Please know that herbs are actually medicine, and, as such, are beyond the scope of the Christian Doula website to recommend. Everything on this page, and elsewhere on the site, is printed simply as information for you to take to your midwife or doctor. Please do not use any of these herbs without proper medical guidance.
What a good God we have to give us a world full of medicine growing right in the ground. Herbal remedies and medicines are as ancient as man, and are much more potent and effective than most give them credit for. They must always be used with respect and knowledge. There are many, many herbs that are contraindicated for pregnancy and breastfeeding (please see list below), so a pregnant mama needs to be very careful and learn everything she can before using these natural methods of healing and helping her body through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and lactation.
If you are interested in purchasing any herbal products for the childbearing years, please look at Henry's Apothecary. Or you can become a facebook fan of Henry's Apothecary and find many of the recipes you might want to use to make your own infusions, teas, salves, and tinctures.
The best herbal help you can give your body, whether you are trying to conceive, growing a baby, preparing for birth, making breastmilk, or recovering from birth is to drink an infusion of the following herbs.
Raspberry Leaf (strengthens uterine muscle), 1 oz.
Nettle, 1 oz. (strengthens blood, and help rejuvenate connective tissue)
Pour one quart boiling water over herbs and let sit for 4 hours
(or make infusion just before bed) Strain herbs off and sip on infusion throughout the day.
(there are so many benefits for women in this infusion that drinking it can be a healthful habit long after the childbearing years are over. It is the basis for a good menopausal tea as well.)
To Increase Fertility:
add red clover and lady's mantle
After infusion is made, add 5-15 drops dong quai or false unicorn tincture.
For High Blood Pressure:
add linden flower, hawthorn berry, dandelion leaf.
For heart burn:
add catnip and chamomile
To help with lactation:
add borage, sage, fennel, blessed thistle, milky oats, fenugreek seeds
To bring labor on or help a stalled labor:
add cramp bark, skull cap (keeps brain from registering pain, and to reduce worry).
For Water Retention:
Add Dandelion leaf (Please see Joy's concerns about this addition. She is a proponent of the Brewers Diet, and has discussed the addition of any herbs with diuretic properties)
add hawthorn berry decoction to daily infusion.
Add small amount of sage to infusion (Culinary sage) ...and be sure to do kegels.
For Gestational Diabetes:
Add Burdock root and bilberries
After care to get uterus back in shape:
add burdock and lady's mantle (to help excessive bleeding)
add borage, lemon balm.
(with thanks to Village Herbalist Heather Nic An Fhleisheir for this list of herbal helps)
Red Raspberry Leaf - tones uterus and muscles of the pelvic region. It is highly nutritive. Helps to prevent miscarriage and hemorrhage due to an atonic or relaxed uterus, eases morning sickness, and reduces pain during labor and after birth. Does not strengthen or start contractions, but allows contracting uterus to work more effectively, making birth easier and faster. It also assists in the production of plentiful breast milk. NOTE: Some sources claim that Red Raspberry Leaf can start uterine contractions. This is a falsehood. Red Raspberry Leaf is one of the most widely used and safest of all the uterine/pregnancy tonic herbs. It contains fragrine, an alkaloid which gives tone to the muscles of the pelvic region, including the uterus itself, but does not stimulate the uterus or cause contractions. It does not even strengthen contractions during labor, but it does allow the contracting uterus to work in a more efficient and effective way, and thus, may make birth easier and faster.
Peppermint - this herb not only gives your tea a wonderful taste, but it is a great digestive aid as well. It is used frequently for upset stomachs, poor digestion, and for colds and fever.
Nettle Leaf - Nettle contains nearly every vitamin and mineral necessary for human growth and health. It is abundant in vitamins A, C, D, and K, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and sulfur. Nettle contains more chlorophyll than any other herb, which is important to clean, purify and oxygenate the blood. It guards against anemia, helps gently relieve constipation, is extremely nutritious, and helps to support kidney function. It nourishes and strengthens kidneys so as to help facilitate the increased demands of the mother's blood cleansing during pregnancy. It eases leg cramps and other muscle spasms and pain due to the high calcium content. (Nettle and Raspberry Leaf contain calcium in its most absorbable form. Spinach, chocolate, rhubarb and brewers yeast will interfere with the absorption of calcium, and calcium supplements made of bone meal and oyster shell should be avoided as they have are not as easily absorbed in the body and they have been shown to contain high levels of lead, mercury, cadmium and other toxic metals.) Nettle prevents hemorrhage due to its high Vitamin K content, and its astringency and nourishing action helps to reduce hemorrhoids by tightening and strengthening blood vessels. It also will increase the richness and amount of breast milk.
