Herbal Help for Common Pregnancy Complaints

 Tv3 Herbal Help for Common Pregnancy Complaints   Tuesday 23rd November 2010


From prehistoric times to the present day, women all over the world have used plants to enhance their pregnancy, to prepare for childbirth and to help with the various difficulties that may arise. Today in Ireland, much of the common knowledge about the usefulness, safety and effectiveness of herbal medicine has been lost however a fully qualified medical herbalist is trained to incorporate traditional knowledge with up to date scientific research and practice, allowing them to safely address problems that can arise during pregnancy and help to treat conditions where conventional medicines may be inappropriate.

Today, I will mention some gentle and safe ways to help ease and prevent some common complaints but if you are experiencing prolonged symptoms or a more complex problem, you must visit a medical herbalist. During pregnancy, herbal medicines should only be recommended or prescribed by a fully qualified medical herbalist or a doctor trained in herbal medicine. The Irish Institute of Medical Herbalists (IIMH) www.iimh.org members are qualified to a minimum of BSc degree level in Herbal Medicine.


Common Complaints

  • Heartburn
  • Morning Sickness
  • Constipation
  • Fluid Retention
  • Stretch Marks
  • Iron deficiency


All other additional complaints, see your medical herbalist:

  • Bleeding Gums
  • Low mood, Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Colds and flus
  • Thrush
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Varicose veins, haemorrhoids
  • Skin rahes



This is an unpleasant burning sensation in the esophagus and is related to the relaxing effects of increased levels of progesterone, which affects the cardiac sphincter. In the later stages of pregnancy the baby takes up more room in the abdomen, leaving less room for your stomach exacerbating the problem. If the sphincter fails to shut tightly as it should, it can allow the regurgitation of the acidic contents of the stomach into the esophagus.


  • Eat small meals more often
  • Avoid spicy, fatty & fried foods
  • Avoid chocolate, coffee & alcohol
  • Do not smoke
  • Avoid peppermint and spearmint
  • Avoid excessive weight gain
  • Sleep with your head elevated
  • Avoid bending at the waist, bend from knees


Herbal Treatment

Slippery Elm

Slippery elm is soothing and demulcent, it will line the digestive tract protecting the mucosa and neutralize any refluxed acid. Take in powder form as a gruel or capsules.

Lifeplan capsules 230mg 50 capsules €5.20

Directions: Take 1-2 capsules as required. Take 2 capsules at bedtime to protect the esophagus or mix ½ tsp of powder with a little water to make a fine paste, top up with water stirring briskly, add a pinch of ground ginger or cinnamon to taste. Take as necessary.

Cider Vinegar

Mix 1 tbsp Cider vinegar with 1 tbsp honey and add a cup of hot water. Sip 2 cups throughout the day. The vinegar will enhance the digestive process and liver function, helping to reduce indigestion.

Biona Cider vinegar €2.75 for 750ml


Sip Ginger, Chamomile or Liqourice tea


Morning Sickness

Feeling nauseous or sick during the early stages of pregnancy is extremely common, affecting about 80 per cent of women. Morning sickness usually occurs during the first three months of pregnancy, although for some women it may last longer.

The main culprit for morning sickness is Beta hCG, a pregnancy hormone that is present in blood during the first trimester although nutritional deficiencies and existing gastric problems may also be implicated. Couple that with a growing uterus, sluggish digestion and increased levels of stomach acid and the likelihood is you're probably feeling a little queasy! Many pregnant women also find they have a heightened sense of smell during this time which can spark off unexpected bouts of nausea.


  • Eat small frequent meals
  • Eating dry carbohydrate snacks throughout the day
  • Eat a couple of crackers on waking & before rising from bed
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Fresh air


Herbal Treatment



  • Fresh Ginger Tea - Peel the "bark" off and cut a few slices or grate some into a cup and fill with hot water to infuse. Add honey to taste. Sip through the morning or through the day as necessary.
  • Ginger tea bags Yogi Tea Organic Ginger Lemon €2.70 for 15 teabags
  • Crystalized Ginger €4.00 for 250g – chew throughout the day, very useful when on the go.
  • Ginger Beer Fentimans 275ml €3.90 (not more than 0.5% alcohol by volume) – sip as a refreshing drink



Sip Chamomile, Lemon balm or ginger tea

Cider Vinegar

1-2 teaspoons of cider vinegar and one of honey, mixed in a cup of hot water. Add more honey if you need to. Sip with meals to balance and neutralise your internal system.

