An Herb & Supplement Guide for Pregnancy
Herbs and supplements can be used before conception, during pregnancy, and after birth, to help both mom and baby. It is important to speak with a holistic practitioner, herbalist, midwife or doula prior to taking any herbs or supplements. Although these are safe to most, they may not be right for you and your baby. The three most important supplements to take while pregnant are a full-spectrum prenatal supplement, a high-quality fish oil, and probiotics. Anything else taken is considered a bonus!
When looking for a prenatal supplement that is right for you and your baby, it is important to have the correct amount of nutrients. Although many of the nutrients needed come from the food we eat, getting an adequate amount of nutrients is not always possible. But with the supplement and herb guide provided below. It is easy to navigate the large variety of prenatal supplements and herbal remedies provided to moms-to-be.
B Vitamins play an important role during pregnancy. The prenatal vitamin you choose should include vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B12, Biotin, and Folate (not folic acid, and preferably in the already methylated form of L-Methylfolate). The vitamins help create new blood cells and are important for brain development, and cell division. All the different B vitamins play a unique role during pregnancy. Vitamin B6 is essential for creating the baby’s nervous system. As Vitamin B6, B12, and folate work together to keep homocysteine levels low and prevent possible birth defects. Along with zinc, the B vitamins help produce energy in the body, which is very important when you are creating a baby.
The prenatal vitamin should contain 20 to 25 mg of Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B5. As well as 50 mg of Vitamins B6, B12, and Biotin. The most important B Vitamin, folate, should have at least 1000 mcg included in the prenatal multi.
Most prenatal vitamins do not have an adequate amount of the needed B Vitamins for pregnancy. If you cannot find a prenatal vitamin that has an adequate amount; it is okay to take a separate B-complex.
The best food sources for B vitamins: mushrooms, watercress, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, squash, bananas, tomatoes, and chicken.
Vitamin C is needed for the formation of collagen. Collagen plays a role in helping keep the amniotic sac or protective membrane around the baby strong and thick. Vitamin C is also important for keeping the bones, skin, and joints firm. Furthermore, it keeps the skin supple, which helps prevent stretch marks for mom. It is also an antioxidant, and therefore it plays a role in detoxing the body of pollutants and protecting the body by supporting a healthy immune system.
Vitamin C is water-soluble and depletes from the body within 4 hours, therefore should be taken in divided doses throughout the day. At least 1500 to 2000 mg taken daily.
The best food sources of Vitamin C: bell peppers, watercress, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, lemons, kiwi, peas, melons, oranges, grapefruit, limes, and tomatoes.
Vitamin D is essential for the growth of the baby, tooth enamel, and bone development. It is also needed to help the absorption of calcium. Together with vitamin K2, calcium and vitamin D help maintain healthy bones in mom.
There are two different forms of Vitamin D which are D2 and D3, D3 is considered the more absorbable form. The prenatal vitamin should have at least 1000 IU of the D3 form.
The best food sources for Vitamin D3: herring, mackerel, salmon, cottage cheese, and eggs.
Vitamin E protects RNA and DNA, the genetic material of each cell, from damage. Like Vitamin C, Vitamin E helps oxygenate the cells. It is also important for wound healing and keeping the skin supple, which helps reduce scarring from a Cesarean birth. There is also an increased risk of miscarriage when Vitamin E is low.
A good prenatal vitamin should have 400 IU of Vitamin E.
The best food sources of Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and other seeds as well as beans, peas, sardines, salmon, and sweet potatoes.
Calcium is an important component of bones and teeth. The mineral helps promote a healthy heart and nervous system in the baby. For the mother, the mineral helps with aching muscles.
A mother needs to take 1200 to 1500 mg of Calcium per day.
The best food sources for Calcium: Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, almonds, sesame seeds, parsley, dried prunes, pumpkin seeds, cabbage, and green leafy vegetables.
Iron is needed to make a protein in the blood known as hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to every cell in the body. This is especially important as the volume of blood increases in the body during pregnancy. Iron is also important for energy production.
