Six Safe Herbs for Pregnant Mamas

Through the journey of pregnancy, most women experience some less-than-desirable (or downright awful) conditions, such as morning sickness, trouble sleeping, urinary tract infections and more.  While diet and lifestyle modifications can aid in easing many of these symptoms; often times, more is needed.  However, pharmaceutical solutions pose their own risks, especially during pregnancy.  Fortunately, Mother Nature—in her infinite wisdom—has supplied many natural remedies for common pregnancy ailments.

While not all herbs are safe during pregnancy and some have not been adequately tested, there are several with a proven track record as safe and effective treatments for expectant mamas.  Herbs have been used for thousands of years to treat the discomforts and problems arising during pregnancy.

Use of herbs in pregnancy

Because many herbs have not been extensively studied in pregnant women, and others are known to be unsafe, it is important to use herbs with caution and under the guidance of your care provider.

The prudent approach to herb use in pregnancy is to:

  • avoid herbs in the first trimester of pregnancy unless necessary (with the exception of ginger to aid with morning sickness)
  • use only those herbs with demonstrated safety in pregnancy
  • always consult with a knowledgeable care provider about safe herb use for pregnancy

Herbs consumed as tea infusions in moderate amounts and consumption of normal levels of cooking spices are generally considered safe when expecting.

Some herbs should be avoided during pregnancy. They include those listed here:

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Six Safe Herbs for Pregnant Mamas

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)

gingerSpicy and warming, ginger root is an excellent treatment for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (i.e. morning sickness).  Morning sickness can be a grueling experience in pregnancy, which most women would give anything to relieve.  Fortunately, there are natural treatments that can alleviate nausea and sickness in pregnancy.

Ginger can also help with colds, reducing chills, coughing, and aching muscles.

How to use:

While it is safe and easy to drink tea infusions (1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger per cup of boiling water, 1-3 cups daily) or take capsules of ginger, these may not agree with some women’s stomachs in the throes of morning sickness.  There are many ginger products on the market.  Ginger candies and crystallized ginger (available at Whole Foods, co-ops, and online) are easy to keep stashed in your purse or nightstand and you can nibble them in small amounts as needed throughout the day.  Reeds and Ginger People offer great ginger products.  Ginger ale or ginger beer can also help.  While drinking soda is not ideal in pregnancy, a little ale to relieve nausea may be a worthwhile temporary savior if it does the trick (many women are further aided by the carbonation in these drinks).

Recipe: Make-your-own Ginger Ale

1 tablespoon of grated ginger (Ginger People sells organic minced ginger and ginger juice, perfect for this application)

1 can or bottle of sparkling (carbonated) water, plain or lemon flavor

Sweetener: honey, maple syrup, simple syrup, agave, or stevia

1 teaspoon of lime juice (optional)

Squeeze the juice from the grated ginger into the sparkling water.  Add sweetener and lime juice to your liking.

Cranberry (Vaccinium Macrocarpon)

cranberryCranberry is an excellent and safe treatment for urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are very common during pregnancy. {Note: you should consult with your care provider if you believe you have a UTI.}

How to use:

Cranberry juice is excellent.  We recommend the real deal, not the super sugary types.  Trader Joes and the coop sell unsweetened 100% cranberry juice.  It packs a serious sour punch, but can be made much more palatable (and still healthy) by diluting with equal parts regular or sparkling water, and adding a sweetener such as stevia.  Cranberry capsules can also be effective.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

chamomileChamomile is a great herb for soothing frayed nerves, calming stomach upsets (i.e. indigestion, constipation and nausea), relieving heartburn, promoting better sleep, and more.  This herb is gentle on the stomach and has a pleasant taste.

How to use:

Chamomile tea can be taken as needed throughout the day or in the evening before bed.  You can use pre-prepared tea bags or steep 1 tablespoon of chamomile flowers in 1 cup of near-boiling water for 10 minutes, covered.  Chamomile baths can also promote relaxation (consider adding lavender to the bath as well).

Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus)

red-raspberry-leafRed raspberry leaf is hailed as an excellent tonic for pregnancy.  It is rich in vitamins and minerals (including iron) and contains fragarine, a substance that tones the uterine muscles.  Some studies have found that red raspberry leaf tea can help expedite labor and reduce potential birth complications and interventions, such as hemorrhage.

How to use:

The recommended dose of red raspberry leaf is 1.5 to 5 grams daily in tea form (about 1-2 cups daily in the second and third trimesters).  Many women like to combine this herb with others (such as rose hips or chamomile) to improve on the flavor.