Vitamin B6

Wheatgerm, fortified cereals, nuts, fatty fish, peppers. Vegemite or marmite contains good levels of B vitamins. Your prenatal vitamins will also contain vitamin B6. Discuss with your healthcare practitioner if a supplement is to be considered. Up to 50mg daily has been shown to be beneficial.



Constipation is very common in pregnancy. affecting around half of pregnant women Your body is producing large amounts of progesterone and estrogen, which in turn relax smooth muscle tissues all over, even in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, slowing down the digestive system and resulting in constipation. The food, therefore, moves slowly through your system but this allows better absorption of nutrients into your blood stream, into the placenta and into your baby's system. A slowing of the transit time is therefore beneficial to the baby but balance must be achieved. Constipation and the resulting increased risk of haemorrhoids is not advantageous.

 In addition, with the pressure from the growing uterus falling on the bowels, their normal activity gets inhibited. 


  • Increase soluble fibre (fruits & vegetables)
  • Reduced refined & processed foods
  • Eat smaller meals more often
  • Drink plenty of water, herbal teas and fruit juices (2.5L daily)
  • Avoid tea & coffee
  • Cider vinegar & honey/ fresh lemon juice and hot water
  • Stay active – walking daily, swimming or yoga


Herbal Treatment

Liquorice Water

Add 25g of peeled natural liquorice sticks to 600ml water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Drink a cupful 3 times daily

Caution! Do not take liquorice if you have high blood pressure.

Liquorice Root €1.65 for 50g

Cider Vinegar

Mix 1 tbsp Cider vinegar with 1 tbsp honey and add a cup of hot water. Sip 2 cups throughout the day. The vinegar will enhance the digestive process and liver function, helping to reduce indigestion.

Slippery Elm

Take in powder form as a gruel or capsules.

Lifeplan capsules 230mg 50 capsules €5.20

Directions: Take 1-2 capsules as required. Take 2 capsules at bedtime to protect the esophagus or mix ½ tsp of powder with a little water to make a fine paste, top up with water stirring briskly, add a pinch of ground ginger or cinnamon to taste. Take as necessary.

Bulk Laxatives

Linseeds added to porridge in the morning. Up to 3 tablespoons, increase gradually as necessary.

Psyllium seeds/husks or linseeds – 2 tsp added to a cup of boiled water, 2-3 times daily.

Psyllium husk €3.88 for 250g

Linseeds €1.88 for 500g

Dried Fruits

Include figs, apricots, prunes or dates in the diet. Nibble as a snack or reconstitute in hot water and add to porridge in the morning. Introduce slowly, gradually increasing the amount over a number of days.

Essential Oils

Add essential oils of Lavander or Chamomile to the bath water (maximum total 10 drops) or to massage oils (2 drops). Massage the abdomen and lower back with clockwise motions and follow with a warm hot water bottle. This will help to relax and soothe muscles and nerves.

Iron Supplementation

If it is necessary for you to supplement with Iron, you may suffer from constipation as a side effect. Often liquid forms such as Floradix are better tolerated and are less likely to cause constipation.

Fluid Retention/ Oedema

During pregnancy there are increased fluid levels in the body. This can present itself as swelling and puffiness, particularly around the feet and ankles. The likelihood of water retention increases towards the end of the pregnancy.

Water retention can be uncomfortable, and you can try and lessen the occurrence and discomfort by:

·      Avoiding standing for long periods

·      Resting - with your feet up

·      Wearing loose clothing

·      Rings and shoes may become tight

·      Wear support stockings

Your health care practioner will check for signs of oedema, particularly swelling around the hands and face, during antenatal visits as it can be sign of pre-eclampsia.

Herbal Treatment

Sip Dandelion leaf tea or drink natural elderflower cordial; both diuretics which will help you to loose any excess fluid. Avoid drinking these teas in the evening as they may increase the need for nighttime trips to the loo!


