Herbs for a Healthy Pregnancy and Birth Part 2: Improving Well-Being
In part 1 of this series of blog posts, we focused on nourishment during pregnancy. In my experience, even minimal nourishment set the bar almost impossibly high - it was especially hard to take in when all I could keep down were carbs and ice cream. As someone who takes her own nourishment and food choices very seriously, it was never harder for me to nourish myself with real foods than during my pregnancy. But beyond just the day-to-day, immune system changes and anxiety posed whole new challenges within my baby growing journey. 

Herbs and the Immune System During Pregnancy

If you’re like me, you rely on herbs and nutrition in regular, non-gestating life to not only keep you well but to rev up your immune response when you do come down with an illness. But during pregnancy, the world is turned topsy-turvy. Your immune system is not as activated and many of your bodily resources instead go towards nourishing the placenta and growing your mini-you. Viruses and bacterial issues may affect you differently than they would your non-pregnant body. And you have a whole other person living inside of you to worry about. Some women find that during pregnancy, they become remarkably resistant to illness, while some find just the opposite. Navigating these new territories of body wisdom herbally is what we'll explore below.

It’s hard to know what herbs and other natural remedies are safe to continue using during pregnancy. There are lots of conflicting sources of information and, interestingly, not a lot of data on the intersection of pregnant women and herbs exists, since this would be ethically touchy research to perform. But we do have tradition, plenty of anecdotal research, and the fact that even today, much of healthcare is performed by women, at home, with herbs and other natural remedies.

And whenever pregnancy paranoia gets the best of you, remember that as a general rule, many herbs on the market in small amounts are relatively safe and only a few categories of herbs must absolutely be avoided. See this downloadable chart from Dr. Aviva Romm (more on her below in the resources section) for more on what herbs to stay away from (though this is not a comprehensive list). Of course, if you are at all unsure about the safety of a particular herb during pregnancy, play it safe and don't use it until consulting your resources. 

Echinacea is my go-to first responder herb for so many immune and bacterial issues, and I am delighted that studies have been done indicating its safety in pregnancy, even over the long-term. It is easy to take as an extract in a little water, tea, or juice and should be consumed in relatively large doses. See our Echinacea Dosage Chart below and cut the dose in half (1 drop per 4 lbs of body weight) if your symptoms are not yet acute. Dr. Romm also uses echinacea during pregnancy as a reliable antiviral and anti-infective for everything from occasional cold sores to post-miscarriage complications. Be sure you are taking a good-quality extract made from the fresh roots to optimize its potency and efficacy.

Echinacea Dosage Chart

The ever-popular elderberry gets an ‘A’ safety rating in The Nursing Mother’s Herbal (see resources below), meaning, “No contraindications, side effects, drug interactions, or pregnancy-related safety issues have been identified. Generally considered safe when used appropriately.” Usnea, a lichen with known antibacterial and antiviral properties, and the third herb in our Immune Blend trio (echinacea, elderberry, and usnea) also earns an ‘A’. My favorite all-round extract for those times in my pregnancy when I knew I was about to come down with something unwanted was Immune Blend, which can be used safely both before and during acute immune distress to optimize the body’s defense system and speed you towards health. 

While ginger extract or tea should be avoided during the first trimester IF you have had previous miscarriages, it can be used in the second and third trimesters as a gently warming, spicy circulatory stimulant that may help hone the body’s immune response and improve overall well-being. And it can be used during the first trimester to relieve occasional morning sickness. Plus, some pregnant women just crave the taste and spiciness.

Kudzu root is gentle enough for use during pregnancy and also offers immune system stimulation and soothing nourishment to the respiratory tract and sinuses, as well as the gastrointestinal tract.

Herbs and Digestive Health During Pregnancy

Naturally, the pregnant body sends so much vital life force and qi, energy, towards the growing fetus that digestion for many women becomes sluggish. TMI? No such thing. I had never been so constipated in my life as I was when I was carrying my son and thanked the benevolent botanical gods on the regular that herbs like very gentle laxatives dandelion and yellow dock are safe for pregnant women. Susun Weed also recommends using 25-40 drops of yellow dock extract daily when wanting to boost iron and counteract anemic tendencies during pregnancy.

Dandelion extract taken daily may also help to encourage normal bilirubin levels and skin color in babies, according to Weed. Dandelion, as an herbal bitter taken just before or after a meal, also helps to optimize healthy digestion. Tummy troubles that run the gamut from sluggishness and lack of digestive fire to gurgles to gastrointestinal distress may be aided by a few drops of lemon balm extract. 

Herbs and Uterine Tone

If you have only heard of one herb in relation to pregnancy, I can pretty much guarantee it’s red raspberry leaf. Red raspberry’s claim to fame is its reputation as a well-known uterine tonic to be used during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters as a way of preparing the body for birth. It is rich in vitamin A, B complex, vitamin C, vitamin E, calcium, iron, and other minerals such as phosphorus and potassium that are vitally important for a developing fetus.

