As exciting as it is, you still want to make pregnancy an easier journey, using natural remedies that don’t come with nasty side effects.
Unfortunately, not every herbal tea you can take under normal circumstances is safe during pregnancy.
Certain herbal teas that are otherwise safe may increase your risk of early labour; raise your blood pressure, which is riskier during pregnancy; or even raise the risk of birth defects. Those include liquorice, fenugreek, and herbs traditionally used for women’s health, such as black cohosh and dong quai.
Let’s take a closer look at why they are off-limits during pregnancy.
Why is liquorice bad for pregnancy?
Liquorice is a nice, sweet treat and often a welcome addition to herbal tea, but sometimes it’s just not safe to use during pregnancy.
Higher doses of the herbal remedy can make your body hold onto sodium without doing the same for potassium.
As sodium promotes muscle contractions and potassium is a relaxant, it may raise blood pressure as a result. This effect can happen to anyone but can be more dangerous when you are pregnant.
High blood pressure may contribute to the appearance of pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, a condition that can cause organ damage. If your blood pressure is on the higher side already, it’s important to prevent further elevation.
While most women may not experience elevated blood pressure from drinking a lot of liquorice tea, premature birth could be another consequence.
Heavy daily liquorice intake has been linked to more than double the risk of premature birth compared to low intake.
There was an even stronger link when only very premature births, where babies were born at 34 weeks or less, were included. High liquorice intake was linked to triple the risk of giving birth early in this situation.
It’s okay if you have been enjoying liquorice lollies throughout your pregnancy, as this study looked at high doses (think a whole bag or medicinal amounts, not a few pieces).
Liquorice can help to relieve PCOS symptoms
Liquorice has many potential benefits if you enjoy it outside of pregnancy, especially when you have the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
The natural ovulation cycle doesn’t function well (if at all) in PCOS. According to a 2014 study, women with POCS improved ovulation after taking a combination of liquorice and white peony.
Liquorice may be unsafe during pregnancy in high doses, as it could increase your risk of giving birth too early or may raise blood pressure. A few pieces of liquorice lollies here and there are safe, and medicinal doses of liquorice can help with conditions such as PCOS.
Don't use fenugreek if you're pregnant
Fenugreek is another common herbal remedy that may not be safe during pregnancy. Although they are rare, there have been case reports describing neurological birth defects after consuming higher amounts of fenugreek.
As there have been strange reports of babies smelling like fenugreek when they were born, the herb can likely cross into the womb.
Possible birth defects caused by high doses of fenugreek seed include lack of brain development and spina bifida, where the spinal cord doesn’t fully close and becomes damaged.
Fenugreek may help protect the adult nervous system against disease and age-related breakdown, but this is not the case for babies.
The developing brain goes through more changes than it ever will during pregnancy, leading to a different set of needs.
Some lab research even suggests that fenugreek could reduce fertility, but we don’t know if it could be a contraceptive.
Is fenugreek good for women’s health?
After you give birth, there’s no reason to avoid moderate amounts of fenugreek. Traditional uses of the seed include increasing breast milk production, so it may be useful if you’re struggling to feed your baby.
Fenugreek has even been used as an appetite enhancer, which can be helpful if you need to build muscle for health and fitness reasons. Some clinical studies show that fenugreek may relieve period pain too.
This article will surprise you if you want to learn more about other benefits of fenugreek for women’s health.
Although such birth defects seem to be a rare event, fenugreek seed may be harmful to your baby’s developing brain. However, the seed could be neuroprotective later in life and have benefits for women’s health.
Green and black tea during pregnancy
Real-world doses of caffeine may contribute to negative outcomes in pregnancy, depending on when you’re exposed.
Caffeine is one of the off-limits substances if you’re trying to conceive or may be pregnant already. Read:
- What can help New Mothers with Postnatal Anxiety
- Pregnancy Safe Teas for Nausea and Morning Sickness
- Unusual Signs of Pregnancy You May Experience
- Fertility Tea - Encouraging Conception
Your average cup of black tea contains 47mg of caffeine per 240mL, while green tea contains only around 28mg.
