According to the CDC, only 9% of drugs approved by the FDA have sufficient data to determine safety risk of birth defects. Because of this, and other potential safety risks during pregnancy, women often reach for natural preparations instead of over-the-counter or prescription medications.
We often think herbal preparations are a safer alternative to medication use during pregnancy. However it is important to note that many herbal medicines also do not have sufficient scientific data to prove or disprove safety during pregnancy.
Herbs in Pregnancy: Potential Side Effects and Safety Concerns
The good news is that herbal preparations do have a long history of use during pregnancy with minimal reported side effects. However there are still many safety considerations to keep in mind with the use of herbs during pregnancy.
1. Toxicity to the mother: Pregnancy alters maternal circulation, hormones, elimination, weight, and homeostasis, which can affect how you absorb and excrete herbs.
2. Toxicity to the baby: Medications taken by the mother can cross the placenta and the baby can absorb them. The baby will excrete this into the amniotic fluid, but eventually will drink this same fluid again, which shows a potential for increased herbal dosages in the baby.
3. Potential for birth defects: Some herbs can have teratogenic effects, causing birth defects, illness, or developmental abnormalities.
4. Potential for miscarriage: Some herbs such as abortifacients and emmenagogues can increase the risk of miscarriage because they stimulate uterine contractions or bleeding.
Making Safe Herbal Choices When Pregnant
A good general safety rule for pregnant women to follow is this: Don’t use any medication unless the benefits to the mom and baby are greater than the risks. This is a good safety rule to follow for medicinal herbs as well.
You should not use medicinal amounts of herbs during pregnancy unless you have a practitioner’s guidance, or extensive experience and training in the use of herbs in pregnancy. Avoid medicinal herbs entirely during the first trimester of pregnancy,
unless absolutely necessary for health purposes such as nausea, vomiting, or potential miscarriage.
The method of preparation is another important safety consideration. During pregnancy it is best to use herbs as mild teas and for culinary purposes. Infusing herbs in water as a simple tea can minimize the active compounds providing a milder safer remedy. Nutrient and tonic herbs, such as Chamomile and Red raspberry, have a gentler effect; pregnant women have used these safely throughout all trimesters of pregnancy.
Smaller Doses of Herbs During Pregnancy: Does This Alleviate The Risk?
Many women think that taking smaller doses during pregnancy can alleviate any concerns. Unfortunately this is not entirely true. Although reducing the dosage of herbs during pregnancy is wise, it does not eliminate the risks involved. The baby still absorbs the herb via the placenta and is exposed to it again via the amniotic fluid. This makes the dose for the baby potentially greater than the original dose. Tinctures and glycerites can be problematic for a few reasons during pregnancy. Glycerin and alcohol are very efficient at extracting medicinal compounds from the herb. This means that there will be larger amounts of active compounds, which means you end up with a stronger remedy. Another problem with using tinctures is that they contribute to an intake of alcohol during pregnancy. The CDC states that “There is no guaranteed safe level of alcohol use at any time during your pregnancy or even when you’re trying to get pregnant.” With that alone in mind, it would be wise to choose the milder teas over tinctures. Topical use of herbs is usually safe during pregnancy however it is best to avoid herbs with high alkaloid content, such as, Goldenseal.
Considering Herbal Remedies During Pregnancy
When considering the use of an herb during pregnancy asking these simple questions can help guide your decision.
1. Do the benefits of the herb outweigh the risk for you or the baby?
2. Does the herb have specific contraindications for pregnancy?
3. Does the herb have specific contraindications during your current trimester?
4. Is there a food or lifestyle alternative to using this herb?
5. Are you choosing the safest herbal preparation?
6. Have you sought out guidance from a practitioner experiences in herbal use during pregnancy?
Asking these questions, and answering honestly, can help assure safe herbal use for you and your baby during pregnancy.
CDC. Treating for Two
medicationuseonepager_cdcrole.pdf). (2013). Accessed October 10,
CDC. Alcohol and Pregnancy: Why Take the Risk?
(http://www.cdc.gov/features/alcoholpregnancy/) (2013). Accessed October 10,
Dr. Aviva Romm. Herbs For the Mom-To- Be
Mothering. Accessed October 10, 2013.
© Copyright 2013 Tamra Speakman: Holistic Health, All rights Reserved. This article originally appeared on-Decoded Pregnancy (http://decodedpregnancy.com/)