Mamas on Bedrest: Is Echinacea Safe To Take During Pregnancy

January 10th, 2014

Hello Mamas,

I love getting your e-mails and Facebook questions. I love how you are taking charge of your health and your pregnancies and doing all that you can to make the best health care choices for you and your baby. I recently received this question from a mama and decided to share my take on herbs and supplements during pregnancy.

Q: Is Echinacea safe to take during pregnancy?

echinaceaFirst I want to start off by saying that I AM NOT an herbalist or expert in herbal medicine. While I am comfortable suggesting information on nutrition and nutritional supplements because I have training and experience in this area,  It is not my habit to recommend or advise people to take herbs because I don’t feel that I am qualified to make such recommendations. That being said, for this mama’s question, I did a bit of research.

Echinacea is one of the most commonly used herbs in North America. Most people use Echinacea to treat upper respiratory infections such as colds. In a November 2000 study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine, Researchers in Canada evaluated 200 pregnant women who had contacted MotherRisk, a program that assesses risk during pregnancy. These women had either knowingly taken echinacea in pregnancy or taken it unaware that they were pregnant. The women were matched with 200 pregnant women who had not taken echinacea. Following delivery, the researchers assessed the rates of complications, live births, miscarriages and major and minor birth defects and malformations and found no statistical difference in outcomes between pregnant women who had taken echinacea during pregnancy and those who had not. They concluded that echinacea is safe to take in pregnancy.

The caveat to this study and one the researchers themselves admitted is that because there is very little study done on herbs, its tough to say whether or not they are safe. Many people assume that because herbs are “natural” they are okay. One must always keep in mind that herbs are taken for their medicinal properties, and yes, they do act on our physiologic systems. For example, I was not that echinacea can promote bleeding, so if a person has a bleeding disorder taking echinacea could negatively affect their bleeding patterns. These people especially should consult with their health care provider-and/or a really knowledgeable herbalist about the safety of echinacea for them and may need to refrain from taking echinacea.

When I have a mama or other women’s health client who wants to know about herbs, I refer them to one of my colleagues who has extensive knowledge in herbal medicine. Additionally, once they have consulted with an herbalist, I suggest that they take what they have learned and discuss it with their health care provider so that the provider can compare the notes on the herbs with the health history of the patient. I know it sounds cumbersome and like I am being a Nervous Nelly. However, like I said, I was unaware that echinacea affects bleeding. If mama had been taking aspirin or another anticoagulant, this could have been a problem. The uterus is a highly vascularized organ meaning it has TONS of blood vessels feeding it. It a woman is prone to post partum hemorrhage, perhaps taking echinacea is not a good idea for her. Ultimately the decision is up to mama, but this is critical information she needs to make her decision.

As my highschool chemistry teacher used to say, “When in doubt, check it out!” Find out as much as you can before you introduce anything into your system while you are pregnant.

What’s your take on herbs during pregnancy? Share your experience in our comments section.

I love your questions and am happy to find the answers you need. Keep them coming! E-mail me at info@mamasonbedrest.com.

 

References:

Gallo M, Sarkar M, Au W, Pietrzak K, Comas B, Smith M, Jaeger TV, Einarson A, Koren G.  Pregnancy outcome following gestational exposure to echinacea: a prospective controlled study. Archives of Internal Medicine 2000 Nov 13;160(20):3141-3.

Gallo M, Koren G. Can herbal products be used safely during pregnancy? Focus on echinacea. Canadian Family Physician. 2001 Sep;47:1727-8.

WebMD Health News: Study Shows Echinacea Safe During Pregnancy. November 28, 2000

Echinacea. Mayo Clinic Natural Standard® Patient Monograph, Copyright © 2013

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