RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—If you're pregnant and looking to improve your health and eliminate childbearing discomfort using herbs or other supplements during pregnancy, you're likely to get very different advice depending on the expert you're consulting. Your family doctor may coax you toward a prescription drug that's been through clinical trials, while a naturopathic physician or midwife might shower you with plant-based suggestions that have been used for centuries. Other women choose to take herbs without consulting anyone (which can undoubtedly be dangerous because not all herbs are safe for everyone, particularly pregnant women.) In any case, a significant number of women are taking herbal supplements just before and during pregnancy, according to a report recently published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
THE DETAILS: Because the extent of herbal use during pregnancy wasn't previously established, researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used data from The National Birth Defects Prevention Study, which included more than 4,200 women who delivered babies without major birth defects between 1998 and 2004. Analyzing the data, researchers found that about 10 percent of the women used herbs right before and during pregnancy. The most commonly used supplements included ephedra (now banned in the U.S.), ginger, and chamomile. The study authors conclude that nearly 400,000 U.S. births involve prenatal exposure to herbal products.
WHAT IT MEANS: There are very different camps of thought when it comes to herbs and supplements during pregnancy. Smack in the middle of arguments by mainstream-medicine and alternative-medicine practitioners sit integrative-medicine physicians like Julie McKee, MD, distinguished professor of medicine at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. "Many of the discomforts of pregnancy can be handled with herbs and lifestyle so we don't have to resort to medications," she says. If they don't work, she says, then modern medicine may be queued up.
Here's what you need to know about herbs and supplements during pregnancy: