Motherisk in Toronto is an excellent source for information on the safety of drugs and natural health products in pregnancy. Contact them by phone at (416) 813-6780. Information on common questions is provided on their website.
Cranberry: This has long been used to prevent and cure bladder infections. It is safe to take during pregnancy. It can be taken as juice (150 to 600 millilitres per day), in capsules (300 to 400 milligrams per day), or as dried cranberries.
Echinacea: Echinacea is used for colds and ‘flu’ symptoms, and to boost the immune (defence) system. It is considered safe for pregnant women. However, in studies echinacea has not been shown to help with cold or flu symptoms. It can be taken in a tincture (5 to 30 drops per day), capsule or tablet (250 to 1000 milligrams per day).
Evening primrose oil: This oil can treat the skin conditions eczema and psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, and post viral fatigue syndrome. Less than four grams a day will not cause problems in pregnancy. Take it in capsules, as oil, or in salads.
Ginger: This herb is used for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. It is safe in pregnancy as long as no more than two grams per day are taken. Fresh ginger can be grated and boiled with lemon and honey to make a tea. It can also be taken as capsules, as flat ginger ale, in ginger cookies or bread.
Herbal teas: Take care in selecting tea, as a substance in some can cause deformities in your unborn baby’s liver. Peppermint, chamomile and decaffeinated regular teas are safe. Peppermint tea can be used for indigestion, but do not use peppermint oil while pregnant. Chamomile tea is used to relieve stress, nervous tension, insomnia, and indigestion. Used externally, it can relieve canker sores and irritation of the gums and mouth. The best rule with herbal teas is to drink small amounts - less than four cups a day.
Lactobacillus acidophilus: This prevents yeast infections of the vagina (birth canal) and improves the balance of bacteria in the bowel. It is safe to take during pregnancy. Lactobacillus acidophilus comes in capsules. You will find the same bacteria in yogurts containing live bacteria culture.
Red raspberry leaf tea: This is used to tone the uterus (where the baby grows) to prevent miscarriage, prevent the pregnancy from going overdue, and improve labour. Red raspberry leaf tea can sometimes be contaminated with a fungus that is not good for pregnancy. Uncontaminated tea has not been shown to be harmful. However, in studies where women took the tea to avoid going overdue, it did not shorten the length of pregnancy.
Slippery elm bark: This is used for constipation, inflammation and respiratory illnesses. It comes in capsule form or as a powder that can be mixed in juice or other liquid.
Vitamins: Most health care providers recommend that you take folic acid in pregnancy. If you are a vegetarian, taking vitamin B12 and iron is a good idea. If you do not eat many dairy products, a calcium with magnesium supplement (1200 to 1500 milligrams per day) with vitamin D (400 to 800 IU per day) will help you meet your calcium needs. Vitamin C (500 milligrams per day) can be used to prevent bladder infections during pregnancy. Vitamin B6 (25 milligrams twice a day) can decrease nausea and vomiting. In general, it is not a good idea to take large doses of vitamins while you are pregnant. In particular, you should not have more than 10,000 IU of vitamin A per day and no more than 1000 milligrams of vitamin C per day.
Obviously, any natural health product that could cause an abnormality or malformation of the baby should not be used. As well, diuretic products that increase urination, commonly called ‘water pills,’ could do harm by changing the way the kidneys work in mother and baby. Products that stimulate or relax the uterus could disturb the way the uterus works. Early labour or prolonged pregnancy may result. Products normally used for menstrual difficulties in general are not safe in pregnancy, as they may cause miscarriage or premature delivery. The following products are commonly used for reasons other than pregnancy. They should not be used while you are pregnant.
Aloe vera: This is used as an antibiotic, to promote wound healing, and for burns and skin irritation. It is not recommended in pregnancy.
Black cohosh: This treats PMS symptoms and spasm of the uterus. Traditionally, it is used to start labour in the last three months of pregnancy. However, it is linked to early separation and bleeding of the placenta. (The baby is nourished through the placenta, which grows on the wall of the uterus.) Do not use black cohosh during pregnancy.
Calendula: Used externally, this helps to heal wounds and reduce inflammation. Internally it is used for digestive upset. Calendula is not recommended in pregnancy as it affects the uterus. It is commonly used externally after pregnancy to help the mother heal from delivery. It is considered safe while breastfeeding.
Cocoa butter: This has been used to prevent stretch marks. It has been shown to stimulate the unborn baby’s heart and disturb the rhythm of heartbeats. Cocoa butter should not be used in pregnancy.
Feverfew: This is meant to treat headaches and migraines. It is unsafe in pregnancy as it may cause miscarriage or premature delivery.
Garlic: This can lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, as well as fight bacteria. When used in normal amounts in cooking (less than seven cloves per day), it is safe. However, garlic supplements should not be taken during pregnancy. Garlic reduces the effectiveness of platelets, cells in blood that help it clot.
Ginseng: This is used for stress and fatigue, to improve endurance and performance in sports, and to strengthen the immune system. Ginseng should not be used during pregnancy. It may affect the sex organs of the unborn baby, making female babies develop some male characteristics.
Goldenseal: This is used for infections and inflammation of the digestive system. Do not use it during pregnancy, as it may cause miscarriage or premature delivery.
Saint John’s Wort: This is considered a natural remedy for depression. However, as its safety during pregnancy is not known, it should be avoided.
Pregnancy is a time to be very careful with your health. It is not wise to experiment with natural health products and herbs unless you know that they are safe during pregnancy. Always let your pregnancy health care provider know about the natural health products you are taking. Together, you can decide if they are safe for you and your unborn baby.