Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan

Can You Consume Chinese Herbs During Pregnancy?

Chinese herbs can help reduce some of the symptoms associated with pregnancy, but not all herbs are safe. Find out which ones you can take here.

Pregnant woman min scaled

Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle choices, Chinese herbs can help you get through the various stages of pregnancy in a comfortable fashion.

However, not all herbs are safe to take while you are pregnant. Some can have serious complications for mothers and unborn babies.

In this guide, our Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physicians explain how to safely use Chinese herbs during pregnancy.

How To Use Chinese Herbs While You’re Pregnant

According to Physician Tiang, TCM categorizes pregnancy into three stages of conditioning. Each has 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 (Months One To Three)

Bird’s nest is safe to take during pregnancy and can help reduce heat in the body during the second stage.

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 is easy to digest are essential.

Recommended Chinese herbs include: 

“One of the most versatile herbal teas for pregnancy is Codonopsis and red dates tea. 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 hemoglobin index. This effectively prevents the occurrence of anemia in pregnant women,” Physician Tiang explains.

Second Stage Of Pregnancy (Months Four To Six)

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 chili 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.

Physician Tiang added 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 
  • Mushroom and sea cucumber stew: nourish yin (passive energy) and kidneys 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 women. Ginseng is especially ideal for pregnant women in the middle and late stages of pregnancy who have a weak body with qi deficiency 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 improves the production of breast milk.” 

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

Third Stage Of Pregnancy (Months Seven To Nine)

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 edema, 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 edema and 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 yin and blood, treating body weakness, and urination problems
  • Ginseng: easing fatigue and revitalizing the body  
  • Snow fungus: clearing heat in the body and hydrating dry skin

Can You Drink Teas Made With Chinese Herbs?

Ginger tea is recommended to alleviate nausea during pregnancy.

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 labor 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.

Chinese Herbs: Safety Precautions

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 diarrhea, invigorate blood, and disrupt the flow of qi. Examples of these include aloe vera and turmeric. Aloe Vera contains anthraquinones, which are laxatives and can induce womb contractions. Turmeric, when consumed in large amounts, 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 prioritize 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
  2. US National Library of Medicine. 2020. Frequently Used Herbal Teas During Pregnancy – Short Update.   
  3. Napiers the Herbalists. Snow Fungus
  4. MyHEALTH. 2016. Gamat (Sea Cucumber)

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