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Herbs and Pregnancy Q&A: The Safe Way to Discontinue Herbs in Pregnancy

Herbs and Pregnancy Q&A: The Safe Way to Discontinue Herbs in Pregnancy

Most of us have heard the warnings, “Don’t take herbs into pregnancy!”  Along with avoiding alcohol, certain prescription medications, and illicit drugs, most herbs should be avoided in pregnancy as well.

So, what should you do if have been following an herbal program and find out you are pregnant? Should you stop taking the herbs suddenly?  Can herbs cause you to miscarry? Can herbs harm a developing fetus?  Pregnancy happens a lot around here; we want you to handle the situation with ease and the know-how to move forward with a healthy, full-term pregnancy!

Important: In some cases, a woman will choose to continue herbs and supplements into pregnancy while under the care of a skilled herbalist, midwife, natural healthcare practitioner or doctor. Please always find a qualified healthcare practitioner to work with before choosing to continue herbs into pregnancy.

1. Q: Can herbs cause a miscarriage if they are stopped suddenly?

A: Potentially.  Some herbs may elicit a hormone-like effect, or have an action on the hormones in the body, the effects of which can quickly wear off after stopping the herb. If you have been taking herb/s and you are still taking it/them in pregnancy, you need to plan how to wean off of that herb slowly, over time, so as to not disrupt the natural hormonal cycle of the pregnancy. Suddenly stopping some herbs in pregnancy may potentially cause hormonal disruption, which could lead to miscarriage.

A good way to wean off of an herb or herbal blend is to take less and less each day, over a week.

  • If you are taking herbs in a capsule form, you could open the capsule, dump a little out and then close it back up and then take it.  Do this each day until you are no longer taking it.
  • If you are taking a tincture (liquid extract), take fewer drops each day.
  • Tablets will potentially need to be cut in half.
  • Infusions or decoctions will need to be cut down in cups. So, if you are drinking 3 cups a day, cut down to two cups for a few days, then to one and so on.

If you have a history of recurrent miscarriage, it is especially important to seek guidance for weaning off of herbs.  Special considerations need to be made whenever there is a history of progesterone deficiency, uterine weakness, recurrent miscarriages, or other health related issues that may affect pregnancy.  Seek the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner, someone to help guide you through this transition.

2. Q: Can herbs harm my unborn baby?

A: Some herbs, when taken in high amounts therapeutically or long-term, could potentially harm your baby when taken in pregnancy. To be honest, there is little research on the subject and most information comes about when a problem arises. For example, a baby born is born with an abnormality and through research it is found that the mother had taken herbs in pregnancy. These cases are then documented. The herb is noted as a potential risk to pregnancy. But, typically this never happens.

Most women do not want to be part of human pregnancy trials, that is why there is limited research on the subject.  In fact, most medications are not tested for safety in pregnancy.  In general, doctors suggest they all be avoided when possible. Better to be safe than sorry is the general rule of thumb, in most cases.

Some information comes from animal studies, mostly on rats.  Researchers use this information to help determine if an herb is safe in pregnancy or not.  The problem with most of these studies is that the researchers give the rats concentrated, excessive amounts of the herb or an isolated part of the plant intravenously.  The animals are given the herb throughout pregnancy.  When a negative result on the animal fetus is shown, the herb will be deemed unsafe for pregnancy. Realistically though, no human being is going to take an herb the way the animals in studies are given herbs.

Before choosing any herbs for pregnancy preparation or for pregnancy, it is very important to learn if it is safe in pregnancy or not.  Learn about the safety of preconception herbs in pregnancy here…

3. Q: I got pregnant while doing the Fertility Cleanse, will the cleansing pass toxins on to my baby?  Will the herbs harm my baby?

A: It takes 7-10 days for a fertilized egg to move to the uterus for implantation.  If you got pregnant while doing the Fertility Cleanse, it is highly unlikely that any toxins will be passed on to your baby.  This is because you will have finished the herbs before the placenta has developed.  If you find out you are pregnant while still doing the Fertility Cleanse Kit, discontinue them.  You could wean off of them over a few days if you are worried about their action on the uterus.  There are some herbs in the Fertility Cleanse that have an action on the uterus, therefore you would not want to continue them into pregnancy.  Some herbs cause uterine contractions or are irritating to the uterus, which may potentially cause a miscarriage if continued more than a week or two.  This is why we never suggest trying to conceive while doing the Fertility Cleanse.

4. Q: I have been using herbs to prevent miscarriage, should I stop them suddenly or wean off of them?

A: Contact an herbalist, naturopathic doctor or midwife trained in herbal medicine and ask them for guidance. Hopefully you are already working with a natural healthcare practitioner who is suggesting herbs that are safe for pregnancy, the proper dosage to take them, and the length of time for use. Never stop them suddenly; again, weaning off over time is best. The general approach is to continue your herbal miscarriage prevention protocol until at least 2 weeks past the last weeks’ gestation of the previous miscarriage (if the previous miscarriage occurred at 8 weeks, continue the formula until at least 10 weeks). Remember, it is extremely important to work with an herbal practitioner, someone who can monitor your herbal program.

5. Q: I have been using natural progesterone cream to prevent miscarriage and I am nearing my 20th week.  Should I just stop using the cream one day, or wean off slowly?

A: By the 20th week of gestation, the placenta should take over progesterone production. At this point there should be no need to continue on with natural progesterone cream, unless you are suggested to do so by your midwife or doctor.  It is fine to stop the cream any time after the 20th week.  It does not matter if it is suddenly stopped or not.  If you are worried, you would wean off over a couple of days.  If you have a history of miscarriage due to low progesterone and you are worried, talk to your healthcare practitioner about your concerns regarding discontinuing natural progesterone cream.

