In a matter of weeks, pregnancy can turn you from active and nimble to achy and grumpy. Our modern, Western medical system often treats everyday symptoms with painkillers or antacids. Many pregnant women choosing to live a more natural lifestyle turn to herbal supplements as alternative remedies — but are they really safe, especially during pregnancy? The answer depends on the herbs you choose. Following are 7 herbal remedies that are safe to take during pregnancy — and since every woman, pregnancy and baby to be is different, we recommend checking with your care provider, physician or midwife before taking any herbal remedy or supplement.
According to a 2002 report from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, up to 61% of pregnant women take herbs, vitamins, and minerals to ease symptoms, but only 8% got their advice from a doctor or pharmacist. “While some supplements and herbal ingredients have undergone extensive testing, the safety and effectiveness of many have not been shown,” says the March of Dimes website. The organization’s official stance on herbal products during pregnancy is one of zero tolerance. Alternatively, countless pregnancy magazines and eco-baby books widely recommend certain well-known herbs to treat generalized symptoms of discomfort during pregnancy.
Bottom line: many herbs are no more or less safe than over-the-counter options available in most pharmacies. That being said, every pregnancy is different, and you should never hesitate to discuss herbal supplements with your doctor. If they lack the knowledge you are looking for, ask them to suggest someone else to talk to or seek out a professionally-trained herbalist.
The following herbs have been recommended for pregnancy for centuries and are widely believed to be “safe.” Try them at your own discretion, and if you experience any awkward symptoms, cease use immediately and call your doctor.
It may be hard to imagine consuming anything when you are hugging the toilet bowl, but ginger may be all you need. A vital ingredient in Asian cooking, ginger’s nausea-quelling benefits are known far and wide. With numerous forms available, choosing one that doesn’t turn your stomach should be easy.
The most direct way for consuming ginger is to simply chew on an organic, freshly-peeled piece of ginger root. Ginger tea is available in both tea bags or can be made at home with hot water and fresh ginger root. Ginger candies are great for traveling or being anywhere outside of your bathroom. Last but not least, powdered ginger supplement pills offer similar benefits.
Bonus: Ginger is also used to treat colds, congestion, and sore throats.
A popular partner to ever-desirable chocolate, peppermint’s refreshing bite has numerous perks during pregnancy. Like ginger, peppermint offers a myriad of benefits that can make every day more comfortable. Sometimes used to treat nausea as a stomach soother, peppermint is best for relieving gas and abdominal pressure. Great at “cooling” and cleansing the entire body, peppermint can also reduce heartburn symptoms.
The easiest way to consume peppermint is via a store-bought tea. Chewing on fresh peppermint leaves has not shown to offer the same benefits, other than fresh breath.
Technically a mineral, magnesium is a vital part of any diet, especially during pregnancy. Working in-tandem with calcium, magnesium helps build teeth, bones, cartilage, and the ear canal. Low magnesium is tied to premature labor and neurological disorders.
Easy to obtain via a healthy diet (leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, milk), additional magnesium supplements can help relieve many symptoms: leg cramps, heartburn, elevated cholesterol, and insomnia. As with many vitamins and minerals, too much magnesium can be toxic – be sure to discuss your body’s magnesium needs with your doctor before starting any additional supplements.
Seeds from the plantago plant genus are a fiber powerhouse. Its soluble fiber adds bulk in the intestinal track, making bowel movements easier (no more constipation). Easier movements mean less pushing, reducing or preventing the occurrence of hemorrhoids.
Psyllium pills are rare, but it is easily found in Metamucil powder and many all-natural breakfast cereals (my favorite: Nature’s Path Optimum Strawberry & Yogurt). Be sure to consume psyllium with a good amount of water as its density can cause choking.
5) Nettle Leaf
Also known as stinging nettle, nettle leaf is a multivitamin straight from nature. Vitamin K, C, D, A, calcium, iron, and potassium are just a few of the beneficial vitamins and minerals this herbal contains. Its list of benefits are just as impressive: relieves low-iron related fatigue, exhaustion, digestive discomfort, increases milk production, lessens hemorrhoids, and reduces labor pains.
Nettle leaf is best consumed in boxed team form, though the dried leaves (not the root!) can be boiled at home to create your own.
Often used as a throat-soother, chamomile is another pregnancy helper. Its calming properties can help diminish general stress, treat insomnia, and relieve constipation. The use of chamomile by pregnant women is a bit controversial – some swear by it while others deem it as a no-go due to the possible (though unstudied) risk of miscarriage. If you choose to consume it, limit yourself to 1-2 cups of chamomile tea a day.
7) Red Raspberry Leaf
Along with nettle leaf, you’ll often find red raspberry leaf in many “pregnancy” teas. Due to its high vitamin and mineral content (vitamins C, E, A, B, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium), red raspberry leaf has an extensive list of benefits too: helps tone the uterus, reduces hemorrhaging, increases milk production, and eases labor pains.
Red raspberry leaf tea is easy to find – my favorites are by Traditional Medicinals and Earth Mama Angel Baby. Avoid red raspberry leaf during the first trimester due to its uterus-stimulating properties.
[Photo Credits: lavandarfields ("herbs'), FotoosVanRobin (ginger), wonderferret (peppermint), MDL.hu (magnesium), Divina Pe (psyllium), arpent nourricier (nettle leaf), matsuyuki (chamomile), Ricketts Glen State Park (red raspberry leaf)]