Here it is – that huge step. You have learned that you are pregnant. You’re hungry. You look into your fridge for something to snack on and think, “wait, can I eat that? Spicy foods might be bad for the baby. French fries might be bad for the baby. Ice cream is definitely bad for the baby, right? What can I eat? What should I avoid eating?” And then you do it. You google things.
Google has lots of info on do’s and don’ts in pregnancy – as do the many authors, thinkers, doctors, healers, parents, teachers and concerned individuals that fill its pages. You can find pretty much anything there, including completely conflicting information.
It is the conflicting information, the uncertainty, that sends parents-to-be to me asking questions about what kinds of Chinese herbs they can consume while they are pregnant. It is generally understood that some herbal teas do wonders for pregnant people, while others are on the stay-as-far-away-as-possible, do-not-touch-my-baby list. It is wonderful to see parents delve passionately into educating themselves on what is healthy and what is unsafe for their babies.
Is it Beneficial to Use Chinese Herbal Medicine in Pregnancy?
Herbs have been studied and observed synergistically and bio-chemically for years. We know a lot about the effects of many herbs. There are hundreds of herbal compendiums that are thousands of pages deep. So, when pregnant people come to me concerned about the possibility of herbs causing problems in their pregnancy, overwhelmed by the confusing mumbo jumbo (both good and bad) they’ve encountered on the internet, it is my absolute privilege to tell them the following guidelines to the use of herbal medicine in pregnancy:
- Herbal medicine is wonderful for pregnancy when properly prescribed. We have witnessed successful herbal treatment during pregnancy for thousands of years.
- It can help with all kinds of things; headaches, aches and pains, insomnia, morning sickness, and many other challenges experienced while growing a living being inside you for 9 months!
- There are even a few Chinese herbs that are particularly beneficial to the baby. We say that these herbs “calm the baby,” a somewhat poetic description of their ability to keep in check certain out-of-balance systems in a pregnant individual so that the baby can comfortably thrive in its temporary home. Most of the formulas I create during pregnancy involve one or two of these herbs.
- If you see a qualified herbalist (or in my case, Chinese Herbalist) who you trust, you can drink yummy herbal teas throughout your pregnancy. You will not have to root through all the information about what herbs to seek out and which ones to avoid. That’s why you have a professional – to keep you and the baby safe and healthy.
Are There Herbs that are Unsafe to Consume in Pregnancy?
Quite honestly – yes, there are absolutely herbs that are dangerous in pregnancy when given at a medicinal dose. Some of these herbs are uterine stimulants, which means they are the type of herb that may promote labor. Some of them are what we call “blood movers” in Chinese medicine. A blood mover is an herb that helps blood flow uninhibited through the vessels. These herbs tend to be acrid, bitter and warm. Those that are bitter have a downward flow, and during pregnancy, we want to avoid that downward flow, particularly in individuals with a history of miscarriage. A qualified herbalist will know which herbs to avoid in pregnancy, including blood movers, uterine stimulants and others.
You may hear herbalists say to avoid most herbal teas in the first trimester of pregnancy. It is true that there are some herbs worth avoiding, but there is one area that herbal tea is a tried and true advantage for first trimester parents-to-be.
…Enter Morning Sickness.
Morning sickness is a common effect of pregnancy in the first trimester, which can be quite unpleasant. One formula historically used to treat morning sickness is called Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang (Tangerine Peel and Bamboo Shavings Decoction). It came from a text called Jin Gui Yao Lue, which is translated as Essentials from the Golden Cabinet, nearly 1,800 years ago! Its effect is so beneficial in treating morning sickness that it is still used today, over 1,000 years after its creation.
This formula is not right for every individual who experiences morning sickness. A Chinese herbalist is trained to observe each person’s signs, symptoms and unique constitution in order to craft an informed diagnosis. If your diagnosis matches that which Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang treats, then this formula will be chosen for you. If your diagnosis does not match, then Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang will likely not be very much help for your morning sickness, so your herbalist may pick another well-known formula that better fits your needs.
Is It Safe to Use Chinese Herbs in Pregnancy?
In short, YES. You can safely enjoy the benefits of herbal medicine before, during and after pregnancy. However, since you can find anything, literally anything, on the internet about herbs, so please do not let this become solely a google- or mommy-blog-informed project. Gain what insight you can from the internet and then, you must speak with a qualified professional – one that you know that you can trust.
Who is a Qualified Herbalist?
So how do you know who is qualified? My recommendation is to search for an NCCAOM Board Certified Chinese Herbalist. This information is commonly found in the biography on a Chinese Herbalist’s website.
There are literally no regulations for prescribing herbs or supplements, so any ole schwindler, or even an avid researcher with great intentions can consider themselves to be an herbalist. It is not illegal for someone who has read a lot about herbs to set up shop and charge for herbal consultations.
NCCAOM Board certified herbalists have completed both a Master’s degree and a harrowing board examination, thus proving themselves capable of rigorous self-study and experienced from hours of clinical internship practice. These individuals have been around herbs and have been supervised by skilled herbalists. They have real-world experience and training in herbalism.
I have nothing against those who have not completed a program like this; I simply cannot vouch for their education. So, if you’re considering hiring one, please ask them –
- What is your herbal training?
- How many hours did you spend learning this?
- Did you go through an institution? An apprenticeship? A library?
- How many years have you practiced?
- How many patients have you seen?
- Have you treated pregnant women with herbs before?
It may feel off-putting to ask such detailed questions, but since there is no regulation telling you about a person’s experience, you’re going to have to advocate for yourself. And you can do it, even if it’s challenging, because it is so worth it!
On a side note, I apologize for not knowing the equivalent credentials for a Western herbalist – please do feel free to comment on this in the comment section if you know about Western herbalism, as that is not my training, nor my specialty.
Yes! Please Enjoy Some Herbal Tea!
Beyond assisting comfort in pregnancy, herbs are filled healthy, nourishing vitamins and minerals that are great for the parent and child. Drinking an herbal tea each evening can be a warm and relaxing habit to begin while facing the steep rewards and challenges of pregnancy. Teas are delicious, nutritious, and soothing to the spirit. So, seek out a qualified herbalist to assist you – but go ahead and do it! Drink some herbal tea for you and the baby!