Discomforts of Pregnancy

The First Trimester

Threatened Miscarriage

For many who have suffered miscarriage in the past, herbs may prove effective
in preventing this from happening again, provided that the foetus is normal
and general health, physical, emotional and mental, is good. No herbal remedy
will block appropriate miscarriage. Most cases of miscarriage are a natural
rejection of a malformed foetus. When it occurs more than once in the same
woman, it may be related to a problem on her part, rather than the baby’s.
In this case it is especially important to build up her general health as
well as that of her partner before they attempt to conceive again. To ensure
fewer complications, women should take longer at least six to twelve months
between pregnancies

Where chronic poor health, inadequate diet, or trauma and stress of any
kind have depleted general strength, herbs can provide extra strength and
vitality, especially to the womb, and so help avoid unnecessary miscarriage.

If abdominal cramping pains and bleeding occur, medical attention is
needed immediately.

Specific Remedies

A number of plants have well deserved reputations in preventing miscarriage.
It may be significant that two of them are now endangered species. Important
plants are listed here, with the endangered ones in bold type:

Caulophyllum thalictroides (Blue cohosh)

Chamaelirium luteum (False unicorn root)

Cypripedium pubescens (Lady’s Slipper)

Dioscorea villosa (Wild yam)

Viburnum opulus (Cramp Bark)

Viburnum prunifolium (Black Haw)

Other plants that have been widely used to prevent miscarriage include Rosemary,
Raspberry leaves, Hawthorn, Partridge Berry, Ginseng, Motherwort, Garlic
and Fenugreek.

One Possible Prescription

Viburnum prunifolium 2 parts

Cimicifuga racemosa 2 parts

Caulophyllum thalictroides 1 part 2.5 ml of tincture three times
a day, building up to 5 ml. three times day

This supplies the following actions :

Uterine tonic (Viburnum prunifolium, Cimicifuga racemosa,
Caulophyllum thalictroides

Nervine relaxant (Viburnum prunifolium, Cimicifuga racemosa)

Anti-spasmodic (Viburnum prunifolium, Cimicifuga racemosa, Caulophyllum

Broader Context of Treatment

Plenty of foods containing vitamins E and C should be eaten. Asparagus and
celery are said to be strengthening.

Nausea, Vomiting (Morning Sickness)

It is seen in about 50% of pregnancies, and tends to be worse with each
successive pregnancy. In most cases it will subside at the fourth month
of pregnancy. The exact cause of is not known but there are various theories
associated with it. Two important ones are:

1. The rapid change of hormone levels in early pregnancy, with resultant
high levels of progesterone, may be related due to a stimulation of the
vomit center in the brain. Progesterone relaxes the smooth muscle throughout
the body, including that found in the arteries, and this produces a drop
in blood pressure, which may account for the tiredness and lethargy associated
with the nausea and sickness. During the first l2-24 weeks of the pregnancy,
when most women experience sickness, the hormones are mostly produced in
the corpus luteum in the ovaries. After this time the emphasis changes towards
production of hormones from the placenta, possibly explaining why the sickness
stops at around the time of the change over, l2-l4 weeks. Sickness could
also be related to low blood pressure, especially with a relative lack of
blood getting to the brain on rising which is caused by high progesterone
levels. Getting up slowly will help to relieve this.

2. It may also be associated with low blood sugar, which normally occurs
in early pregnancy. The nausea is often relieved through raising blood sugar
levels by eating small, frequent meals. This should not have a high sugar
concentration as sugar in the stomach can aggravate nausea.

Specific Remedies

There are no general rules for treating morning sickness, as the causes
vary from one woman to another. Treatment should aim at what is seen as
the underlying cause. Anti-emetics are important as they will reduce the
vomit reflex whatever the cause. Valuable anti-emetics that are safe to
use in early pregnancy include:

Ballota nigra (Black Horehound)

Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet)

Gentiana lutea (Gentian)

Rosemarinus officinalis (Rosemary)

Many of the herbs which aid digestion will help. The carminative, anti-spasmodic
and relaxing nervines are especially important. Examples include:

Cinnamomum aromaticum (Cinnamon bark)

Dioscorea villosa (Wild Yam)

Eugenia spp. (Cloves)

Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel seeds)

Humulus lupulus (Hops)

Lavandula spp. (Lavender)

Matricaria recutita (Chamomile)

Melissa officinalis (Balm)

Mentha piperita (Peppermint)

Rubus idaeus (Raspberry leaves)

Zingiber officinale (Ginger root)

Mucilage rich demulcents such as Chondrus crispus (Iceland Moss)
and Ulmus fulva (Slippery Elm) will soothe the whole of the digestive
tract. They are both highly nutritious containing many minerals and trace
elements and easily digested, ideal for conditions associated with weakness
of the stomach.

One Possible Prescription

Zingiber officinalis

Dioscorea Villosa

Ballota nigra equal parts 2.5 ml of tincture at night and in morning
building up to 5 ml. if needed

Mentha piperita

Matricaria recutita equal parts of dried herb to make an infusion

1 teaspoonful to a cup.

