Drugs, Pregnancy, and Lactation: Herbs


Raspberry leaf. Raspberry leaf tea is commonly used by pregnant women. Nurse-midwives often prescribe the tea to treat nausea and vomiting and as a uterine tonic to shorten labor. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study evaluated the effect of raspberry leaf tablets (2 tablets/day) on pregnancy outcomes. Compared with controls, no differences were found for length of labor or stages of labor, mode of delivery, admission to the neonatal intensive care unit, Apgar score, and birth weight (J. Midwifery Womens Health 2001;46:51-9).

Safflower. Safflower oil is commonly used in cooking and has been given for its laxative action. There are no reports describing the use of the herb in pregnancy. It is doubtful if such use would have any adverse effect on a pregnancy. Although abortifacient and emmenagogic effects have been suggested, there is no evidence supporting these effects when used as a food.

St. John’s wort. No toxicity in pregnant humans has been reported. The use of the herb is widespread and dates back thousands of years. Thus, it is doubtful that the herb is a major teratogen or causes other elements of developmental toxicity. The herb has been used for the management of anxiety, depression, insomnia, inflammation, and gastritis. It is also used as a diuretic and, topically, for the treatment of hemorrhoids and enhanced wound healing.

©FrankCornfield/Thinkstock.comRaspberry plant

Yohimbine. The use of this herb in human pregnancies has not been reported. It has been used as an aphrodisiac and for weight loss, sexual dysfunction, and the treatment of orthostatic hypotension. Although it has no Food and Drug Administration–sanctioned indications, it is also available by prescription for male erectile dysfunction. Due to the lack of data regarding pregnancy, the herb is best avoided during pregnancy.

There are few data regarding the effects of the above herbs on a breast-feeding infant. Depending upon the herb, nursing infants will be exposed to many chemical compounds. For those herbs used as food, nursing is probably safe. The safety of the other herbs during lactation is unknown. However, toxicity has been reported in a 9-day-old term infant whose mother was taking arnica (Clin. Toxicol. 2009;47:726, abstract 120). The infant presented with lethargy, decreased milk intake, anemia, and jaundice but recovered with treatment. After the mother stopped the herb and resumed nursing, no further problems were noted in the infant.

Mr. Briggs is a pharmacist clinical specialist at the outpatient clinics of Memorial Care Center for Women at Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, Calif.; clinical professor of pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco; and adjunct professor of pharmacy at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and Washington State University, Spokane. He also is coauthor of “Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation,” and coeditor of “Diseases, Complications, and Drug Therapy in Obstetrics.” He had no relevant financial disclosures. Contact him at

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