A prenatal vitamin should have 25 to 30 mg of iron.
The best food sources of Iron: pumpkin seeds, parsley, almonds, dried prunes, cashews, brazil nuts, walnuts, dates, and pork.
Magnesium, along with Vitamin D and Calcium, work together to form the baby’s bones and teeth. It is necessary for the development of the heart muscle and nervous system. The mineral helps promote healthy muscles as well as relax the muscles in mothers. This is important for proper contractions during labor. Magnesium is another nutrient which helps produce energy in the body.
Ideally, 750 mg of Magnesium should be taken daily. The magnesium should come in the form of an amino acid chelate (e.g. magnesium bisglycinate or glycinate) or citrate. These forms absorb the best.
The best food sources for magnesium: wheat germ, almonds, cashews, brewers yeast, buckwheat flour, brazil nuts, cooked beans, and garlic.
Zinc is the most important mineral for pregnancy. It is needed for balancing hormones and necessary for the baby’s growth. The mineral helps stimulate a healthy nervous system and brain for both the mother and the baby. Like many other vitamins and minerals, zinc promotes the formation of bones and teeth as well as energy in the body.
During pregnancy, at least 20 mg of zinc is required per day.
The best food sources of zinc: ginger root, lamb chomps, pecans, haddock, green peas, shrimp, turnips, Brazil nuts, egg yolk, whole wheat grain, rye, oats, and almonds.
Other Important Nutrients
Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs are important for pregnancy. One type of EFA is DHA. DHA is an important fuel source for the development of the baby’s brain and retina. This EFA increases cognitive function and IQ, as well as reducing the risk of developmental disorders like ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. This nutrient is especially important to take before conception because it can take up to eight weeks to accumulate levels that are high enough to transfer through the placenta.
Depending on your diet, a good amount of EFAs to supplement are 600 to 1200 mg or 1 tbsp. daily.
The best food sources for EFAs: wild caught oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel), nuts, seeds, and egg yolks.
Probiotics work to promote a strong immune system. Probiotics reduce the possibility of allergies, asthma, eczema, and digestive issues. They work cohesively to help protect against leaky gut and increase the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and iron. This is especially important in babies who are formula-fed.
It is important to start slow with probiotics. Start in the millions and work your way up 3 to 10 billion, depending on your body & prior microbial balance.
The best food sources of probiotics: fermented foods such as sauerkraut, organic yogurt, and kefir.
Herbs for Pregnancy
It is important to avoid most botanical medicines during the first trimester unless under the guidance of a Naturopathic Doctor or Herbalist.
Can help prevent and relieve nausea and vomiting, otherwise known as morning sickness, during pregnancy. Depending on your preference, ginger can be taken in the form of tea, capsules, candies, or crystallized.
Chamomile tea is a great way to relax and de-stress. A cup of tea with this herb will help with sleep. Just be sure not to drink the tea too close to bed to prevent urination during the night. Additionally, the herb helps treat insomnia and flatulence.
Nettle leaf is very high nutrients and is considered great to drink as a tea during pregnancy. Specifically, it is high in chlorophyll, Vitamin A and C, and it contains many trace minerals. Nettle is also anti-inflammatory and immune boosting.
Red Raspberry Leaf
To help a woman prepare for birth, red raspberry leaf is used to strengthen and tone the uterus as well as helps with proper contractions. This herb can be taken alone or in a tea blend to get in a wide array of benefits in one cup of tea. Red raspberry leaf should only be taken in higher doses (i.e. more than 1 cup a day) within the third trimester of pregnancy as it can bring on contractions, however 1 cup of tea a day that includes red raspberry leaf can be consumed safely in both the second and third trimester.
Note: it’s actually safe to drink red raspberry leaf tea in all trimesters, mostly in the 2nd and 3rd. It’s just not safe to have a LOT of it before the baby is fully gestated (that’s about 4 cups of heavily concentrated tea in one day). Having a cup daily as part of a pregnancy mix in the second trimester is more than fine, as it helps to tone the uterus.