Is It Safe to Consume Chinese Herbs During Pregnancy?

While Chinese herbs can help alleviate common pregnancy symptoms, some are not are safe for pregnancy. This article highlights the safe herbs for pregnant women and how to consume them appropriately.

A pregnant woman eating a bowl of nutritious food 

Pregnancy is a delicate time that requires special care and attention to ensure both mom and baby are healthy. Apart from a well-balanced diet and getting enough sleep and rest, Chinese herbs and natural herbal teas can also help to support different stages of pregnancy.

However, not all types of herbs are safe for pregnant women, so always consume them under the guidance of a medical professional. In this article, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Tiang Sack Sing takes you through different types of nourishing food and herbal ingredients that promote better health and a smoother journey across three stages of pregnancy.

Chinese Herbs for Pregnancy

A woman holding a mug of bird’s nest tonic
Bird’s nest is an excellent source of water-soluble protein that relieves a heaty body during pregnancy.

According to Physician Tiang, TCM categorises pregnancy into three stages of conditioning. Each of them with its own set of symptoms and requirements. Therefore, a physician will prescribe herbs and other nourishing foods according to what a mother-to-be needs at that stage. 

Early stage of pregnancy (1-3 months) 

Physician Tiang explains that the first three months are considered the “unstable period”. During this stage, pregnant women should start paying attention to their daily diet and rest more. Common discomforts include mild nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and aversion to certain foods. Hence, a light and wholesome diet comprising of food that are easy to digest is essential.

Recommended Chinese herbs include: 

  • ginger and brown sugar: to alleviate poor appetite and vomiting 
  • codonopsis and red dates tea: for vitality and nutrition
  • pure chicken essence: to replenish energy  

“One of the most versatile herbal teas for pregnancy is codonopsis and red dates tea as it is easy to drink and can be taken throughout pregnancy. It helps strengthen the body, regulates qi (vital life energy) and blood and can quickly increase haemoglobin index, thus effectively preventing the occurrence of anaemia in pregnant women,” Physician Tiang explains.

Second stage of pregnancy (4-6 months) 

In the second stage, which is considered to be a relatively stable period, most of the early-stage symptoms will start to subside. “At this stage, pregnant women may feel hot all the time, and nutritional requirements will increase significantly. This is a good time for conditioning; hence, a nutritious diet is crucial. Avoid stimulating foods such as chilli and pepper. Also, reduce raw and cold products that can damage the spleen and stomach. Increase the intake of protein, iron, and calcium by including more fish, liver, green vegetables, fruits and soybeans into your daily meals,” says Physician Tiang, adding that a poor diet can lead to weak blood and qi, resulting in bloating, abdominal pain, or back pain.

Recommended Chinese herbs include:

  • ginseng: to remedy heat along with excessive sweating and fatigue which arises due to a deficiency in qi (气虚发热). 
  • mushroom and sea cucumber stew: nourish yin (passive energy) and kidney as well as strengthen the bones and muscles.  

“A combination of ginseng and bird’s nest makes a good tonic to nourish qi and clear heat in pregnant ladies. Ginseng is especially ideal for pregnant women in the middle and late stages of pregnancy who have a weak body with qi deficiency (气虚发热) and are prone to sweating. It can also improve their body constitution to cope with the upcoming physical demand for childbirth,” Physician Tiang explains further. “Bird’s nest, on the other hand, is an excellent source of water-soluble protein that also cools the body and improve the production of breast milk.” 

According to Physician Tiang, mothers-to-be will also start feeling foetal movement during this time. Thirteen Taibao Tea is a herbal tonic that can help with foetal positioning while ensuring sufficient qi, smooth blood circulation, and easing pregnancy and labour pains.

Third stage of pregnancy (7-9 months) 

During the third and final stage of pregnancy, mothers may feel that their bodies are noticeably hot and dry. Other challenging symptoms include shortness of breath, lower extremity oedema, a heaty body, poor sleep, spleen-qi deficiency and water metabolism disorders. They would also need to meet higher nutritional demands.

“Pregnant women should not consume foods that are too salty, sweet, greasy, or hot, as it can result in oedema, obesity and also increase the risk of complications of gestational hypertension. Herbs and soups that replenish qi and blood can help with these conditions. For example, fishtail red bean soup helps induce diuresis and relieve swelling,” shares Physician Tiang.

Recommended Chinese herbs include:  

  • bird’s nest: to cool down a heaty body 
  • sea cucumber: assists with nourishing blood, treating body weakness, and urination problems
  • ginseng: easing fatigue and revitalising the body  
  • snow fungus: clearing heat in the body and hydrating dry skin

Natural Herbal Teas

A woman putting a piece of ginger into a cup of tea
Ginger tea can help relieve nausea and vomiting in pregnant women. 

Natural herbs are also widely used to ease pregnancy symptoms in Western medicine. The herbs are usually taken as a tea or herbal infusion to complement a healthy diet. However, not every herb is suitable or safe for pregnant ladies. So be vigilant when it comes to choosing your herbal teas. The most common ones that are rated “Likely Safe” or “Possibly Safe” to consume during pregnancy by the American Pregnancy Association include:  

  • red raspberry leaf: rich in iron, this herb helps to tone the uterus, increase breast milk production, ease nausea, and reduce labour pains  
  • peppermint: commonly used as a remedy for flatulence and morning sickness.  
  • ginger: good for nausea and vomiting 
  • slippery elm bark: relieve nausea, heartburn, and vaginal irritations 
  • oats & oat straw: rich in calcium and magnesium, this herb helps to calm an anxious and restless mind and relieve irritated skin 

Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any herbal tea and limit your intake to two cups per day.

Precautions and Safe Consumption  

In TCM, physicians will advise pregnant women to avoid specific foods or herbs that can pose a risk to the mother and baby.

“Barley, arrowroot, mung bean, bitter gourd and carrot should be taken with caution because they can affect uterine contractions. You should also reduce stimulating food that will promote blood circulation, such as pineapple, angelica, spices, and foods that are hard to digest, such as greasy fried foods. Be cautious when using ingredients or medicinal ingredients that may cause diarrhoea, invigorate blood, and disrupt the flow of qi. Examples of these include aloe vera and turmeric. Aloe Vera contains anthraquinones, which is a laxative and can induce womb contractions. Turmeric, when consumed in large amount, may stimulate the uterus and put the pregnancy at risk. Always be cautious and consult a Chinese physician before you try any herbs or supplements,” Physician Tiang advises.

While Chinese herbs and nourishing tonics or teas can help to ease pregnancy discomforts and provide additional nutrition, always talk to your doctor or TCM physician before using them. Moderation is key, so never consume herbs in large or concentrated doses. Always prioritise a well-balanced diet and healthy lifestyle above all else to ensure a smooth and safe pregnancy.

References

  1. American Pregnancy Association. Herbs and Pregnancy. [Accessed 31 December 2021] 
  2. US National Library of Medicine. 2020. Frequently Used Herbal Teas During Pregnancy – Short Update.   [Accessed 31 December 2021] 
  3. Napiers the Herbalists. Snow Fungus. [Accessed 31 December 2021] 
  4. MyHEALTH. 2016. Gamat (Sea Cucumber). [Accessed 31 December 2021] 

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