One of the questions we get asked a lot on SuperFeast is “which herbs can I take while pregnant and breastfeeding?”
For a generally healthy and strong mama, tonic herbs can be an awesome ally for pregnancy and for postpartum healing. I personally enjoyed taking tonic herbs during my second and third trimester of pregnancy and postpartum, and we have many mamas in our community who have also enjoyed the benefits of tonic herbs over their pregnancy and postpartum.
Let me preface all this by saying it’s a good idea during the first 10-12 weeks of your pregnancy to go easy on the herbs. Our preference is that people take a break during this time, and just allow the baby to land in the body, the blood flow to the foetus be established and all the magic to occur. If you really want to keep taking herbs, take the smallest possible dose and if you are experiencing any pregnancy side-effects, go speak to a herbalist or Chinese medicine doctor to get a prescription specifically for your needs. Herbs like milk thistle or ginger etc can be awesome for early pregnancy side effects, and Chinese formulas can help beat morning sickness and other early issues. Each body is unique and you want individualised, personal care in your pregnancy, trust me!! Find someone who can support you and help you to thrive during pregnancy and beyond. It’s worth it. I also want to say that if at any point you feel that the herbs aren’t serving you, take a break. Pop them in the freezer, well-sealed, and they’ll be there waiting for you postpartum. This time is all about you and your growing baby, so only imbibe in tonic herbs if you’re intuitively drawn to them.
First, let’s start with which herbs to avoid. In general, during pregnancy you want to avoid herbs that move the blood or clear stasis, which basically means you don’t want anything too strong that’s going to stimulate your body towards a miscarriage. You also want to avoid toxic herbs or herbs that overly detoxify the body. Obvious, no?! Some of the most important ones to be careful of in the tonic herb arena are Angelica sinesis also known as dong quai and Asparagus cochinchinensis, known as asparagus root, both of which feature in our women's blend I Am Gaia. These herbs are generally fine postpartum, but are not recommended taken without supervision during pregnancy. (Read our in depth article on All The Amazing Benefits of I Am Gaia here). It’s important to note that herbs like dong quai are often prescribed by a Chinese doctor during pregnancy if needed, but that’s beyond the scope of this article and what we offer at SuperFeast. As a tonic, to support pregnancy in general, we ask that you avoid our nourishing women’s blend I Am Gaia and instead take herbs that are known to be safe in pregnancy. I Am Gaia is awesome pre and postpartum, so make sure you have some on hand for after your birth - maybe have it in a placenta smoothie! ;)
The safest herb to take during pregnancy is reishi. It’s a Class A safety herb and is generally safe for most women. Herbalist Ron Teeguarden speaks of reishi babies, born in China, who are calm, healthy and super alert. Our daughter Aiya is a reishi baby, and was born super calm and alert. Note that in the world of herbs and humans, and the complex intersection of chemistry and the less tangible elements like emotions and spirit, not to mention the quality of the herbs you are sourcing and their potency (if you’re not buying SuperFeast herbs, make sure you find out how the herbs are grown and produced, as well as how they’re prepared and extracted, if at all) - all this means that not all herbs work for every body all the time.
Other tonic herbs considered safe for pregnancy are:
Eucommia Bark: used to help strengthen the lower back in the mama and the baby’s skeleton
Deer Antler: used to calm a ‘restless fetus’
Mason’s Mushrooms: support Qi; in general these are safe for most women
Astragalus: supports Qi and promotes circulation
Schisandra: helps tone the uterus, restore the body (careful if you suspect a high toxic load, as schisandra can be detoxifying and ideally we save detoxing til after breastfeeding stops)
I Am Gaia: helps to rebuild Blood and Qi
JING: helps to rebuild Jing (making a baby takes a tonne of Jing!)
Mason’s Mushrooms:support Qi
Astragalus:supports Qi and healing
Deer Antler: assists recovery
Eucommia Bark/Cordyceps: helps to recover Yang energy depleted during birth
NB: Neural Nectar is not safe while breastfeeding due to the inclusion of mucuna and its possible interference with lactation.
Less is more with tonic herbs during pregnancy. We like to keep the dose low (1/4 - 1/2 tsp) and recommend you take it easy during this time.
Postpartum you can use I Am Gaia and Eucommia Bark in higher doses to rebuild your energy (Qi), Blood and Jing. We also love the JING blend for postpartum healing. We recommend about 1 tsp a day of these herbs for the first 40 days postpartum. After this, reassess to gauge whether these herbs are relevant for you to continue taking. It’s great to consult with a practitioner like a Chinese or integrative doctor or naturopath for postpartum care.
Enjoy them as you normally do - in a delicious tonic (recipes), in your meals, or on their own with some hot water as an herbal elixir.
Susun Weed has an awesome book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year that we highly recommend - her nettle infusions and red clover/raspberry leaf infusions are a wonderful addition to any pregnancy. She also has recommendations for how to use Western herbs during pregnancy. Grab a copy for your home herbal library.