Dandelion Leaf - one of the best herbs for preventing and treating pre-eclampsia and strengthening the liver. (Poor functioning of the liver is both symptomatic and a causative of pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a serious issue that requires medical attention.). It acts as a gentle diuretic, helping the body to eliminate excess water retention, which is so common during pregnancy. Unlike typical diuretics, though, Dandelion Leaf will not rob the body of important nutrients, but will instead supply and feed the body with it's readily-available vitamins and minerals, including calcium, potassium, folic acid and iron. It helps the kidneys function better and also helps to prevent and correct anemia.
Chamomile - relaxing, soothing and calming to the entire system. Helps with digestion and nausea, and is also high in calcium. The essential oil of Chamomile is anti-inflammatory in nature and is wonderful in healing swellings, achy joints and other inflammations. Rosemary Gladstar states "This delicate, gentle flower is a must for pregnant women. Its sunny disposition is helpful for lifting the spirits and its calming relaxing attributes are very soothing to the soul."
Oatstraw - also great for the nerves. It is high in calcium and magnesium and complements Chamomile wonderfully. It is also a great herb if yeast infections are a problem.
Alfalfa - this herb contains 8 essential amino acids for good digestion and helps relieve nausea. Like Nettle, it contains almost every vitamin and mineral known to man. It is extremely high in chlorophyll, which helps with blood oxygenation and purification, and helps to correct constipation. It is very high in Vitamin K, which helps prevent postpartum hemorrhage, even if there's a history of it.
(with thanks to http://herblore.com/service/index.php?pg=info_pregnancy_tea, makers of pregnancy tea and pregnancy tea plus for this list of benefits)
Low Iron: take yellow dock root syrup.
To make: 2 ounces yellow dock in quart of water. Boil, then reduce to simmer for 40 minutes. Strain decoction, reduce to 8 ounces with further simmering, let cool, stir in local wildflower honey and 1 ounce brandy. Keep in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 1-2 T. morning and evening. Contraindicated with arthritic moms. (If arthritic, nettles and rose hip can be used for infusion instead). Yellow Dock Syrup is better than iron supplements because it does not constipate.
For varicosity (including hemorrhoids):
Yarrow flowers, straw oats in a witch hazel distillate. Strain , and
Spray on varicosities., Do not rub oil or cream on them because you do not want to break the veins. Add lavender essential oil if itching.
To Strengthen Perineum:
Periennial Massage with olive oil infused with calendula for one month prior to due date.
For postpartum healing:
Sitz bath for sore bottom for use first week after birth. Make a 2-hour infusion of half each: calendula flower and yarrow flower (to inhibit infection, and draw cells together). Add a little Epsom salt (tightens and tones and relaxes tissues). Pour infusion into basin, add just enough warm water to reach area. Soak once or twice a day.
Also, put into peri spray bottle to rinse off bottom after each use of the bathroom.
Second week change to 1/3 yarrow, 1/3 calendula, 1/3 comfrey (a cell proliferant). After one or two weeks of this sitz bath, you should be completely healed.
Stalled labor: tincture from black and blue cohash
All herbs that are used medicinally during pregnancy should be treated as medicines. Medicinal herb use should be limited to situations of necessity for a limited time period. Care must definitely be exercised in the first trimester since this is such a crucial time for the developing baby. We have so few studies on the effect of mom’s ingestion of herbs during pregnancy that care and caution must be exercised, particularly in the first trimester. The German Commission E Monographs, published by the American Botanical Council, (see Resources, Part 8) is an excellent place to start to find information about the safety of specific herbs during pregnancy. Some of the herbs listed in the following categories may be used during pregnancy with professional guidance if a health condition requires their use and if mom and dad are aware of the risks involved. Our own family experience of using herbs during pregnancy has been that there are certain herbs we choose not to use during pregnancy; however, there may be certain health conditions that arise that would necessitate the use of botanicals or pharmaceuticals. In these situations, we pray and make ourselves aware of the benefits and risks of both and usually choose to use the botanicals. There are some herbs that I would never use in the first or perhaps even in the second trimester, yet I would definitely use them at the end of pregnancy if the need arose.
