Pregnancy is a time of incredible changes and increased demands on a mother’s body. Rapid growth takes place within the tissues of the mother and baby meanwhile an entirely new organ is grown—the placenta. The mother copes with the demands of excreting her waste as well as that of her baby. The mother’s whole body and metabolism undergo a transformation under the influence of the hormones of pregnancy.
Herbs can help during this exciting but challenging time of growth. Herbal tonics can offer concentrated nutrition in the form of easily assimilated vitamins and minerals as well as a whole complement of healing phytochemicals. There is a long tradition of using herbs as tonics during pregnancy. Tonics are safe and gentle herbs that are used as a part of the regular diet in the form of a food, tea or sometimes as herbal syrups. Because of their proven safety, tonics can be taken as desired by the expecting mother, from once or twice weekly to once or twice daily. Tonics are preventative medicine—when taken regularly the many vitamins and minerals in a tonic tea may help prevent many common pregnancy discomforts, promote optimal fetal growth and development and increase the chances of a normal and problem-free birth.
Red Raspberry Leaf
The most famed herbal tonic for pregnancy is Raspberry Leaf. Women all around the world, Asian, Native American, European, have used Raspberry Leaf for ages for the same purpose—toning and strengthening the pregnant and postpartum uterus, thus contributing to an easier labor and birth.
Raspberry is rich in minerals, which account for some of its “toning properties.” Smooth muscles, such as the uterus, function best when supplied with adequate minerals. Calcium and magnesium work in tandem to help the smooth muscles both relax and contract. In addition to calcium and magnesium, Raspberry Leaf is also rich in potassium, zinc, iron and folic acid, all of which contribute to the overall wellness of mom and baby.
Raspberry contains phytochemicals such as tannins, which promote toning and astringing the uterus and the alkaloid Fragarine, which studies have shown also affects the uterus. Studies show that Raspberry Leaf both stimulates and relaxes the uterus. Confused? Many herbs tend to have a regulating effect on body tissues. For instance, the same herb can often be used for constipation or diarrhea, too much urine or not enough urine. Raspberry leaf may help promote the ideal type of contractions during labor: coordinated uterine contractions that are strong, rhythmic and regularly spaced with complete relaxation of the uterus in between.
Raspberry Leaf is not a drug, nor is it a markedly strong herb. Its strength comes from the nourishment it offers when consumed regularly. It is safe to drink it freely in pregnancy to taste. Raspberry Leaf makes a delicious tea that has the same astringency and richness as black tea with a touch of fruitiness. It is an appropriate beverage during labor. Do not expect, (or worry about), pitocin-type effects from this herb.)
Raspberry Leaf is also used postpartum to tone the uterus after birth and as a galactagogue (an herb to build breastmilk).
Stinging Nettles is the second most commonly used herbal tonic for pregnancy. Stinging Nettles is a nutritional powerhouse. It is extremely rich in protein and many vitamins and minerals that are woefully lacking in the American diet including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, chromium, cobalt, phosphorus, copper, sulfur, silica and other trace minerals. Nettles also include: B vitamins, vitamin k and abundant chlorophyll.
Nettles are a fabulously effective remedy for anemia, a very common issue in pregnancy. The chlorophyll and iron help to build blood. Nettles are very energizing to those suffering from the fatigue of anemia.
Nettles are frequently used by homebirth midwives and their clients for its markedly high Vitamin K content. Hospitals routinely give newborns a Vitamin K injection to prevent bleeding from a rare hemorrhagic disorder in babies. Women who wish to avoid routine Vitamin K injections after the birth use Nettles prenatally in the hopes of passing increased Vitamin K to their unborn babies and to increase their own stores of Vitamin K. Adequate stores of Vitamin K help to prevent postpartum hemorrhage in the mother.
Nettles have a gentle stimulating effect on many organs of the body, encouraging them to function optimally and to eliminate wastes effectively. I think of Nettles as a bit of an herbal “kick in the pants.” Nettles helps with sluggish digestion, weak kidneys, skin problems of all sorts, underactive thyroid and other health issues. Nettles are useful during urinary tract infections which may be common during pregnancy.
Like Raspberry Leaf, Nettles is a galactagogue and increase the production of breastmilk in the new mother.
Herbal Syrups for Vitamins and Minerals
As a practitioner, I provide many of my pregnant clients with herbal syrups to use as tonics during pregnancy. Various herbal tonics/syrups are available from the local health food store and syrups made from local wildcrafted plants are available from local herbalists. Syrups are delicious and offer concentrated nutrition from the many plants (including Raspberry Leaf and Nettles) that are used to make them. They can be stored in the fridge and a tablespoon or two can be taken quickly and easily with breakfast. Syrups can effectively treat anemia, fatigue and constipation. One pregnant student of mine recently raised her hemoglobin count by 1.5 points in just two weeks using a handmade herbal syrup!
Listening to Your Body While Pregnant
You may consult with one of more caregivers during your pregnancy. You may read this article and many other books and articles during your pregnancy. Ultimately however, you are the expert on your own body. Sample the teas and judge the effect for yourself. The herbal tonics listed above have time-honored reputations of safety during pregnancy. However, we are all unique individuals with unique constitutions. If you don’t like a particular herbal tonic, it seems unhelpful or even makes pregnancy symptoms worse, stop taking it!! Listen to your body. Take herbal tonics as your body dictates. Do not persist in a regimen with herbs that doesn’t agree with you based solely on the recommendations of this article or any other source.
Making a Tonic Herbal Tea
Use one teaspoon of dried herbs or 1 Tablespoon of fresh herbs to 8 ounces of boiling water. Cover (to prevent the volatile oils from escaping) and steep for approximately 20 minutes.
Making herbal teas is like making a soup from the leftovers in your fridge, not like making a complicated soufflé. Dried tonic herbs can be mixed together. Feel free to use up to ½ ounce of herbs per pint of water and steep up to eight hours for really strong herbal brews.
Depending on your reaction to the herbs and personal preference, you may drink tonic teas in one-cup doses to taste.