Because herbs come from nature, many people believe they’re safe to take at any time. But, that’s simply not true. In fact, many herbs should not be taken while trying to conceive or during pregnancy and post-partum, while breastfeeding.
The constituents of plants – phytochemicals and other active compounds – can interact with hormones that circulate during the prenatal period and as the fetus is developing. Some herbs can stimulate the uterus to contract. And, if you have other health conditions for which medication is prescribed, there is potential for a drug-herb interaction. Also, once the baby is born, just like with prescription medicines, some herbs can get into breast milk and passed on to the baby. Even if you’ve taken a certain herbal medicine prior to pregnancy, this does not make that herb safe for you to use when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Here are a few of the many herbs that are not safe to use during pregnancy:
Aloe. If you’ve taken aloe vera juice for gastrointestinal symptoms, you should not continue to use it during pregnancy. Internal use of aloe stimulates bowel function, but may also stimulate uterine contractions and cause a drop in blood sugar.
Goldenseal. Often recommended by herbalists for stomach aches, to support digestion and to treat hay fever, goldenseal can cause uterine contractions.
Licorice. Commonly recommended for gastrointestinal complaints, as well as sore throat and cough, licorice is contraindicated for pregnancy because it contains a compound called glycyrrhizin that can deplete potassium and raise blood pressure. There are products, such as Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL), that contain the benefit of licorice but which have had the glycyrrhizin removed.
Sage. A chemical found in sage called thujone can bring on a woman’s menstrual period, which could cause a miscarriage. Postpartum, sage is not recommended because it can reduce a woman’s milk supply. Avoid using sage essential oil, as well as drinking tea with sage. As a cooking herb, sage is safe to use.
Keep in mind, there are many herbs for which there is no safety data because research cannot be conducted while a woman is pregnant; animal studies, if conducted, may not be applicable to human pregnancy and breastfeeding. While there are many herbs regarded as safe to use at various times during a pregnancy, it’s imperative that you not make such decisions on your own. Your best resource for choosing herbs during pregnancy is a consultation with a holistic physician who has been trained in botanical medicine and women’s health.
- Johnson, R.L., S. Foster, Low Dog, T. and Kiefer, D. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants.(2012) Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.
- Mars, B. & Fiedler, C. Home Reference Guide to Holistic Health & Healing. (2015.) p. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.
- Hess, Henry M. & Miller, Richard, K. Drugs During Pregnancy and Lactation (Third Ed.) Treatment Options and Risk Assessment (2015), “Herbs and Pregnancy” Pages 511-525 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780124080782000202
- BabyCentre.co.uk Medical Advisory Board. “Herbal Remedies in Pregnancy.” Accessed 14 July 2019. https://www.babycentre.co.uk/a536346/herbal-remedies-in-pregnancy
- Pizzorno, Joseph E. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine. St. Louis, MO Elsevier.