Broader Treatment Considerations

  • Eat small meals all day rather than three large meals.

  • Avoid certain foods or odors that bring on symptoms.

  • Small starch snacks such as eating crackers in bed before arising.

  • 100-300mg of B6/day.

  • Maintain electrolyte balance if vomiting is severe.


Progesterone relaxes the intestinal muscles and so reduces their power to
propel the contents of the bowel towards the rectum and out of the body.
As pregnancy progresses, and the weight of the baby and placenta increases,
the tendency to constipation is aggravated by the pressure exerted by these
on the lower bowel. When the enlarged uterus impedes the circulation to
the bowel, the action of the intestinal muscles is also restricted, as it
is by any tension or anxiety which a pregnant woman experiences. Intake
of iron as a supplement exacerbates or can cause constipation. Eating small
starchy meals consisting of refined flour also contributes to the

For more details about the herbal treatment of constipation please refer
to that section in the digestive system.


Please consult the section on constipation. Aim for gentle therapy, utilizing
the following treatment considerations:

Increase water intake to 8 glasses per day.

Increase exercise, walk 1/2 mile per day.

Increase intake of fresh fruits and some dried fruits such as prunes, raisins,

Increase roughage.

Bulk laxatives such as Psyllium seeds (1 tablespoonful 3 times a day in
1/4 cup juice).


These may occur early in pregnancy but generally get worse as the pregnancy
advances. Symptoms vary from painless cosmetically problematic regions to
mild or severe pain. Sometimes there may be a varicosity in the labia majora.
For more details on the herbal treatment of varicosities please refer
to the section in the Cardio-Vascular chapter.

Fatigue and Somnolence

It is normal for some pregnant women to require excessive periods of rest
or sleep during the first trimester. Sleep requirements can be as much as
18 hours per day. If the woman is not working or going to school and does
not have young children it is advisable to sleep whenever possible. Some
women become depressed at their inability continue the normal daily activity
levels established before the pregnancy. Women should be counseled that
this symptom usually remits totally by the fourth month of gestation. Blood
studies should be checked to rule out anemia. Sometimes ingestion of protein
will alleviate this symptom.

Avoid herbal stimulants, neurological of metabolic.


The prevention of anaemia is a most important aspect of ante-natal care.
Haemoglobin, the iron and protein compound contained in red blood cells
(erythrocytes), is responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs around
the body including (of course) both placenta and foetus. If haemoglobin
levels in the blood fall, so the body’s ability to access oxygen falls accordingly.

During pregnancy the blood volume increases at a faster rate than the erythrocytes
multiply, so they are diluted by extra fluid. There is a relative drop in
haemoglobin carried by the erythrocytes of about 1 gm to approximately 11
gms. Below this level anaemia is said to exist, and may be identified by
lethargy, irritability and breathlessness on slight exertion. Anaemia commonly
occurs in the last two months of pregnancy, when the baby takes a high proportion
of the mother’s iron. It helps to build up iron reserves before pregnancy
starts, so that the mother meets the increased iron demands without any
problems. A history of menorrhagia would also suggest iron reserves might
be low.

The best approach is to increase dietary intake of iron-containing foods.
These include:

liver (best only from organically produced meat, as the liver is
the detoxifying organ of mammals, and may contain residues of chemicals
if it was factory reared),

free range eggs,

dairy produce,


dried apricots,

whole-wheat bread,

cocoa and carob,





currants and raisins,

brown rice,



sunflower seeds,




blackcurrants, blackberries, strawberries


Leafy herbs that can be added to salads or cooked as a vegetable and added
to soups include :

Crataegus spp. Hawthorn flowers and leaves.

Rumex acetosella Sorrel

Symphytum officinale Comfrey leaves (in moderation)

Taraxacum officinale Dandelion leaves

Urtica dioica Nettles

Herbs which contain valuable levels of iron include :

Arctium lappa Burdock leaves

Gentian lutea Gentian

Crataegus spp. Hawthorn

Humulus lupulus Hops

Rubus idaeus Raspberry leaves

Scutellaria spp. Skullcap

Verbena officinalis Vervain

Rumex crispus Yellow Dock

All iron-containing foods are better absorbed in the presence of an animal
protein. Vitamin C also enhances iron absorption. Watercress, Rose hips,
Blackberries, Blackcurrants, Elderberries, Parsley, Spinach, Dandelion leaves
(the list is endless) all contain both iron and vitamin C, and natural iron
never causes constipation.


This is common in pregnancy due to relaxation of the blood vessel walls
by progesterone. It is a form of postural hypotension. However, this does
not call for hypertensives such as Scot’s Broom as such herbs may be too
strong for both mother and foetus. More frequently seen in early pregnancy.

  • Change positions slowly.

  • Eat small meals rather that 3 large meals.

  • Maintain blood sugar level.


