Pregnancy represents a very unique time in a woman’s life—it’s a time to focus on our physical and emotional wellbeing to ensure the life within is nourished and healthy. But it can also present particular pregnancy-related challenges to the mother. In addition to morning sickness or constipation, pregnant women are also vulnerable to the same common conditions that can happen at any time, such as seasonal allergies, colds and coughs, headaches, insomnia, etc.
But reaching for the same medications that you’d traditionally use isn’t always safe. Pregnancy is the most sensitive time in human development and since certain substances cross the placenta (and into breastmilk while nursing), women must be careful when it comes to their use of medications and natural remedies.
Since pregnant women often ask what options are available to them during this time, I thought I'd share a few herbs that I have recommended over the years. As always, if you are pregnant, please speak with your physician, midwife or a qualified health care professional about possible risks and benefits before using any herb, dietary supplement, over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Colds and Flu
Prevention is key! Wash your hands frequently with soap and water and take your prenatal vitamin every day, which should provide adequate amounts of zinc and vitamin C to keep your immune system working tip top. Adding more garlic and onions to your soups can also give you an extra edge.
At the first sign of an upper respiratory infection (URI), make yourself a cup of hot organic ginger tea and add a little honey and lemon. Sip slowly. Drink 1-2 cups per day. Ginger has antiviral activity and is great for relieving sore throat, stuffy nose and congestion.
In addition, try sucking on one lozenge containing 5 mg of zinc every 3-4 hours for 1-2 days, since studies have shown that zinc can shorten the duration and severity of the common cold.
Echinacea is also commonly used for URIs, and some studies support its effectiveness if taken early. A thorough scientific review failed to find any adverse events in mothers or babies for women who took echinacea during pregnancy. Just make sure you skip the tinctures containing alcohol and look for a high-quality extract in a capsule, tablet or softgel (and follow the dosing recommendations of the manufacturer).
Whether from pollen or your favorite cat, allergies can definitely wear you down. Your body perceives relatively harmless substances as dangerous and reacts accordingly. Immune cells mount an attack and chemicals like histamine are released causing you to sneeze, your nose to run and your eyes to water.
Short of moving to another state or giving away your feline friend, do your best to limit exposures. Using a wet mop on floors and a vacuum with a HEPA filter can be helpful indoors. In addition, invest in a neti pot and use a buffered saline solution every day for one week, and then twice weekly to keep your nasal passages open.
Researchers have found that compounds within nettle leaves inhibit the release of histamine, which causes nasal swelling and itching. A randomized trial of nearly 100 people found that taking 600 mg a day of freeze-dried nettle was more effective than placebo for relieving the majority of allergy symptoms. Forty-eight percent of the participants stated that nettles equaled or surpassed previous medications that they had taken for seasonal allergies in terms of effectiveness. The good news is that nettle is considered to be safe during pregnancy! It’s important to note, however, that nettle leaf is often combined with quercetin, which has unknown safety at higher doses during pregnancy; stick with 400-600 mg of freeze-dried nettle leaves, 1-2 times per day.
As pregnancy advances, constipation can become a problem due to hormones and the increasing size of the baby. To ease constipation, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day—adequate liquid intake is one of the best ways to keep your bowels moving regularly! Add some cucumber or berries to your water for interest and flavor.
Magnesium is a natural laxative and is safe to use during a healthy pregnancy at doses of 300-400 mg at night before bed. Magnesium not only softens stools, but is also highly recommended for the prevention of migraines.
If you need a little extra relief, try making this prune/bran preparation: Combine 1 cup prune juice, 1 cup bran and 1 cup applesauce, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Take 2 tbsp morning and night with a large glass of water.
Insomnia and Irritability
Chamomile is definitely one of my favorite herbs when one is feeling cranky, irritable and out of sorts. It is especially good for those who manifest stress in their digestive system. Chamomile can be safely taken during pregnancy and makes a lovely afternoon or evening medicinal tea.
For those nights when it’s just really hard to fall asleep, valerian might be a good option. Valerian has been used as a mild sleep aid for centuries and it is not contraindicated during pregnancy by either the German Commission E or the Botanical Safety Handbook 2nd Edition. While available in capsules, there are some very nice high-grade medicinal tea blends that contain tasty combinations of chamomile and valerian. Snuggle up with a good book, warm blanket and sip slowly as you surrender to a great night’s sleep.