Herbs in Pregnancy

Herbs

We’ve written in the past about a pregnant woman’s lowered immunity. Good nutrition, sanitation habits, rest, and exercise all help to strengthen the pregnant woman’s immune system—yet she will inevitably be exposed to viruses and other immune challenges. Pharmaceutical remedies may prove too strong or be contraindicated in pregnancy, so we wondered about herbal remedies. What herbs are safe in pregnancy and what herbs should be avoided? We turned to an herbalist with training in the use of herbs during pregnancy and postpartum to find the answers. *

Before receiving clinical training in Herbal Medicine for Women, Julie Pettler worked as a physical therapist. Later, while teaching her young children at home, Julie built a large garden in her yard and began to keep bees. As her love of gardening grew, so did her fascination with the power of herbs—herbs that grow naturally and herbs that can be cultivated—to treat common ailments. “I study history, science, anatomy, and human health [as an herbalist],” Julie says. “Sometimes I walk barefoot through my yard to gather dandelion greens to add some bitter to my diet. Sometimes I order a strong tincture to stimulate a client’s lymphatic system.” In her current herbalist practice, she combines her love of teaching with her love of plants by leading workshops on foraging, herbal medicine making, the holistic use of plants for health and well-being, and the history and science of plant medicine. Studying herbs for women’s health combined another of her passions: advocacy for pregnant women and evidence-based childbirth.

We started the conversation by asking Julie when the pregnant woman can use herbs during pregnancy. “Herbs may be used for general nutritional support during pregnancy, such as with the use of pregnancy “teas,” and confidently used to address common mild discomforts such as nausea, itchy skin (topical use), and heartburn,” she says. “If a more serious issue arises during pregnancy, herbs may be considered in consultation with a knowledgeable practitioner.”

Julie offered a list of categories of herbs traditionally avoided in pregnancy. “Stimulating laxatives, such as Cascara sagrada, [and] aloe and rhubarb should not be used during pregnancy.” She suggests instead non-stimulating bulk laxatives such as flax or psyllium. Tansy, Mugwort, wormwood, and yarrow stimulate menstrual flow and should not be used. Julie points out that the literature on the safety of herbs in pregnancy is often conflicting, so she suggests a conservative approach to the use of herbal remedies.

The following are some of her suggestions for use in pregnancy:

Nausea

Nausea is a common complaint among pregnant women, in particular in the early months. Julie recommends ginger. “It’s the most studied herb for nausea in pregnancy,” she says. “And the studies support the traditional use of ginger.” Ginger can be taken as a tea (simply shaving fresh ginger into a teacup and steeping it in hot water, can create the tea), as ale in the form of ginger ale with real ginger, in capsule form, or as a candy.

Colds and Flus

For immune support, Julie recommends Echinacea initially, at the first sign of a cold or a flu. “It can be combined with elderberry for extra immune support,” she says. “If a cold or flu sets in, Echinacea should be discontinued. Many times though, the use of Echinacea will prevent illness.” Echinacea is best used for a short duration and can be taken in tincture form every few hours for two-three days.

Pregnancy Tea for Uterine Support

Pregnancy teas support and tone the expanding uterus in the second and third trimesters. Julie recommends equal parts Red Raspberry Leaf, Nettle Leaf, Oat Straw, and Alfalfa (measuring one cup combined). Using one quart of boiling water, cover and steep the herbs overnight to make the nourishing tea.

Postpartum

Julie suggests using herbs for after pains and for healing and antiseptic support of the perineal tissue. Antispasmodic herbs include chamomile, catnip, motherwort, and cramp bark, and can provide relief from after pains. Sitz baths, warm compresses, or peri-rinses to support the perineum postpartum can be made using comfrey leaves, calendula flowers, lavender flowers, sage leaf, yarrow blossoms, and rosemary.

A longitudinal study in 2001 on the use of pharmaceutical medications in pregnancy concluded that 91% of conventional medications had not been proven safe in pregnancy; physicians had inadequate information on the safety of medications in pregnancy. The World Health Organization studied the safety of vaccines in pregnancy and reached a similar conclusion—there are not enough studies conducted on pregnant women for obvious ethical reasons.