Many herbalists refer to herbs and recommend herbal therapies based on their medicinal or therapeutic classification. There is a great deal of confusion in the herb community as to what the “real” list of herbs to avoid in pregnancy might be. Let’s look at those that absolutely are not to be used in pregnancy due to their classification as an “Abortifacient.” This term is defined as an agent that causes abortion. In the world of laymen’s herbal therapy, abortifacient is often understood to be the same as emmenagogue; however, an emmenagogue is a compound that induces the onset of menses. Practically speaking, vitex agnus-castus is an emmenagogue because the herb restores normal hormonal function so that menses can resume on a regular schedule; however, vitex is not an abortifacient because it does not induce abortion in a pregnant mother.
To be classified as an abortifacient, an herb must actually stimulate the uterus to contract or be so toxic to the mother that abortion occurs. Herbs used for abortifacient purposes more often have the potential to cause serious harm or injury to mother or damage to baby without actually achieving the intended effect.
Since this author believes it to be immoral to bring about the death of one’s child, the only clinical use of any herbal abortifacient would be in those instances where death of a baby has already occurred within the womb, with mother at risk for surgical intervention (D&C). Because of the risk of injury or harm to mother, a professional herbalist should be consulted prior to attempting to induce clearance of the womb following incomplete miscarriage. The professional herbalist consulted should believe in the sanctity of life, so that herbal measures are not begun until natural death of the baby has been absolutely confirmed. I can say from personal experience that mistakes are sometimes made in terms of a doctor’s definition of loss of pregnancy. My youngest son, Simon, was declared a pregnancy loss due to my progesterone levels being too low to sustain life, hCG levels not doubling every 2-3 days, taking almost a week to get close to doubling at times, and nothing but blood seen on ultrasound when dates indicated baby should be seen. Then after three weeks of my resistance to D&C and repeated testing, a heartbeat was seen. The little man is sitting beside me right now; he’ll be five years old a couple days before Christmas.
The list of herbs given is only intended for educational purposes; the list should not be construed as instruction in abortion. I am deliberately withholding more specific information so that home measures do not provide temptation to harm.
Arbor-vitae (Thuja occidentalis) – thujone content too high for safe use during pregnancy; abortifacient
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis) – toxic alkaloid, sanguinarine, can cause nausea/vomiting with as little as 1 gram of bloodroot ingested; use in toothpaste or mouth/gum wash is acceptable as long as it is not eaten or swallowed
Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) – some constituents considered cardiotoxic; stimulates uterine contractions; though has been traditionally used hundreds of years in combination with other herbs to prep for and establish labor
Cinchona (Cinchona officinalis) - contraceptive
Cotton-root bark (Gossypium herbacium) - abortifacient
Hop Marjoram (Origanum dictamnus) - emmenagogue
Juniper (Juniperus communis) – emmenagogue
Meadow saffron (Crocus sativus) – listed as an abortifacient and an emmenagogue in some literature
Neem (Azadirachta indica) – one study showed spontaneous abortions occurring in primates given neem orally after pregnancy was confirmed, evidenced by declining progesterone and HcG levels
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) - emmenagogue
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) – the essential oil should NEVER be used internally; the herb is sometimes used in labor prep formulas at the end of pregnancy but only in combination with other herbs; considered an emmenagogue
Poke root (Phytolacca decandra) – poke is toxic and is only herbally used in very small dosages in combination with other herbs in mastitis formulas at no more than 0.2-0.5 ml daily
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – listed as both abortifacient and an emmenagogue in some literature
Rue (Ruta graveolens) – listed as both abortifacient and an emmenagogue in some literature
Sage (Salvia officinalis) – primarily refers to the use of sage oil, which should NEVER be used internally during pregnancy due to thujone content (0.5-1.5%)
Southern wood fern (Dryopteris normalis) – contraceptive (post) – I take this to mean abortifacient
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) – listed as abortifacient and an emmenagogue in some literature
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Wormwood (Artemisia spp.
In addition, all anthraquinone laxatives should be included in this list as stimulation of the intestines has the potential to stimulate the uterus. Use of the above herbs as flavorings or spices in food is not of health concern to a mother and developing baby. The only concern is if those herbs are used in medicinal quantities.
