Our Guide to Herbs for Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
There is something instinctive about turning to herbs and natural ingredients to nurture and take care of our bodies and the growing baby within us. It's how our company began in the early 90’s – creating products for my friend and fellow herbalist Sonya D’cunha of Helen and Hildegard when she was pregnant with her second child.
Today, there are much more resources and products available to pregnant women who are interested in using herbal remedies throughout their pregnancy. A quick google search however is often a cautionary tale laden with a laundry list of herbs to avoid – some including relatively benign herbs like chamomile and peppermint. This can be confusing and a turn off when seeking herbal remedies.
Herbs can be a wonderful ally for many of the symptoms women experience during pregnancy and postnatal care. These include: helping prepare the womb for birth, morning sickness, back pain, varicose veins, healing after birth, supporting healthy lactation, weaning and so much more.
In this blog I will explore some of my favorite herbs for pregnancy and the symptoms associated with using them, along with what trimester they fall into – but first let's review the guidelines to using herbs during pregnancy.
This guideline is based on Rosemary Gladstar’s recommendations and what I have followed throughout the decades. Her book Herbal Healing for Women along with Suan Weed’s The Child Bearing Years have been a constant resource and essential reading for those wanting to learn more about herbs during pregnancy.
Herbal Guidelines for Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
- Use herbs that are considered foods or tonic herbs – these are gentle, supportive and nutritious – examples are nettle, red raspberry leaf, milky oats, rosehips, ginger and lemon balm.
- Avoid herbs that are toxic to the system and are considered abortifacients (bring on contractions) – these include herbs such as pennyroyal, rue, and wormwood.
- Avoid herbs that help bring on your period – these are known as emmenagogues. They can be considered too stimulating especially in the first trimester. An example of this would be Don Qui. Red Raspberry is also considered an emmenagogue however it is quite mild. During my herbal studies RRL was recommended throughout pregnancy but given women are having babies later, as a precaution RRL should be taken at the beginning of 32 weeks or after the 1st trimester. For more information, here is a blog that I’ve written on RRL.
- Avoid herbs you are unfamiliar with.
- Avoid herbs for specific illnesses - herbs like goldenseal for infection.
Our Favorite Herbs for Pregnancy
- A culinary favorite, ginger is a warming tonic for the entire reproductive system and specifically recommended for morning sickness and digestive problems during pregnancy.
- For prolonged labor, ginger oil externally on the back can be massaged over the lower back to restore energy and stimulate contractions. Our leg & back cream containing ginger oil can be used to help with pain, cramping and stimulation during labor and delivery.
- It is also safe for colds and flu during pregnancy.
Use for: morning sickness, heartburn, back pain (external), labor & delivery (external)
Use in: Tea decoction, candied, external massage oil
- Herb supreme, nettle is a nutritional powerhouse. It is rich in calcium, iron and many other vitamins and trace minerals.
- Excellent tonic throughout pregnancy to help women suffering from fatigue, low energy and low iron.
- It is a mild diuretic so will help eliminate excess water from body tissues – helping issues like edema.
- Great for skin health.
Use for: nutrient throughout pregnancy, restorative afterbirth
Use in: Tea infusion
Red Raspberry Leaf :
- The “Mother” of herbs for pregnancy, raspberry leaf is a uterine tonic helping to prepare the uterine muscles for delivery and birth.
- Nutritive, RRL is rich in vitamins and minerals, and is high in iron which the body can easily assimilate.
- It assists in labor and delivery reducing risk of hemorrhaging
- A nutritive restorative for afterbirth due to its high mineral content, red raspberry leaf can also assist in healthy breast milk production.
Use for: nutritive tea, restorative afterbirth,
Use in: Tea infusion
Milky Oat Tops and Oatstraw
- One of the best nutritive tonics for the nervous system and combines well with chamomile and lemon balm.
- Perfect for use for anxiety throughout pregnancy, irritable moods, fatigue and new parent stress (yes dad’s can drink it too!)
- Rich in calcium and magnesium herbalists highly recommended it pre and post pregnancy nutritive.
- It is a very safe herb for both mom to be and baby.
- Oatstraw is helpful for varicose veins and a safe remedy for yeast infections.
Use for: nutritive tea, stress and anxiety, varicose veins, yeast infections
Use in: Tea infusion, sitz bath infusion
Find it in: Mom to Be Tea
- A healing wonder, chamomile is gentle but effective medicine.
- It is reputed as a remedy for its relaxing and carminative qualities, helping to support the nervous and digestive system.
- A chamomile tea can help ease stress and anxiety, promote sleep and is a safe bedtime tea for children and children suffering from colic.
- For the digestive system, it is an ally for conditions of flatulence, upset stomach or nervous digestion due to the its bitter constituents ; combine with ginger for morning sickness.
- Used in bathwater, or massage oil to help relieve stress, anxiety and sore muscles.
- Externally it can also be used for hemorrhoids, achy backs and joints, any sort of swelling especially for postpartum care.
Use for: stress and anxiety, digestive aid, sleep aid, inflammation and pain relief.
Use in: Tea, bath, oil, poultice, hydrosol
- Another culinary favorite fennel is a well known carminative and digestive aid helping with gas, bloating, cramping and colic
- For nursing mothers it enriches milk flow and alleviates water retention
- Its delightful licorice-like taste makes it appealing for children to drink for upset tummies
Use for: relieving colic, improving digestion, improving milkflow, gas and bloating, water retention
Use in: Tea (decoction), homeopathic, syrup
Blue & Black Cohosh
I am lumping these two together because they work so well together and many health-food stores will have them both in a formula.
Considered tonics for the reproductive system, they stimulate the uterus aiding in contractions while relaxing the tension and stress that contractions bring
Due to its stimulating action it is not recommended during pregnancy except for the last week of pregnancy to prepare the uterus for an easy birth and to stimulate uterine contractions.
Use for: stimulating uterine contractions
Use in: Tincture, Tea (decoction)
Caution: do not use it when pregnant except in preparation for birth and under supervision of a medical practitioner.
It's important to exercise caution when using herbs throughout pregnancy and not all herbs listed above are appropriate for everyone. Make sure to consult your healthcare provider to find out which ones are right for you.