Stretch Marks

The skin around the abdomen has to stretch during pregnancy to accommodate the growing baby in the uterus. Sometimes the skin fibres weaken as they stretch resulting in red spidery 'stretch marks', which can occur on the abdomen, thighs and breasts.

Sweet Almond Oil – Atlantic Aromatics €4.95 for 100ml

Wheatgerm Oil – Atlantic Aromatics €4.95 for 50ml


Herbal Treatment

Massage abdomen, breasts and thighs daily with a nourishing moisturizing oil. I use a blend of quite a number of different oils at my clinic (Rosehip, wheatgerm, Apricot kernel, evening primrose, vitamin E with essential oils added). However over the counter, you should be able to buy


Iron Deficiency

Ideally in pregnancy your Iron levels (Haemoglobin levels) should be around 11g/dl at your booking appointment and above 10.5g/dl at around week 28 of pregnancy when your bloods are normally re-checked.

If your Iron stores are low this could lead to:

·    Your general health is affected. You may become short of breath, look pale, have palpitations, feel tired and faint.

·    You may go into labour early.

·    Your uterus may not work as effectively which making your contractions not strong enough.

·    Your baby may be smaller because your placenta may not work as efficiently.

·    Your risk of you bleeding heavily when your baby is delivered is increased.

·    Your risk of infection is increased.

Ideally you should try and improve your haemoglobin levels by increasing the Iron in your normal healthy diet. Foods that include Iron are:

·      Red meat. (Avoid liver as it is high in the Retinol (the animal form of vitamin A)) which may harm your unborn baby.

·      Pulses and beans.

·      Breakfast cereals that have been fortified in Iron.

·      Bread.

·      Green vegetables.

·      Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron so drink lots of fresh orange juice.

·       Tea and coffee can however inhibit the absorption of iron so you will need to try and cut down on those cuppas throughout the day, especially directly after eating.




Drink Nettle Tea – 2-3 cups daily. This will aid absorption of Iron.


Floradix Liquid Iron Formula €9.95 for 250ml. This formula provides organic iron, herbs, fruits, vitamins, kelp, rosehips and wheatgerm, providing plenty of the co-factors needed to absorb iron. The iron is in a highly absorbable form and so tends to be well tolerated and not lead to constipation as other tablets often can.


Black Strap Molasses – Add to food or baking or take directly daily. It has naturally good levels of Iron.

1 Tablespoon of Blackstrap Molasses, first thing in the morning.


1 tbsp Blackstrap Molasses

Cup of Hot water/ Milk or Soymilk



Add molasses to a glass and add just enough hot water to cover the molasses. Stir until dissolved. Add ice and then top off with either Milk or Soymilk. Avoiding milk? 'Try vanilla or chocolate rice or  soymilk. Even yummier is to blend the whole concoction.

Meridian Organic Fairtrade Molasses €1.30 for 350g


Add to the Diet:

  • Organic Dried Apricots
  • Prunes
  • Dates
  • Green leafy vegetables


Raspberry Leaf Tea

Raspberry Leaf Tea is known as a Partus  preparator and is probably the most well known of all the herbs used in pregnancy. Contrary to modern popular belief, this is a herb not used to induce labour but prepare the uterus for childbirth. The leaves have both toning or astringent and relaxing qualities. The astringent and stimulating properties help to strengthen and tone up the uterine and pelvic muscles, while the relaxing properties help to soothe and relax the uterus at the same time. These actions act to reduce the pain of uterine contractions during childbirth while also making the contractions more effective and productive, thereby easing and shortening the duration of childbirth.



Infuse 1-2 tsp per cup of hot water, for 10 minutes. Strain and drink 1 cup daily during last  2 months of pregnancy. Sip freely throughout labour or ice cubes of tea can be made to suck during labour.

Cotswold Raspberry Leaf Tea 100g €1.95


General Avice


  • Pelvic Floor Exercises
  • Prenatal Vitamins
  • Folic Acid
  • Essential Fatty Acids
  • Raspberry Leaf Tea (last month)


Please note that the advice given in these notes is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical advice and treatment. Always visit a fully qualified medical herbalist or G.P. for diagnosis. If you are pregnant, have an existing condition or are currently taking medication consult a medical herbalist to see which herbs are appropriate for you to take.