Please Note: Herbal essential oils should never be used internally as they are too concentrated and can cause organ failure. What may be a reasonable dose for mom can turn into a lethal dose for baby.
Some herbs to avoid unless there is a physiologic imbalance necessitating their use are commonly called “hormonal” herbs. Herbalists typically use the term “phytohormones.” This can be misleading to the person unfamiliar with the way herbs function in the body. These herbs do not contain hormones; rather, they contain compounds which bind to hormone-receptor sites in the body and produce effects similar to hormones. We call the chemicals in these herbs, phytohormones or plant hormones. Phytohormones may exhibit estrogenic activity or progesterone activity.
As an herbalist who has worked with pregnant women, I prefer not to use herbs directly affecting hormonal activity during pregnancy unless there is a need to do so. An example of when the use of an herb exhibiting effect on hormone levels might be recommended would be a woman who does not produce adequate progesterone in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy to sustain the life of baby. This woman may need a boost from an herb, chasteberry or Vitex agnus-castus, to support the pituitary gland in directing the production of progesterone. Another instance when use may be indicated would be a woman who has difficulty progressing to labor on her own. Mom may elect to wait for the “apple to fall from the tree,” or she may have demonstrated need for labor to occur. In the latter case, she may elect to support pituitary fu function again with chasteberry. Of course, these herbs are very beneficial for the woman trying to become pregnant to supplement the body’s natural ebb and flow of hormones. Phyto-estrogens, herbs with estrogenic activity, combined with a balancing herb with progesterone activity, can also benefit the menopausal woman wishing to go through “the change” naturally.
As always, moms must be aware of all that is involved in using the “hormonal” herbs, phytohormones. The use of these herbs is manipulation of an intricate and delicate process designed by our Creator. The risk of upsetting normal hormone balance must be weighed against the benefit one might derive from use of these herbs. In a mom who has a known hormone imbalance, these herbs may prove invaluable by providing the right food for an organ to function in its designated way. Moms who are not experiencing a hormone imbalance would best “leave well enough alone.”
Other Herbs Contraindicated During Pregnancy or to Use Cautiously:
Anise, Pimpinella anisum – use caution for large doses or as an essential oil during pregnancy; may be used in combination with other herbs, such as with high-iron content herbs to enhance iron absorption, in small doses
Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) – alkaloid, berberine, stimulates uterine contractions
Beth root, Trillium erectum – may be used during/after birth
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) – may be used as childbirth nears in combination with other herbs; safety data lacking in pregnancy and lactation
Borage herb and seed, Borago officinalis – for external use only; seed oil may be safely used during pregnancy in appropriate dosages – 1.1-1.4 grams GLA daily
Castor oil, Ricinum communis – severe laxative action may stimulate uterine contractions, though is commonly used post-dates pregnant moms in effort to induce labor
Dong quai, Angelica sinensis – Use caution in women with bleeding problems as the herb may cause more bleeding in these cases
Ginger, Zingiber officinalis – Be careful with very large doses, 5-10 grams daily, during the last month of pregnancy in women with a history of hemorrhage, though this herb is very beneficial for women with problems with blood-clotting due to its mild anti-clotting effects
Golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis) – alkaloid, berberine, stimulates uterine contractions
Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) – purgative; narcotic properties
Kava root, Piper methysticum – though Herb Med Pro does not list a contraindication during pregnancy, the number of reports of liver toxicity associated with kava use should cause moms to exercise exceeding caution due to natural pregnancy burden on the liver
Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca – may have uterine stimulant effect; may be used during labor/birth; dosages larger than 3 grams may cause diarrhea, uterine bleeding, and stomach irritation
Oregon grape, Mahonia quifolium, M. nervosa, M. repens – alkaloid berberine content causes uterine contractions, though to a lesser degree than barberry or goldenseal
Uva ursi, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi – hydraquinone content makes this herb risky/unsuitable for use during pregnancy
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium – listed in most texts as an emmenagogue; however, this appears to relate to a study where 56 times the adult dose of yarrow was administered to rats, resulting in reduced fetal weight and increased placental weight, which the authors considered indication that yarrow should not be used in pregnancy (Boswell-Ruys 2003); reasonable use in combination with other herbs for short periods may pose no safety issues during pregnancy – more study needed.
(With thanks...Excerpted from Naturally Healthy Pregnancy, Whole Health for Your Whole Pregnancy © 2009 Shonda Parker, www.naturallyhealthy.org)