This is one of the most common complaints of pregnancy, caused by reflux
of gastric contents into the esophagus due to back pressure. The treatment
approach is discussed in the section on gastritis and reflux in the Digestive
System chapter.

The relaxing effects of progesterone reach the cardiac sphincter, the valve
guarding the entrance to the stomach at the bottom of the oesophagus. As
a result of this, as the enlarging uterus pushes up against the stomach,
small amounts of the stomach’s contents are passed into the lower oesophagus.
Hydrochloric acid mixed with the stomach contents irritate and burn the
oesophagus, and result in an inflammatory process. In more extreme cases,
parts of the stomach itself can be pushed up through the diaphragm or into
the oesophagus, and cause some degree of hiatus hernia.

Bleeding Gums

Frequently seen in pregnancy. Gingival hypertrophy is also seen in 40% of
pregnancies. Follow the topical advice given for gingivitis but not
the internal treatment.

  • Brush gums frequently with a soft brush.

  • Vitamin C and bioflavonoids complex to 2000mg daily


Seen in early pregnancy and worse between 3 and 5 months. A few cases may
result from eye strain as pregnancy can result in a change in the amount
of refractive error. Some cases result from sinusitis. Frontal headaches
are seen with hypertension. Please refer to the section on headaches
in the Nervous System chapter.

Vaginal Infections

These are discussed in the chapter on immunity and infections.


May occur for the first time during pregnancy or the pregnancy may exacerbate
an already existing condition. This is caused by increased pressure and
impairment of return of venous fluid in the hemorrhoidal veins by the pressure
of the enlarging uterus. Constipation makes the problem worse. Congestion
of liver function caused by intake of junk foods, refined flour and alcohol
encourage the problem as the hemorrhoidal veins are part of the portal drainage

The treatment approach is discussed in the section on hemorrhoids in
the Digestive System chapter.

Discomforts of Pregnancy: The Second and Third Trimesters

Stretch Marks

Genetic predisposition is the predominant factor in the development of stretch
marks. When new the marks resemble purple striae, and after a period of
time they revert to silvery cicatrix. They occur when the skin is stretched
beyond normal capacity and elasticity, in this case related to progesterone
and rapid weight gain. The tendency to develop stretch marks can be reduced
by eating appropriately and using remedies to address the collagen problems
in the skin.

Vitamins E, C and B5 (pantothenic acid) can help as well as Zinc. These
can all be obtained from the diet. The following are recommended in Herbs
for Pregnancy and Childbirth
by Anne McIntyre:

Sunflower seeds and oil, pumpkin seeds, wheatgerm, onions, eggs,
lettuce, cucumber,

cabbage, radishes, horseradish, rice bran, asparagus, parsnips,

brewer’s yeast, whole grains, fish, alfalfa, molasses.

Wheatgerm or vitamin E oil massaged into the breasts, abdomen and thighs
daily will reduce the likelihood of marks developing. Calendula oil
mixed with wheatgerm oil is especially helpful.


High levels of progesterone during pregnancy affect the tendons and ligaments
throughout the body, having a softening effect which allows them to expand
where necessary to accommodate the growing baby. This affects the spine
particularly, and the relaxation of the ligaments supporting the spine plus
the weight of the growing abdomen pulling on it often causes backache. The
characteristic posture adopted by quite heavily pregnant mothers, leaning
backwards, places added strain on the lower joints of the spine.

Bad posture will aggravate this. Too much exercise or bending the wrong
way will certainly not help, and a rapid weight gain in pregnancy may bring
out symptoms of previous damage to the back as increasing strain is imposed
upon it. Yoga exercises may be helpful, with the certain asanas being recommended
by experts. Rest is important to prevent or relieve backache, especially
in the last three months. Deep breathing and relaxation exercises also help.
Baths with Lavender and Rosemary can help soothe the pain. Massage of the
whole spine with a mixture of Chamomile and Geranium oil can be effective.


Gestational hypertension is characterized by a steady rise in blood pressure
after the 28th week of gestation. The general rule for the upper limit of
gestational hypertension is 140/90. It may be caused by:

  • Emotional and physical stress.

  • Obesity.

  • Lack of exercise.

  • Drugs and stimulants.

  • Diet including processed & heavily salted carbohydrates with inadequate
    protein intake.

Herbal treatment can do much to mitigate this form of secondary hypertension,
but the blood pressure must be monitored closely as it may rise dangerously
fast in some situations. Please refer to the section on hypertension in
the chapter on the cardio-vascular system.

  • Exercise: this forces blood through the vasculature and the vasculature
    will respond by stretching and relaxing if it is healthy and flexible. Brisk
    walking or swimming is recommended. This works best when a tendency for
    blood pressure rise is first noted and is not appropriate for very elevated

  • Deep relaxation or meditation, please refer to the appropriate section.

  • No stimulants including coffee, nicotine, cocaine: all are linked to
    hypertension, restriction of blood flow to the placenta and small-for-gestational-age

  • Improved diet: good quality protein and fresh fruits.

  • Increase water intake.

  • Rest, particularly lying on the left side.

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Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

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