This means that two cups of black tea have more caffeine than one cup of instant coffee (60mg per cup) and match brewed coffee (96mg per cup). It really adds up!
The “safe” limit of caffeine during pregnancy was thought to be 300mg per day or three to five cups. However, new research suggests that even a daily intake of 100-200mg can have negative consequences.
Stunted growth before birth, as well as heightened risk of miscarriage, are potential dangers of caffeine.
Earlier in pregnancy, caffeine may prevent the new embryo from implanting into the uterus lining.
Not every woman will be harmed by drinking caffeine in pregnancy; it depends on your genetics.
As we, unfortunately, don’t yet know what genes control the safety of caffeine while you’re pregnant, it’s best to be on the safe side.
Get back in shape with green tea
After you give birth or if you stick to no more than two cups a day, green tea can have a wide range of benefits.
Through its metabolic effects, green tea could even help you get back in shape post-pregnancy! Read:
Research on green tea shows anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial health benefits too.
These antimicrobial properties may extend to improving dental health, as green tea shows signs of efficacy against bacteria linked to gingivitis.
Caffeine may reduce babies’ growth rate during pregnancy and prevent new embryos from attaching to the uterus. You should take only one or two cups of green tea a day. However, green tea is a strong antioxidant that protects your overall health and may help your body get back in shape after you give birth.
Black Cohosh may be unsafe in early pregnancy
Black cohosh has long been used as a herbal remedy for women’s health issues, but it may be unsafe during pregnancy.
Traditional uses of the root include kickstarting labour, so there is a chance it could trigger uterine contractions.
One case study even described dangerously low levels of sodium after one woman took several doses to start labour, so it’s best to use caution (or avoid the herb) even in this situation.
Although there have not been human clinical trials (yet), black cohosh has such a reputation for inducing labour that 45% of midwives described using it in one survey.
Researchers believe that black cohosh works by acting a little like the sex hormone, oestrogen.
Whether this means an increase or decrease in oestrogen-like activity, hormonal balance in pregnancy is like walking on an ever-changing tightrope.
It’s best to avoid herbal remedies that may act on hormone pathways until after birth.
As black cohosh may promote contractions of the uterus, another traditional use of the herb is to promote menstruation. This may make it even riskier in very early pregnancy when the situation is at its most delicate.
We recommend you avoid black cohosh if you’re trying to conceive.
Black cohosh can help relieve menopausal and menstrual symptoms
Black cohosh is often used for menopausal and menstrual symptoms. Studies show that you may find relief from PMS, period pain, hot flashes and sweating.
Unlike hormonal medications, you could even enjoy protection against long-term issues such as bone loss.
These effects don’t come with the risk of over-stimulating the growth of your breasts and uterus.
Black cohosh is traditionally used to bring on labour and menstruation through stimulating uterine contractions. However, you can enjoy its benefits in relieving menstrual problems after giving birth.
Dong Quai during pregnancy is possibly unsafe
Dong quai is another popular ingredient in herbal formulas for women’s health issues such as painful periods. It is sometimes seen alongside black cohosh, and like black cohosh, it may stimulate uterine contractions.
Dong quai inhibits the activity of the hormone progesterone, similar to some drugs used to end a pregnancy. However, it is much weaker.
Progesterone plays several key roles in pregnancy, particularly in the early stages. It helps the new embryo to establish itself in the wall of your uterus and protects the immune system.
Throughout pregnancy, progesterone suppresses uterine contractions, so reducing progesterone may put you at risk of miscarriage.
However, it is only a theory that dong quai could be dangerous in pregnancy, but you had better be on the safe side and avoid it.
Dong quai and recovery from childbirth
Dong quai is commonly used as part of herbal formulas for menstrual problems, such as period pain, and even for recovery after childbirth.