Most pregnant women have healthy pregnancies despite the lowered immunity. Herbs can provide a safe and low-risk option for women wanting to boost their immune systems when they’ve been exposed to a cold or flu, when they are preparing for birth, and during the early trimesters for nausea or in the postpartum period when their bodies are healing. “I love that the plants are simultaneously simple and complex,” Julie says. “I love the ways herbs can nudge our bodes toward health by nourishing us and supporting all of our body systems. This is an excellent time to slow down and embrace the healing power of plants.”

*Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before using herbs in pregnancy

Natural Ways to Boost the Pregnant Immune System

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Pregnant women are more at risk for acquiring infection or viruses given the altered immune state that accompanies pregnancy. Most care providers and health agencies agree that the flu is a risk in late pregnancy and recommend certain types of flu vaccines. But there are also natural ways to aid the pregnant immune system.

Habits


Regular Exercise

Gentle exercise cleanses the lymph system and flushes bacteria out of the lungs. When the body heats up with exercise, it helps the body to fight infection. Breathwalking, yoga, swimming, and Tai Chi are gentle forms of exercise that are beneficial for pregnant women.

Sleep

The importance of sleep cannot be stressed enough. The body resets with sleep and a healthy immune system relies upon its restorative aspects. It can be hard to get comfortable in the third trimester when the baby gains the most weight just before birth. Sleeping on your side with a pillow between the legs is one of the most comfortable positions for sleep for the pregnant woman. Heartburn can also be a problem late in pregnancy. Be sure to eat small meals in the evening or drink tea with cinnamon or ginger or peppermint. If you find your sleep is interrupted at night, try to fit in a nap during the day.

Diet

A strong diet during pregnancy helps not only with immunity, but also with the size of the baby, which in the end can ensure an easier delivery. Check out our post on the optimal pregnancy diet and tips for eating healthy.

Hydration

Most midwives will tell you that hydration is key to a healthy pregnancy. Taking in enough fluids helps to flush your lymph system and keep your kidneys and bladder healthy, and water helps to form the placenta and the amniotic sac. Dehydration during pregnancy can lead to serious pregnancy complications, including neural tube defects, low amniotic fluid, inadequate breast milk production, and even premature labor. These risks, in turn, can lead to birth defects due to lack of water and nutritional support for the baby. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.

Hand washing

Be sure to wash your hands regularly. Anti-bacterial soaps are not recommended, but washing with regular soap is a good habit to develop while pregnant and when handling your newborn, postpartum. The most effective hand washing method involves lathering the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails. Be sure to wash your hands after attending a group gathering or playing with young children.

Immune Boosters


Vitamin C

A master immune booster, Vitamin C helps immune cells mature; has an antihistamine effect; controls excesses of stress hormones, which suppress immunity; is antiviral and antibacterial; and raises interferon levels, an antibody that coats cell surfaces. In addition to Vitamin C supplements, the following foods contain the vitamin: papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, broccoli, pineapple, kale, kiwi, or Brussels sprouts.

Tumeric

Tumeric is the food that keeps on giving. Research has shown that it’s a better inflammatory than many OTC anti-inflammatory medications and equal to low dose steroids. High in antioxidants, anti-cancer by nature, good for digestion, and excellent at controlling inflammation, turmeric offers many immune benefits. You can add turmeric to smoothies, drink turmeric tea, or add turmeric to your favorite dishes.

Garlic

Garlic is a powerful natural antibiotic. One clove is powerful enough to combat infection, with its five milligrams of calcium, 12 milligrams of potassium, and more than 100 sulfuric compounds. It’s most powerful raw. If you feel a cold coming on or feel flu-like, try a raw garlic “shot:” one minced garlic clove in a small amount of water, chased by more water. Or, if you’re really ambitious, consider a shot of raw garlic, ginger, carrots, and lemon for a quick immune boost. Raw pesto is a wonderful way to get your raw garlic – toss on pasta or slather on a piece of toast or use in place of tomato sauce on pizza.

Healthy Fats

It’s important to obtain adequate essential fatty acids (EFAs) from the diet during pregnancy and lactation. DHA supplements, an Omega-3 fatty acid, based on cultured microalgae are available in many natural food stores. EFAs boost the pregnant woman’s immune system, support endocrine function and normal function in tissues, and lessen inflammation.

