Herbs Commonly Used during Pregnancy

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The use of herbal products during pregnancy could be due to pre-existing conditions or to symptoms/problems related to the new physiological state such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, fatigue, depression, urinary tract infections and itching.

Ginger, a well-known remedy for gestational sickness, is used for its antiemetic properties related to local gastrointestinal, anticholinergic and antihistaminic actions [25]. Some authors demonstrated significant improvements in the severity of both nausea and vomiting [26], whereas other researchers found it effective for hy-peremesis [27].

A number of plants (comfrey, parsley, peppermint, evening primrose, flax seed) and fish oil, providing essential vitamins and minerals, are used during pregnancy as nutritional tonics even if their specific benefits are not clearly identifiable [28].

Women looking for natural remedies for pregnancy-associated constipation are advised to use bulk laxatives, since stimulant laxatives are contraindicated [29]. In particular, Cascara sagrada, senna and aloe contain anthroquinones that could cause contraction of the smooth muscle of the uterus [8].

Dandelion root is a liver tonic that gently increases bile flow: it aids digestion and waste elimination. Dandelion leaf decreases oedema and is rich in calcium and other substances that promote bone strength [30]. Scientific documentation is limited despite its long-time use [31].

Extracts from St John's wort are used by pregnant women as an antidepres-sant [32], since almost 10% of women experience depression during pregnancy and patients with a history of depression are at risk for puerperal worsening of mood [33].

Chamomile is traditionally used as a mild sedative and against digestive problems, but excessive use in pregnancy should be avoided [31]. Echinacea is often used prophylactically against the common cold for its antiviral and antibacterial properties [34]. The majority of the available studies report positive results, but there is not enough evidence to recommend its use during pregnancy [35]. Cranberry is used to prevent and treat urinary tract infections, even if there is no conclusive evidence to recommend its use [36]. In addition, specific herbs are traditionally used to prevent miscarriage or to prepare for childbirth at the end of pregnancy due to their potential uterine-stimulating properties. Wild yam and lobelia are reputed to prevent miscarriage [28]. Blue cohosh is thought to increase efficiency of contractions in labour [18] attributable to caulosaponin. Raspberry leaf is frequently ingested by women in the third trimester as it is thought to tone the uterus in preparation for labour, making contractions more effective and less painful [37].

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