Before I was pregnant, I played with using herbs and adaptogens - I put ashwagandha in my smoothies, drank herbal teas - but I did not realize the power of these plants. In Western society we generally treat plant medicine as secondary and lack an appreciation for the ancient wisdom of botanicals. Yet, herbs are the original medicine, and have been used since antiquity, and likely even before that – chimpanzees have been documented to self-medicate with plants.
As soon as you become pregnant, you are bombarded by a list of things to avoid. At the top of that list are almost all herbs and upon realizing this, I immediately recognized that these plants were very powerful. What I had previously treated as additive, I began to see as real medicine. When I started to do my research, I found that there was a complete lack of information and science around what herbs are safe and which were not for pregnancy. With all alternative medicine, infrared saunas included, there is a lack of rigorous scientific studies proving herbs efficacy and safety. The reason for this is that there is no one interested in paying for very expensive clinical randomized trials on something like nettles, and there is also the moral issue of testing anything on pregnant women, which is extremely valid. However, we can look to thousands of years of historical, empirical, and observational evidence, and some pharmacologic and animal studies, to educate ourselves about herbs and plants.
During pregnancy I was overly careful about the herbs and adaptogens I consumed. There were a small handful I utilized well in pregnancy, and many were eliminated from my diet. In the post-partum period, I have been able to harness the medicine of plants on a deeper level. Especially in my breastfeeding journey, I have watched herbs have a profound effect on my milk supply, changing my body literally within days. As I begin to experiment with herbalism, I am excited to learn more, and today to share what I have learned so far. Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor or herbalist, and every mama should made decisions based on her own research and instinct.
HERBS I USED DURING PREGNANCY:
- Red Raspberry Leaf: Rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium and fragarine, it is believed to help strengthen and tone the uterine muscles and pelvic floor. It is also supports the immune system and boosts circulation. It has been used by indigenous Australians for thousands of years, and is commonly found in pregnancy teas.
- Chamomile: Used for thousands of years dating back to Ancient Egypt, chamomile has a calming effect, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. So few sleep remedies are available to pregnant women, and sleep is so difficult especially in the third trimester. Chamomile tea was one of my favorites and I would only take one cup a day.
- Lavender: Another great aid for sleep and relaxation is lavender oil. It should be avoided in the first trimester as it is classified as an emmenagogue, meaning it could encourage menstrual flow, which theoretically could slightly increase the risk of miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, I took it on my pulse points and my pillow before bed.
HERBS & ADAPTOGENS I ELIMINATED DURING PREGNANCY:
- Rosemary: A stimulating herb, I often used rosemary essential oils for my hair or baths, but I avoided it during pregnancy. Rosemary is an emmenagoge as well, and may also deplete fluid in the fetal sac. Rosemary in cooking is fine, but essential oils are highly concentrated and could be unsafe.
- Ashwagandha: This adaptogen is amazing for pre- and post-pregnancy – it regulates hormones, can rejuvenate the reproductive organs, and treats stress and anxiety. However, it contains nicotine which is a uterine stimulant and in large doses could cause a miscarriage. In India, many pregnant women continue to take ashwagandha for its stress and pain relieving properties. So each mama should make her own decision, but I removed it from my smoothies while I was pregnant.
HERBS & ADAPTOGENS I USE FOR POST-PARTUM SUPPORT:
- Mother’s Milk: This tea, from my favorite brand Traditional Medicinals, contains fenugreek, Fennel, anise, coriander and blessed thistle—herbs that have traditionally been used as galactagogues (aka milk-making aids). I took it to help bring my milk in during the first few weeks - I had pre-eclampsia and a c-section so it took almost a week for my milk to come in. I believe pumping 8-10x a day was why I was able to establish a great supply, but the Mother's Milk definitely aided me. Now that my babies are almost six months and their needs are increasing, I have been taking it again. I take two cups a day and usually see my supply boost a couple days later.
- Sage & Mint: About four weeks in, my babies both became very colicky, and one of the issues was breast milk over supply. At the recommendation of my fantastic lactation consultant, Annie Brown, I began taking sage and mint tea. At first I tried the mint, mostly because it tasted good and was readily available at Whole Foods. Once I added in the sage, I saw a massive difference in my supply and the boy’s demeanor (as well as their gas and poops if you’d really like to know!) It was extremely effective for me and if I missed a day I would see my supply bump up within a day. Around three and a half months I weaned off this tea and my supply evened out.
- Nettles: Post-partum hair loss was one of those things I just hoped I would somehow get out of, but my hair began to fall out around four and a half months. I began taking nettle infusions – a stronger version of tea where you pour hot water over the herbs, then let it steep for hours before drinking. When I took the nettle infusions I noticed my hair fall out less. It also is packed with B vitamins and minerals, as well as iron, all things that you need post-partum. I have struggled to keep up with it, just because I struggle to find time for basic things like work, and showering, but I hope to get back on it to help my hair regrow.
- Adaptogens – All of them: I began adding adaptogens back to my smoothies a couple months post-partum. I have played around with them, making sure that they don’t affect my milk supply, and they haven’t. I am pretty cautious about ingesting anything, just in case it affects my milk supply or Sawyer’s eczema. But I am confident that I have only seen benefits from adaptogens. I love the new line from Maikana Foods & Indigo Acupuncture that we just started carrying in our Shop. They offer two blends, Energize or Relax, and I love that they have handcrafted these to be a combination of all the best adaptogens. I have been putting Energize (ashwagandha, reishi, astralagus, eleuthro, rhodiola) in my oatmeal in the morning and I definitely feel a difference in my focus and stamina throughout the morning.