Linoleic and alpha-linolenic, key components of EFAs, cannot be synthesized in the body and must be obtained from food. Omega-6 fats are derived from linoleic acid and are found in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, and vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, sunflower). Most diets provide adequate amounts of this fatty acid, and therefore planning is rarely required to ensure proper amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. A less common omega-6 fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects along with other disease-fighting powers. GLA can be found in rare oils such as black currant, borage, and hemp oils.

Research suggests that fatty acids are needed for fetal growth and fetal brain development. The EFAs are important for infants as they ensure proper growth and development and normal functioning of body tissues. Increased omega-3 fatty acid intake in the immediate post-natal period is associated with improved cognitive outcomes. It’s important that the mother’s diet contain a good supply of omega-3s because infants receive essential fatty acids through breast milk.

Zinc

The body requires zinc for production, repair, and functioning of DNA – the basic building blocks of cells. Beans, nuts, breads, seeds, dairy, and some cereals provide zinc. Too much zinc is not beneficial, so if you consider taking zinc supplements, be sure to talk to your midwife or doctor first.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding is generally recommended. Vitamin D plays a key role in the process of priming T cells to be ready to attack invaders and to fight infection. Sunshine, oily fish, and eggs are good sources of Vitamin D. If eating fish, it’s recommended to limit the servings to 12 ounces a week because of the exposure to methylmercury in most fish.

Almonds

Almond skin contains naturally occurring chemicals that help white blood cells detect viruses and even help to keep them from spreading. Almonds contain healthy fats, fiber, iron, protein, and magnesium. Almond butter is high in protein and good fats. It’s a good substitute for peanut butter and can be served on apples, crackers, or bread.

Chicken Soup

The old adage is true: eating chicken soup boosts the immune system. The broth and vegetables combine to provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Chicken soup decreases the duration and intensity of colds and flu by inhibiting the migration of white blood cells across the mucous membrane, which, in turn, can reduce congestion and ease cold symptoms.

Yogurt or Kefir

A healthy gut is an important building block of a healthy immune system. Yogurt and even better, Kefir, are full of probiotic benefits. Buy plain yogurt or kefir and add fruit-juice sweetened jam or fresh fruit and honey to avoid the high sugar content of commercial flavored brands.

Hot Lemon Water with Honey

Fresh lemon juice is an immune powerhouse, filled with Vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, folate, niacin thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, copper, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and protein. Squeeze the juice of one fresh lemon into a teacup, fill the rest of the cup with hot tea water, and sweeten with raw honey. This drink is especially soothing when you have a sore throat, cold, or sinus issues.

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Proper hydration, healthy diet, moderate exercise, and sleep are the building blocks of a healthy pregnancy. The basic prenatal multi-vitamin offers a lot of immune enhancing properties (don’t take a generic multi-vitamin as they often contain Vitamin A, which is contraindicated for pregnancy.) Experiment with some of these immune boosting tips, but most of all enjoy your pregnancy and let your midwife or physician know if you have any questions about immunity in pregnancy.

7 Great Reasons to Drink Your Pregnancy Tea

If you’re planning to give birth with a midwife, chances are she’s recommended you drink a pregnancy tea. Premier Birth Center has a really delicious Organic Pregnancy Tea from Mountain Rose Herbs. We’ve been drinking it at the birth center lately, and we have to admit it’s pretty awesome! Our pregnancy tea has the usual NORA (Nettles, Oatstraw, Red Raspberry Leaf, and Alfalfa) that we’ve always recommended, but it also has spearmint, ginger, lemon balm, and lemon peel, which give it a great taste and offer additional health benefits. We think it’s especially good iced.

Why drink the pregnancy tea? Why do midwives think it is such a great idea? Here are 7 great reasons we think you should drink pregnancy tea:

1. It helps you stay hydrated.

You can count your pregnancy as part of your daily “water” intake. Sometimes, drinking just plain water can get a bit boring, so having the pregnancy tea as an alternative can help make it easier to meet your daily hydration goal.

2. It’s great iced!

If you’re not a hot tea drinker, no problem. This stuff is really great iced. We’ve been making it in our Takeya Iced Tea Pitcher, which has been working really well. It takes about 5 minutes to have a big pitcher of iced nutritious deliciousness this way. If you’re having trouble getting in your daily pregnancy tea, try using an iced tea infuser so you’ll have iced pregnancy tea on hand when you’re thirsty. So yummy!