As a pregnancy tonic, it is unmatched. One alkaloid contained in the leaves, fragarine, is responsible for improving pelvic muscle tone and vigor. In midwifery, there are reports of red raspberry doing everything from defending against miscarriage to easing normal labor pain to making contractions more efficient.

Postpartum, its high nutritive content makes for top-notch breast milk. On its own, though, it tends to be a bit drying. We like to use it in a tea blend. Red raspberry is not as useful in an extract as it is in a tea, which will encompass its water soluble qualities. We blended Vita-Min, our pre-natal tea, specifically with red raspberry for all of the benefits above, and more. 

Herbs and Anxiety and Depression During Pregnancy 

I kept a bottle of passionflower on my bedside table during my entire pregnancy, in addition to the *emergency* one in my purse. After reading Dr. Romm’s words, “Passionflower has marked benefits for pregnant women with extreme mood swings, particularly anxiety and irritability,” I knew it was going to be an important part of my journey into motherhood. No one is left unscathed by the marks that living in a society of stress leaves on us, especially not pregnant women. Pregnancy is a innately a helter-skelter time for emotions to storm up and scatter around. Moodiness during all three trimesters is, of course, normal and expected.

But herbal allies like skullcap and passionflower made life with an oven bun doable for me. They may be your allies, too, combined with other relaxation and mindfulness techniques like meditation, pre-natal yoga, journaling, and simply allowing yourself to be human (a human growing a human, that is).
 
You know what they say, when #momlife gives you lemons, make lemon balm tea. Seriously, though, lemon balm is known as a cheering herb of happiness that brings light to any situation. “Lemon balm is extremely gentle while being exceedingly powerful. It is highly effective as a general soother for our nervous system, subsequently aiding in anxiety and depression.” While excessive use of lemon balm extract is not advised when pregnant, a few cups of lemon balm tea (much less potent than the extract) are considered safe. Dr. Romm also uses lemon balm to normalize some of the common side effects of pregnancy, including headaches, fluctuating blood pressure, changes in digestion, difficulty sleeping, leg cramps, occasional muscle aches, and cold sores. 

A Word on Alcohol-Based Tinctures During Pregnancy

All of our extracts use certified organic alcohol. If you are concerned about yourself ingesting the alcohol you can put the suggested dosage into a cup of hot water. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so some of the alcohol is released in the steam. However, note that the amount of alcohol in the suggested dosage of any of our extracts is extremely minimal. To put it into perspective, one dropperful (25-30 drops) of a tincture has about as much alcohol as a ripe banana!

It’s worth remembering, too, that in some countries, pregnant women do continue to consume alcohol in limited amounts - a small glass of wine with dinner, for example - with few complications and this is considered culturally and socially acceptable. In the US, we have major social norms that tell pregnant women that alcohol consumption is a big no-no. Of course, no one’s advocating that pregnant women be drinking loads of booze, but it serves to make the point that minute amounts of alcohol that act as the ‘carrier’ for medicinal extracts are likely not something to be concerned about.

Herbal Resources for Pregnancy and Birth 

I’d be lost without my vast collection of handy dandy pregnancy resources from MDs, NDs, and others in the natural health realm who I trust. This short list doesn't even scratch the surface of the myriad incredible birthing resources out there to prepare moms for all sorts of birth scenarios from Pam England's Birthing from Within to the Birth Hour podcast to Sarah Buckley's Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering to Ina May Gaskin's Spiritual Midwifery and, of course, the incredible documentary film "The Business of Being Born". 

Here are a few of my absolute favorite resources for the safe and effective use of herbs during pregnancy. 

For your quick reference, click here for a Short List of Herbs to Avoid During Pregnancy.
  • The Nursing Mother’s Herbal - this go-to manual is quite thorough and I’ve come to rely on it heavily during the 3.5 years of nursing my child thus far. It issues each herb a clear safety rating, and is also appropriate during pregnancy.
  • Conceiving Healthy Babies: An Herbal Guide to Support Preconception, Pregnancy, and Lactation - whether you’re TTC (trying to conceive), pregnant, or nursing, Dawn Combs’ is a lovely person and has a lovely book full of herbal advice on everything from fertility to kombucha to milk production. 
  • Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year - Susun Weed’s classic text covers pre-pregnancy through caring naturally for your infant child and offers plenty of anecdotal and traditional remedies for safe, easy, gentle use of herbs to nourish, tonify, and heal. 
  • The Natural Pregnancy Book - Dr. Aviva Romm is one of my heroines, a beloved teacher of mine, and the author of basically the ultimate guide on herbs during pregnancy. She includes rituals for celebrating pregnancy, lots of nutritional strategies, and advice on common concerns during pregnancy such as preeclampsia, stretch marks, UTIs, fatigue, and morning sickness. 

List of Herbs to Keep on Hand

I mentioned more than a dozen herbs above, and whether you’re familiar with them or not, it’s a lot to take in. To make it easier for you, I made a list of all the herbs I had on hand during my pregnancy.
Check out the next post in this series, Part 3: Birth, for more herbal goodness and even a little wisdom.
 
Of course, I am not a licensed medical professional and am very limited in what I can say about any herb. Do your own research, come back to us and let me know what you find!





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