sickness continues after sipping either tea, I recommend Black Horehound (Ballot nigra). Usually, a few drops of tincture will relieve most nausea.
To relieve constipation grind up whole flax seeds in a coffee grinder and sprinkle a tablespoon on a bowl of applesauce. The flax seeds will not only help Lisa go, but they are an excellent source of essential fatty acids (EFAs). The child in the womb needs EFAs for her developing nervous system. In many cases, woman’s stores of EFAs are depleted during pregnancy. Research has shown that low levels of EFAs are an attributing factor to post-partum depression and/or anxiety. Using ground flaxseed may help prevent these conditions from arising after the child is born.
During the second trimester, Lisa is feeling better. However, she is having moments of anxiety and is fearful that everything will turn out okay. Green oat seed (Avena sativa) is added to the tea of nettles, rosehips and peppermint. Green oat seed is a gentle nerve tonic, used to calm nerves. Green oat seed will help Sue let go of her fears and enjoy her pregnancy.
Just as Lisa is beginning to relax she develops pressure in the area of her bladder and a burning sensation while peeing. She goes to the doctor, but he does not find any unwanted bacteria in her urinary tract, and will not prescribe anti-biotics. I add corn silk to Lisa’s daily tea. This herb soothes the urinary tract, and Lisa has no further challenges.
As Lisa’s third trimester begins, raspberry leaf (Rubus ideaus) is added to the pregnancy tea. Raspberry is high in calcium, Vitamin C and many other minerals. Along with the nettles and rosehips Lisa tea will give her body the resources it will need to recover from labour quickly and make nourishing milk for her newborn.
Raspberry leaf is a uterine tonic. For centuries women have used raspberry leaf to prepare for both pregnancy and labour. Today, Raspberry leaf is used to prevent premature labour as well as postpartum bleeding. Many herbalists recommend using Raspberry leaf throughout a woman’s pregnancy. However, because it contributes to constipation, it may be better to wait until the last trimester.
Halfway through the 3rd trimester Lisa begins to experience heartburn. She begins to take a tea after meals made with a combination of marshmallow leaf and lemon balm. She also takes the tea just before bed to settle. This keeps the heartburn from waking her in the night.
In the last weeks of pregnancy Lisa’s feet and hands begin to swell. Dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinalis folia) is added to her tea. Dandelion leaf is a diuretic. It removes excess fluid from the body via the kidneys. Most diuretics deplete potassium. The loss of potassium disturbs the rhythm of the heart. Dandelion leaf is so high in potassium, using it in a herbal tea actually increases potassium levels in the body. If the Dandelion leaf does not relieve the swelling and the swelling worsens, it is important for Lisa to see her midwife or doctor quickly.
There are many herbs used to bring on labour. But most herbalists agree, in most cases, it best to let the baby decide when to come into the world. Lisa, in the end, is a week overdue and does not want to be induced. As her herbalist, I offer a session of energy healing to remove any fears, or perhaps memories from previous pregnancies, that are blocking her from going into labour. Before we decide to use herbal medicine to bring on labour, we carefully consider her options. If using herbs during labour, I generally prefer to offer calming herbs as opposed to herbs that will cause contractions.
Lastly, immediately after labour, Lisa’s partner offers her a dropper full of Sheppard’s Purse. This herb is a favoured amongst midwives to limit bleeding after delivery.
As Lisa slowly settles into her new routine with baby, she continues to drink her pregnancy tea. The tea replenishes her energy and enriches her breast milk. If baby struggles with colic, I add some fennel seed.