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Safety of Herbs in Pregnancy

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

Safety of Herbs in Pregnancy, Amber Hincks Acupuncture in Beaverton, ORIn my practice, I love working with pregnant mamas. The conditions that arise during pregnancy are unique and the treatment options can sometimes feel limited. There is always the extra step of asking how this will impact the growing babe. It is best to assume that anything you ingest will pass to the baby, and this includes herbs and supplements. This certainly does not mean that you have to stop all your herbs and supplements when you get the BFP (big fat positive!). And it also doesn’t mean we can’t treat your nausea, fatigue, sinus congestion, swelling, heartburn, insomnia, etc. with herbs. Our practitioners are informed about herbal safety and can guide you.

Recently a friend, who is studying to be a physician assistant at OHSU, reached out to me for help putting together a list of herbs that are safe in pregnancy. That would be a really lengthy list. There is so much natural medicine available to assist with pregnancy ailments. In many cases the research on the effect of herbs in pregnancy is limited, but there is a significant amount of the herbal pharmacopoeia that is safe and well-studied. Indeed there are many herbal formulas developed specifically for use in pregnancy.  These specific pregnancy-designed formulas are often the ones that I stick to because they are consistently beneficial and safe.

There can be some misinformation out there, particularly when considering how dose and method of administration can influence an herb’s potency. This is the case with Dang Gui (Dong Quai). This herb is very supportive for many gynecological conditions including pregnancy, and can be found in many pregnancy formulas. But you will find that it is listed as contraindicated in many western herbal texts because in very high doses it was used by western herbalists to induce labor or abortion.  Similarly, licorice is used in small quantities in many herbal formulas to reduce toxicity of herbs and harmonize their functions, but large doses of licorice can increase blood pressure in some populations.  

If you are considering using herbs on your own, Aviva Jill Romm is a great resource. Her Natural Pregnancy Book was very helpful to me during my pregnancy. But I encourage you to discuss your options with your practitioner. Herbs like Red Raspberry Leaf, Lemon Balm, Nettle, Dang Gui (or Dong Quai), Ginger, Peppermint, Perilla Leaf, Rose Hips, Atractylodes, Astragalus - these can be super helpful during pregnancy. Let us know if you want to know more!