Recipe: Pregnancy Tea

2 tbsp red raspberry leaf

2 tsp spearmint leaf

2 tsp rose hips

1 tsp chamomile

1 tsp of alfalfa

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

Echinacea (Echinacea spp)

EchinaceaPregnant women get colds like everyone else.  Echinacea has been shown to reduce the duration of colds and prevent them from recurring. As such, this herb can be safely used in pregnancy before the onset of a cold or during a bout of illness.

How to use:

The best way to echinacea is in tincture form.  Be sure not to get a tincture that also has goldenseal, as this herb is not safe for pregnant women.  The recommended dose of enchinacea tincture is 5mL (1 teaspoon) twice daily.  Capsules can also be used.

Nettles (urtica)

nettles

Photo by Greg Fewer

Some of us know nettles as that nasty plant you don’t want anywhere near your skin.  But believe it or not, this herb has many healing properties.  Nettles have high quantities of bio-available vitamins and minerals, nourish the kidneys (which are working hard in pregnancy), reduce the risk of anemia, and decrease the risk of hemorrhage at birth.

How to use:

The most effective way to use nettles is to make a tea infusion, eat them fresh chopped into a salad (careful when handling), or consume freeze-dried capsules.  You can also use in tincture form.

Heartburn in Pregnancy: Ten ways to Calm the Fire

Heartburn in pregnancyHeartburn can be a vexing experience at any stage of pregnancy, from the early weeks to the hours before labor.  For some women, heartburn is a constant throughout pregnancy, for others it comes and goes, and some women are spared from this common pregnancy condition.

In normal digestion, food enters the stomach from the esophagus, hydrochloric acid (HCl) is released, and an enzyme is produced to break down proteins in food. When stomach acid returns (or refluxes) back up into the esophagus we experience heartburn.  Interestingly, heartburn can occur in the presence of too much or not enough stomach acid.

Heartburn during pregnancy is attributed to the increased level of progesterone (which softens smooth muscles) that can slow digestion and prevent the esophageal sphincter from closing all the way.  Furthermore, as baby gets bigger, digestive organs are forced upwards and out of their pre-pregnancy position, which can also prevent containment of stomach acids where they belong.

Here are ten great, natural ways to get relief from heartburn during pregnancy.

1.  Alkalizing drinks 

It sounds counter-productive, since it tastes acidic, but apple cider vinegar can work wonders for heartburn in some women.  Add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water (you may wish to add some honey or a few drops of stevia to sweeten the deal).  Though this may seem to intensify the burn for a minute or so, it should subside, along with your heartburn.

Lemon water can also help ease heartburn by alkalizing the body.

Some women find that drinking during meals aggravates their heartburn, so you may consider hydrating between meals.

2.  Digestive Enzymes

Enzyme tablets containing papain (papaya) can be purchased at a health food store and chewed during or after every meal or whenever heartburn strikes.

3.   Helpful herbs

Demulcent herbs can coat, soothe, and heal the esophagus and stomach. The best demulcents for pregnancy are include:

  • Slippery elm bark powder—Thayer slippery elm lozenges can be purchased at Whole Foods or the co-op; take throughout the day as need for heartburn
  • Marshmallow root (pre-made heartburn teas often contain this herb)

Carminative herbs are anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, and thus can soothe heartburn.  (Note:  stronger smelling herbs may not be well tolerated during bouts of morning sickness).  These herbs include:

  • Fennel
  • Aniseed
  • Lemon balm
  • Chamomile
  • Peppermint (note: for some women peppermint can aggravate heartburn)

Kudzu root, dandelion and catnip can also soothe the burn.  Herbs can be taken in tea form or as a tincture.

4.  Supplements

Probiotic can help to ease digestion and thus help soothe heartburn.  A Calcium/Magnesium supplement can also help.

Both are available at Health Foundations.

 5.  Foods

Yogurt can benefit your overall digestion.  Raw almonds or cashews, chewed slowly as a snack or after a meal, can ease heartburn by calming digestion. Some women find eating a baked potato with some fat source (e.g. cheese or butter) helps.  Including a healthy fat with each meal tends to help some women.

 6.  Avoid offending foods, which can include oily, heavy, spicy, or rich foods, chocolate, and caffeine.

 7.  Eat smaller meals more often and eat slowly and mindfully.

 8.  Don’t eat right before lying down, you may consider eating your evening meal at least 2 hours before bedtime.  If sleep or lying down aggravates your heartburn, consider sleeping with a few extra pillows to prop your head up.

 9.  Wear loose fitting clothing and breathe deeply.

 10. Get a chiropractic adjustment this can help move your stomach back into a more optimal position, especially as baby grows larger and upward pressure is rearranging your internal landscape.

We encourage you to speak with us about your condition if you are finding that these natural remedies are not providing relief.  Some over-the-counter heartburn medicines are safe to use during pregnancy.