Pregnancy and nursing are times to be extra vigilant about what you’re putting in (and on) your body. Pregnant women especially have an increased need for nutrients to grow and deliver a healthy baby, and I recommend you get as many of these nutrients as possible via food. But, it’s not always possible to eat perfectly, and our food supply often isn’t capable of delivering us the nutrients we need due to poor soil and growing practices and poorly nourished animals. That’s why I recommend certain herbs and supplements for pregnancy to fill in the nutritional gaps. Be aware, though, that not all supplements are safe for pregnancy!
Safe Herbs and Supplements for Pregnancy
I don’t recommend using any herbs or supplements without consulting your midwife or doctor. Some herbs are contraindicated for pregnancy, and not all supplements are safe. Women often ask me about herbs during pregnancy, and the safest options are ginger and peppermint, both great for nausea/morning sickness. The pregnancy tea blends are great uterine tonics and often contain red raspberry leaf and nettles, both good for pregnancy. Tulsi tea is also a great choice.
- Prenatal vitamin: be very careful about the brand you choose. You’ve probably heard that folic acid is recommended during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects. Folate is the natural form, found in foods like liver, spinach, lentils, and garbanzo beans. Folic acid is synthetically produced. It’s very important to avoid synthetic folic acid in supplements, as the body cannot fully process the synthetic form, and excess amounts in the system are linked to cancer. You can read more about folate vs folic acid here. If you have the MTHFR mutation, you need to be especially careful about choosing the methylated form of folate. You’d need the 5-methyltetrahydrofolate or 5-MTHF forms (look on the label). Avoid any supplements that just list “folic acid” as an ingredient. I recommend Designs for Health prenatal packs, which include a multi, mineral, and essential fatty acid (crucial for fetal brain development). They use a natural folate blend. You can also just buy the prenatal supplement without the mineral or fatty acid. I also like Garden of Life Prenatal Code. Take your prenatal post-pregnancy for lactation support also.
- Vitamin D: have your levels tested and make sure they are in the 60-80 range. Most of us are D deficient, and research is telling us how important D is for preventing pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes. D is also crucial for hormone and immune support. A multi will contain D, but you may need to supplement to bring levels up if you’re low. I recommend this one, which contains vitamin K2 that’s necessary for absorption.
- Probiotic: probably the most important supplement after folate. Mama’s gut flora is passed on to baby as the foundation of his/her immune system. During delivery as the baby passes through the birth canal, he/she is inoculated with mom’s beneficial gut bacteria that will help reduce illness and digestive issues during infancy. Mom’s microbiome is the foundation for baby’s health. A probiotic and probiotic foods will also help ease constipation and bloating during pregnancy. I of course recommend fermented foods for diverse strains of probiotic bacteria. Choose raw kraut (easy to find at most stores; make sure it’s raw!) or coconut water kefir. If you can do dairy, choose unsweetened kefir or plain goat kefir. I also recommend this probiotic as well as Primal Defense probiotic. Rotate between several different brands so you get the diverse probiotic strains (hard, if not impossible, to find them all in one formula). You can read my probiotic recommendations here.
- Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in your body and required for more than 300 different enzymatic and biochemical reactions, including mitochondrial function in the cell, protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation (source). Did you know magnesium can ease constipation and morning sickness? Double win. Try taking 200 mg three times daily (with meals) or 500 mg at night before bed for constipation. I like this one. For morning sickness, you can try magnesium oil or a transdermal form to ease nausea.
- Fatty acid/fish oil: essential fatty acids are not produced in the body, so you must get them from your diet. Wild salmon, sardines, hemp seeds, and walnuts are good sources. EFAs are important for baby’s brain and vision development. May also help with mood support for mom. Again, be careful where you source your fish oil: make sure it’s processed in a way that won’t heat or damage the delicate omega 3s (which are very heat sensitive) and that it’s had impurities removed. I like Nordic Naturals.
In addition to any supplemental support, focus on good fats, high quality protein, fermented foods, organ meats, and as many plant foods as possible during pregnancy. You can read my detailed recommendations here. Add bone broth and green smoothies for an added boost. Avoid artificial sweeteners, chemical additives, BPA, vegetable oils, and corn syrup. Make sure to clean up your home environment also; dump the chemical body care products and cleaning supplies (including laundry detergents!). You can read how to reduce toxins in your life here, and check out my natural beauty regime here.
- Coconut Oil is great for baby’s brain development and mom’s energy levels and thyroid function. Healthy thyroid is so critical during pregnancy! I love a spoonful of coconut oil along with some raw honey and almond butter as snack. You can eat 1-3 tbsp daily.
- Liver/Desiccated liver: one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, liver is a rich source of necessary folate, vitamin D, iron, vitamin A, and minerals. Great for energy levels. Here are some sneaky ways to add liver to your diet, but if you just can’t stomach the thought, try a high quality desiccated liver supplement.
- Spirulina is a wonderful superfood addition to smoothies, rich in iron and fatty acids, all necessary for healthy pregnancy. Gives you an energy boost and a lovely glow!
- Pregnancy Tea is a great uterine tonic. Best used in second and third trimesters. Many claim that red raspberry leaf (a main ingredient) shortens labor and increases strength of contractions without pain. Nettles tea is another great one, helps keep iron levels up during pregnancy and very rich in necessary minerals.
Here is a great list of herbs to avoid during pregnancy, and more detailed info here on how to use herbs and what to avoid.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.