6. Q: How can I find out if the herbs I am taking are safe for use in pregnancy or not?

A: The best way to find out is to write down a list of herbs you are interested in or are currently taking. You can then take the list to your local herbalist or call them to ask if they are safe or not. Books that have information on herbs that should not be used in pregnancy are:

Medical Herbalism The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine by David Hoffmann, FNIMH, AHG.  Page 394.

Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health by Aviva Romm, MD.  This book has a great list of herbs used for women’s health, with their safety for pregnancy and lactation from pages 553-611.

The above books are more advanced and many of the herbs are listed by binomial name. Motherlove Herbal company has a great list of herbs to avoid in pregnancy by common name and action.

You can also look up each herb in an herb book and it will most likely tell you if the herb is safe for pregnancy or not.  Most herbs are not suggested for pregnancy.

Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN
Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN

Dr. Traxler is a University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist, working with patients in Minnesota for over 20 years. She is a professional medical writer; having authored multiple books on pregnancy and childbirth; textbooks and coursework for medical students and other healthcare providers; and has written over 1000 articles on medical, health, and wellness topics.  Dr. Traxler attended the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences and University of Minnesota Medical School,  earning a degree in biochemistry with summa cum laude honors in 1981,  and receiving her Medical Doctorate degree (MD) in 1986.

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  1. Avatar

    I am taking vitex, maca, L argenine, CoQ10, evening primrose. I am ttc. I stop taking primrose once ovulation is detected. What is your recommendation for the rest? Which of the supplements should be stopped or weanned off & when? Should it be done after ovulation or when pregnancy has been detected? Thank you!

  2. Avatar

    Hi Elizabeth, thank you for this helpful article. I am 5 weeks pregnant and feeling confused about how to proceed. My acupuncturist has me on a formula that includes cinnamon twig, white peony root, fresh ginger, Chinese dates, licorice root, and ginseng; I have been taking it for over a year now, four pills a day. She said it is safe to take during pregnancy & will even support the pregnancy. However, my fertility doctor is very hesitant about me taking herbs, and after doing some research, I’ve found articles that say that white peony root & licorice root are not pregnancy-safe. I feel confused about whether to continue, and if not, how to wean myself off. Any advice would be appreciated!

    • Hello JJ!

      Thanks for reaching out to us and for your praise. First, Congratulations!

      It is common for doctors and natural healthcare practitioners to disagree about the use of herbs. This being said, we do not suggest using White Peony and Licorice root in pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

      It may be best to share your concerns with your acupuncturist. Is the support this formula was offering you needed in pregnancy (whether it may support pregnancy or not)?

      Go with your gut and follow the advice of the most trusted healthcare provider. I am certain they both have your best interest in mind, but if taking this formula is worrying you, it may be best to wean off of it. The guidance offered in this article about weaning off slowly over a weeks time may be considered.

      I hope to have been helpful!

  3. Avatar

    This article is very helpful (as is the whole site)! I am 13 weeks pregnant and have been taking 900 mg of Vitex every day. I am weaning off now. I was going to take 450/day for a week. Then, the next week take 450mg every other day, then 450mg every three days, etc.

    This was recommended to me by my herbalist, but I am very interested in getting a second option. I am SO scared that my hormone levels are going to go crazy by stopping Vitex. Vitex has been sooo helpful for me: I have PCOS and had irregular periods for a year.

    Thanks so much!!

    • Dear Jessica,

      Congratulations! I hope you have had and continue to have a happy and healthy pregnancy!

      It is great that you are working with an herbalist. He/she is best able to guide you in weaning off of Vitex given your need. As suggested in this article, if you haven’t experienced miscarriage, “A good way to wean off of an herb or herbal blend is to take less and less each day, over a week. If you are taking herbs in a capsule form, you could open the capsule, dump a little out and then close it back up and then take it. Do this each day until you are no longer taking it.”

      If recurrent miscarriage has been an issue, it again is very important to be working with an herbalist or natural healthcare practitioner and “the general rule of thumb is to continue your herbal miscarriage prevention protocol until at least 2 weeks past the latest weeks’ gestation of previous miscarriage (if the previous miscarriage occurred at 8 weeks, continue the formula until at least 10 weeks).”

      If interested we also have a wealth of Pregnancy Health information available.

      Best wishes to you!

  4. Avatar

    I have been taking 60 drops of vitex every morning to regulate my cycles and lengthen my luteal phase…it worked and now I am pregnant. My OB/GYN may want me to start a vaginal progesterone suppository if my progesterone levels do not appear to be high enough. I have read I should not take the two together, but I have also read it might not be a good idea to stop the vitex cold turkey. Should I delay starting the progesterone to wean off the vitex, or will the fact that I’d now be getting progesterone from the suppositories eliminate the chances of a progesterone drop that could cause miscarriage?

    • Dear Stacey,

      First, Congratulations! This is wonderful news! I hope you are feeling well.

      Second, it is going to be best to ensure your healthcare provider knows you are using Vitex liquid extract and heed his advice for when to start progesterone supplementation if it is determined to be needed. Vitex can be taken with natural progesterone cream and is an herb to be slowly weaned off of in early pregnancy as discussed in this article.

      The purpose of supplemental progesterone is to ensure progesterone levels are high enough to sustain the pregnancy until the placenta takes over progesterone production and yes, hopefully prevent a drop in progesterone levels.

      All my best!