A study of the four-herb formula Si Wu Tang, which includes dong quai, found reduced pain, improved mental health and better physical functioning when taken during recovery.
Traditionally, you take Si Wu Tang as a decoction every day, which is a very strong tea left to simmer for at least half an hour.
As Si Wu Tang and other Chinese herbal formulas are prescribed based on your individual needs, you must only purchase them from a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner.
Dong quai may theoretically put your pregnancy in danger by reducing progesterone activity, particularly during the first few weeks. You had better avoid dong quai when actively trying to conceive.
Other Risky Herbal Medicines
The herbal remedies we described above are quite common, but there are certain others you should remember to avoid during pregnancy.
- Motherwort: It is used as a relaxing tonic for the heart, uterus and nervous system. For example, the energy formula Sym Balance by Interclinical includes motherwort. It can stimulate contractions and trigger menstruation.
- Wormwood: a popular ingredient in parasite cleanses such as Parex. The high thujone content may help to remove parasites, but unfortunately, it can stimulate uterine contractions too.
- Papaya: It can be used as an anti-parasitic remedy too. Unfortunately, early research suggests the potential for the fruit to harm your developing baby.
- Shepherd’s Purse: a urinary tract antiseptic. It could promote menstruation and contractions too, and early evidence suggests a link to birth defects, at least in higher doses.
- Yarrow: It is used in some cold herbal formulas, including the homemade YEP (yarrow, elderflower and peppermint) tea. Like wormwood, it contains some thujone too and is off-limits as a result.
- Parsley: It is rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, but is traditionally used to bring on menstruation. Some kidney and detox formulations, including Fluid Plex by PPC Herbs, contain parsley.
- Aloe vera juice: a popular summer drink found in health food stores, but drink it with caution, especially if you make it at home. The latex and resin act as stimulant laxatives and may put you at risk of uterine contractions if you accidentally eat them.
Many herbal remedies such as motherwort, wormwood, yarrow and more are unsafe during pregnancy. It is because of the risk that they will overstimulate the uterus, causing unwanted muscle contractions.
Which Herbal Teas Are Safe?
It may sound like you aren’t allowed any herbal teas or other herbal medicine preparations throughout pregnancy. Fortunately, there are some on the safe list:
- Ginger tea - the much-loved remedy for morning sickness (which can really appear at any time of day!). It is also anti-inflammatory and calms muscle spasms.
- Peppermint tea may be an alternative to ginger if it turns out to aggravate nausea and vomiting for you. It has a cooler flavour and so could feel more refreshing in the summer months.
- Chamomile tea is not only an anxiety-busting tea that promotes sleep, but a gentle digestive stimulant too. You can give chamomile to your baby as a digestive aid after they’re born.
- Anise tea isn’t just a sweet substitute if you’re missing the taste of liquorice. Research shows it can soothe acid reflux, a common complaint during pregnancy.
- Cranberry tea - a tart, refreshing fruit that acts as a gentle urinary tract antiseptic. It is not a substitute for antibiotics but can lend a helping hand.
- Turmeric tea is an amazing anti-inflammatory plant related to ginger. You may find relief from inflammation causing pain, impaired digestion and other issues.
If you’re on a journey of motherhood and keen on other natural products,read:
- How can I stop fatigue during pregnancy?
- How to stop morning sickness in early pregnancy
- How can a woman increase her fertility naturally?
Gentle digestive and anti-inflammatory herbal teas that may relieve digestive and inflammatory complaints of pregnancy include ginger, peppermint, chamomile, anise, cranberry and turmeric.
Pregnancy is a special time, but many considerations are necessary to ensure that your baby will develop to be strong and healthy.
Some of these additional needs tighten the list of herbal remedies you can use to benefit your overall health.
We must know which teas are unsafe and which other herbal products are still safe for moms and babies’ health.