Herbal Supplements and Pregnancy
Many pregnant women consider taking alternative medicine based upon the advice of well-meaning friends and family. Pregnant women consider the use of medicinal herbs to reduce morning sickness, labor pain, or to manipulate the speed of labor. While the jury is still out on whether herbal supplements are safe during pregnancy, most experts agree that medicinal herbs should be avoided during pregnancy unless they are prescribed by your health care practitioner.
A recent study of 578 pregnant women, conducted by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, found that 60 percent were using at least one herbal product. 49 percent of those women were unsure of the safety of the products they were using and only 20 percent had informed their doctor they were taking them.
Many herbal supplements have become mainstream and seem harmless. However, their safety for the general population is undecided. The reason herbal supplements can be so dangerous is because they are not regulated, tested, or approved by the FDA, even though they are marketed as “natural” products. There are no guarantees of safety or purity. This means they may contain drugs that aren't listed on the label, or may contain toxic substances such as mercury, arsenic, and pesticides. In addition, since there are no clinically established safe and effective dosages, there is a chance that you are not taking the right amount of the herb.
By taking herbal supplements, you may be also be risking the health of your unborn child. Dr. W. Allen Walker, author of Healthy Eating during Pregnancy, warns that even common herbs like ginger, garlic, feverfew, gingko, and ginseng can adversely affect circulation. As a consequence, this may worsen bleeding during labor. In addition, taking seemingly nontoxic herbs like raspberry leaf may cause preeclampsia, which is a serious medical condition characterized by high blood pressure, fluid retention, and abnormal kidney function. If left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to complications or death in the mother or baby.
Fresh or dried herbs used to flavor foods are completely different than medicinal herbs and are relatively safe. Culinary herbs like basil, dill, chives, thyme, savory, cilantro, marjoram, rosemary, sage, oregano, and mint are great choices.
As with any medication or supplement taken during pregnancy, it is vital that you consult with your health care practitioner before taking it. Even if a loved one swears by a particular herbal remedy, get your doctor's approval first.