 

Takeya

You can get the Takeya Iced Tea Pitcher on Amazon.com (currently $24.99 on Amazon Prime, as of 8/14/16)

 

3. It’s a great source of iron.

The red raspberry leaf, alfalfa, and nettles in the tea are full of iron. Nettles, especially, is an especially potent source of herbal iron. If you’re trying to prevent or treat anemia, drinking at least a quart of strongly-brewed pregnancy tea daily can be an important part of your iron-boosting regimen.

4. Oatstraw is amazing.

Nobody every really talks much about oatstraw. It is often overshadowed by the red raspberry leaf, alfalfa, and nettles in the tea, but oatstraw is truly awesome in its own right. Oatstraw is high in magnesium, which helps your body to properly absorb calcium. It can be calming, lower your blood pressure, aid in your digestion, and lower your blood sugar. Oatstraw helps improve your sleep, too.

5. It’s like sending your uterus to the gym.

Your uterus is a muscle. It contracts off and on during pregnancy, and that’s normal. The red raspberry leaf in the pregnancy tea strengthens and tones the uterus, a bit like sending it to the gym. It causes contractions that are like exercise for your uterus — not strong enough to put you into labor or to be uncomfortable — just a gentle workout to build strength and uterine tone. This can help your labor to be more coordinated and help prevent excessive bleeding after the birth.

6. It’s a complex multivitamin in a cup.

The vitamins and minerals are easily assimilated by your body because they are from a food source. Seriously, this is powerful stuff. Here’s the list of vitamins and minerals we know are in the pregnancy tea:

Nettles

A, B complex, C, E, K1, folic acid, histamine, acetylcholine, formic acid, acetic acid, and butyric acid.10,21 The hairs are made of silica and inject neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, histamine, 5HTP (serotonin), moroidin, leukotrienes into the skin.

Oatstraw

Silicon dioxide occurs in the leaves and in the straw in soluble form as esters of silcilic acid with polyphenols, monosaccharides and oligosaccharides. Oat straw contains a high content of iron, manganese, zinc, chromium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, niacin and a variety of other nutrients, and saponins, alkaloids such as avenine, trigoneline, sterols, flavanoids, and calcium.

Red Raspberry Leaf

Red raspberry contains anthocyanidins, ellagitannins, flavonols such as quercetin and kaempferol, catechins, phenolic acids, fragrine, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, chlorogenic acid, glutathione, and alpha-tocopherol, iron citrate, pectin, malic acid, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, and potassium sulfate.

Alfalfa

Alfalfa contains 2-3% saponins, sterols, alcohols, flavones and isoflavones (including phytoestrogens such as genistein and daidzein) coumarin derivatives, alkaloids, plant acids (including malic and oxalic acid) vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, C, E, K1, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, amino acids (including valine, lysine, arginine, tryptophan, sugars, plant pigments such as chlorophyll, 17-25% crude fibers, 15-25% protein, minerals, and trace elements such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper.

In smaller amounts, the tea also contains:

Spearmint

Volatile oil, menthol, menthone, d-limonene, neomenthol, tannins and very small amounts of essential oil containing about 50% carvone.

Ginger

Ginger rhizome contains oleoresin composed of (phenols such as gingerols and their related dehydration products shogaols), fats and waxes, and volatile oils (1.0–3.3% the volatile oil contains sesquiterpenes, monoterpenes), 40–60% starch, 9–10% protien, 6–10% lipids composed of triglycerides, phosphatidic acid, lecithins, and free fatty acids, vitamins niacin and A, minerals; and amino acids.

Lemon Balm

flavonoids such as quercitrin, rhamnocitrin, and the 7-glucosides of apigenin, kaempferol, quercetin, and luteolin, phenolic acids and tannins such as rosmarinic acid, caffeic and chlorogenic acids, triterpenes, volatile oil composed of the monoterpenoid citronellal, geranial (citral a) and neral (citral b) and sesquiterpenes

Lemon Peel

Limonene and at least 45 other antioxidant flavonoids, pectin, vitamin C.

7. We have a special BOGO offer at Premier Birth Center for you!

Want some Organic Pregnancy Tea? Stop by Premier Birth Center for a free sample and pick up a bag of tea for $10. Blog readers can mention this coupon when they come to Premier Birth Center and get a BOGO special for extra savings!

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