Baby boom: pregnancy tips.

Perhaps it really is “Change you can conceive in,” as Newsweek put it.

In any case babies are popping up everywhere these days, and people have been asking me about herbs and healthy pregnancy.

This is what I tell them.

1. The “duh” list: Get enough rest, eat enough (good) food, and stay away from toxic stuff.

Rest: Your body will tell you how much you need. It’s best to listen.

Don’t freak out if you have trouble sleeping — drink a cup of chamomile tea, put a drop of peach leaf tincture on your wrist, or smell your hop pillow. And like I said, don’t freak out. (Remember, Barbara Kingsolver wrote her first novel when she had insomnia during her first pregnancy.)

Food: Don’t eat bad food. Do your best to avoid sketchy food. Do eat plenty of good-quality protein (including fish), all kinds of good fats, and lots of in-season vegetables. (Confused about fish? Check this out. And this.) Oh, and if you know you’re allergic or sensitive to something, just don’t eat it.

Toxic stuff: This is a hard one. There’s toxic stuff everywhere, and once you’ve determined how much you can practically avoid, it’s best not to freak out about it too much. (Sense a theme?) Stress isn’t good for babies. That said, here are some common sources of toxic stuff: cosmetics; cleaning products; plastic food and drink containers; paint and other new building materials; dust in old houses; dirt around old buildings. (The last two are due to lead contamination. And this is something to worry about. Read up on it.)

2. Pay close attention to your blood sugar.

Low blood sugar can cause morning sickness (or anytime sickness). High blood sugar can make your baby grow too big, or give it blood sugar problems later in life. (And you don’t even want to think about gestational diabetes.)

Avoid low blood sugar: Eat protein. Avoid refined carbohydrates (i.e., white flour, white sugar, white rice). Eat protein. Don’t eat carbohydrates by themselves (butter your bread; put cheese on your crackers). Eat protein. And eat fat, lots of good fat.

Avoid high blood sugar: See “avoid low blood sugar.”

3. Take care of your kidneys.

Your kidneys do a lot of extra work when you’re pregnant (they have to filter 50% more blood than usual). Be nice to them. Drink plenty of water. Use a good high-mineral salt in cooking (avoid cheap refined salt). And remember that nettles are your friends. Nettle tea is rich in minerals and also a lovely kidney restorative. Nettle seeds are a good choice too. (If your kidneys are unhappy, you’ll end up with puffy ankles and feet. You don’t want this.)

4. Take care of your nerves.

There’s a lot going on. Give yourself a break. Breathe a lot and stretch a lot and take time to be quiet. Also milky oats. And peach leaf if you’re highly sensitive and irritable. Mint tea is lovely for tired nerves, and so is bee balm tea, especially if those nerves are feeling frayed. Holy basil tea if you’re tense and worried. Rose if you’re sad and scared.

5. Take care of your veins.

Remember all that extra blood? It can be a lot for your veins to deal with, too. Eat lots of purple foods — blueberries, blackberries, beets. If you know you might be prone to varicose veins (did your mother get them? ask her!), you might take hawthorne berries or oak bark (small doses of oak) preemptively.

6. Take care of your belly.

To prevent nausea (especially in the morning), make sure you eat enough protein (especially at supper). Peach leaf and ginger are both great for nausea, but in opposite situations: peach is good for “hot” constitutions, and ginger for “cold” ones. If you don’t know, experiment. Take a little taste and see how you feel. Catnip and mint are also good if you’re feeling gassy and burpish.

As your baby grows, your guts might get a bit sluggish. Make sure you eat enough bulky and mucilaginous food to keep things in order. Flaxseed is great for this, and so are apples.

7. And of course, take care of your uterus.

Remember, the uterus is a muscle. For generations, midwives have reminded us that raspberry leaf tea makes it strong. This is a good thing. A cup of raspberry leaf tea everyday is pleasant, too.

(You’re right, I didn’t mention supplements. I’m not a big supplements person, and I don’t know a lot about them. But if you take a prenatal vitamin, make sure it’s good quality. And if you don’t eat fish, you might consider fish oil or cod liver oil.)


  1. Holly said,

    November 26, 2008 @ 9:40 am

    Thank you, Rebecca! I love this blog.

  2. Jen said,

    November 26, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

    Rebecca, your blog has inspired me to try so many fabulous food & beauty projects, which is so therapeutic… also good for cheap people. I haven’t shampooed in a year! And my hair has never been happier. (Happy hair?)

    And this post is fabulous. But you forgot one important topic, which is ensuring that you get enough folic acid during pregnancy to protect against spina bifida in the baby, which can be devastating and is totally avoidable. I agree that supplements are of dubious value in general (though folic acid supplementation seems to work pretty well for people with less than optimal diets). I’m a big advocate of getting your nutrients from food. Lentils, leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, strawberries, and many other delicious foods are all excellent sources of folic acid. My recommendation as a baby doctor would be to try a diet high in folic acid, and then get a blood test to ensure that your folate level is where it should be during pregnancy.Then decide if getting it through food is sufficient or if considering supplementation would be reasonable.

    Love to you both.

