Are Herbal Remedies Safe During Pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a time when you very carefully need to reassess your lifestyle. What was otherwise harmless in the past and never warranted a second thought can now have far reaching consequences, both for mother and unborn child. The safety of complementary therapies and particularly herbal medicines often come to mind. While herbs have been used in some form or the other as a medicine, and many modern drugs are derived from plant-based extracts, questions and concerns about the safety of herbal remedies during pregnancy is not unfounded.

Can I use herbs when pregnant?

As a general rule of thumb in pregnancy – “if you don’t need it, don’t use it”. It applies not only to pharmaceutical drugs but also to herbs, nutritional supplements and even certain foods. Herbal remedies do contain a host of chemicals that have a pharmacological effect on the body. Not all herbs have been thoroughly scientifically tested and undergone clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy. This means that many side effects may not be known. So it is best avoided if it is not necessary. When in doubt, seek professional advice.

Herbal remedies are natural and safe

This is one of the major misconceptions about herbs and nutritional supplements. If it sourced unrefined from nature, it does not mean that it is completely safe. Even poisons occur in nature. The chemicals in herbs have a range of effects – some are known, others are not. It is not just about the herbs in remedies and over-the-counter products, but sometimes even the herbs used in the kitchen. Most culinary herbs are safe but excesses of nutmeg and cayenne should be avoided during pregnancy. The same applies to several other herbs. Small amounts may not make a big difference but do not overdo it.

Dangerous herbs during pregnancy

There are some herbs that are known to be more dangerous than others when used by pregnant women. It is mainly the herbs that alter the hormone levels and can case uterine contractions. Herbs used for menstrual problems should be avoided completely in pregnancy. This includes, among other others, commonly available herbs such as:

  • Dong quai
  • Black and blue cohosh
  • Parsely
  • Yarrow
  • Motherwort
  • Birthroot
  • Bilberry
  • Pennywort
  • Rue

Even herbal applications that are applied on the skin can be a problem. Arnica preparations should be avoided as far as possible during pregnancy. When in doubt, it is best to speak to your doctor. Consulting with a trained complementary health practitioner, like a naturopath, about herbs that can or cannot be used during pregnancy is a better route to go rather than taking the advice of a health store assistant.

Alternatives to drugs

You would want to avoid drugs as far as possible in pregnancy and consider alternatives for some of the ailments you may experience in pregnancy. Herbal remedies are the most popular alternative but you may have to consider other therapies as well. A massage for aches and pains, some heat therapy for strained muscles and even homeopathic remedies may be the safer choices. Homeopathy has always fallen under the spotlight as being nothing more than the placebo effect despite its popularity. If it is a placebo then you have little to fear in pregnancy. In fact, recent surveys have shown that over 90% of French pharmacists recommend homeopathic remedies to pregnant women.

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