  3. lacey said,

    November 26, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

    What appropriate timing to come across this article! We just found out we’re joining the baby boom. I will be getting some raspberry leaf tea and some more cod liver oil. I usually get the Carlson brand, do you have one you prefer? And for varicose veins, how would I go about taking the barks? I’ve already gotten several spider veins, (this is my 3rd pregnancy) and I’d like to stop the cycle! Also my hormones are confused and my poor face is in disarray…. any suggestions? I hardly wear make-up, when I do it’s Everyday Minerals, I eat whole, local organic foods. I avoid refined foods, drink water and Kombucha…. I’m doing everything I know to do. Any herbs that would do the trick?

  4. lotusbirther said,

    December 1, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

    This is an excellent post in a great blog! I shall endeavour to pass by more frequently. 🙂
    One thing that could also be considered though, on top of what you and other comments have made is to use organic flax seed oil instead of fish liver oil, that is best for vegans and vegetarians and of course limits that all important pollution of the important pregnant woman and unborn baby.

  5. crabappleherbs said,

    December 1, 2008 @ 7:09 pm

    Holly — Thanks!

    Jen — Thanks for pointing that out. It’s good to know that there’s a reliable blood test. Is there a specific time during the course of a pregnancy when folic acid levels are particularly crucial? (Jen’s a med student, folks, and a great source for these sorts of details…)

    Lacey — I don’t have a specific cod liver oil brand that I prefer. Hawthorn berries are great for strong veins — you could use a tincture or a decoction (berries boiled in water). Same with the oak bark, though you want to go easy on that one because of the risk of constipation. It sounds like you might need a consultation with an herbalist — I don’t know what your constitution is like, so I can’t say which herbs might help you with your skin, etc.

    Lotusbirther — Thank you! I didn’t mention flax because it’s not necessarily comparable to fish oil, as the body needs to convert the fatty acids in flax (ALA) to the all-important-for-brain-development EPA and DHA. It’s controversial how much of the ALA in flax is converted, and it probably differs from person to person. For a committed vegetarian, flax is an option, though, as you mention.

  6. Jen said,

    December 2, 2008 @ 11:32 am

    Unfortunately, the most important time for folate is during the first few weeks of pregnancy when the neural tube is forming into what becomes, in part, the spinal cord. (This is known as the teratogenic period; the word nerds among us will appreciate what a horrible phrase that is.) So it’s as important, if not more so, for women who may become pregnant to ensure their folic acid intake is adequate, though it is a consideration throughout the duration of the pregnancy.

  7. Jenny Juliana said,

    December 2, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

    Do you have any recommendations for those of us who already have varicose veins? I wish I had been more proactive (they run in my family)! Thanks. I love your blog!

  8. lacey said,

    December 6, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

    Thank you for your advice, I’ll be searching out some Hawthorn berries and a local herbalist! As per the Folic acid suggestion, I was so pleased that before I found out I was pregnant I was craving liver (which I’ve never had before) So I made some and then found out that it’s very high in folic acid as well as several vitamins! It pays to listen to our bodies!

  9. Herbwifemama said,

    December 9, 2008 @ 8:59 pm

    Lacey, I had a similar experience. I conceived in spring, RIGHT after asparagus season, so it was perfect timing- after 3-4 weeks of near daily asparagus, which is very high in folate, I got pregnant. I never took prenatals (I’m against artifical supplementation, but I did drink nettles and RRL a lot in my pregnancy as well as keeping up with a whole food diet), and dd was perfectly healthy.

  10. Lune said,

    December 13, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

    Thanks so much for this post. We are thinking about having our third child and I really want to do things *right* this time. I love the way you have herbal advice mixed in with healthy things like: eat lots of good fat!!
    I have been following a traditional diet for a couple of years now and would never take supplements, so your herbal advice is great for me.
    I wonder if blood sugar was my problem in my first two pregnancies, I was as sick as a dog for both of them. Now I eat hardly any carbs, I am gluten intolerant, so hopefully I wont be so sick next time round!
    thanks and I will keep up with your blog from now on,
    Lune x

  11. Amber Magnolia said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

    Thank you for this Rebecca! As I’ve blogged about before, I was vegan during my first pregnancy and was totally depleted during my postpartum months. I just found out that I am newly pregnant and am so looking forward to doing things differently this time! (In fact, I am drinking my nettles infusion as I type, had plllenty of butter on my toast this morning, and had liver for dinner last night…)

  12. Ottawa Gardener said,

    January 17, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

    Funny, I had different severe food aversions with each of my pregnancies. Foods that if I went near, I would … you know. With the first it was oregano which apparently in LARGE does can do something bad (I can’t remember, stimulate the uterus or something) and with the second cumin. Normally, I love both of those things. I tried to respect my blech factor with each pregnancy but avoiding stress was quite tricky!

    I remember once a researcher said it was odd that morning sickness was most commonly directed toward meat and not vegetables reasoning that vegetables were more likely to contain phytotoxins only later to admit that meat is often the source (or was) of contimation. Then again, why does everything biological have to make sense. Morning sickness is a puzzle to me though I did have a severe and undiagnosed vit. B deficiency which could have contributed to it.

  13. Margaret Gray-McCoy said,

    January 27, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

    I have a cod liver oil that I would recommend! Green Pasture’s Blue Ice Gold High-Vitamin cod liver oil blend. Dr. Weston A. Price discovered a magical synergy when combining Cod Liver Oil and High-Vitamin Butter Oil.

    Warning: Many brands of cod liver oil are processed to remove all the vitamins A and D and then have synthetic vitamins A and D added back in. These products should be completely avoided as the synthetic versions of A and D are toxic. For those living in Canada or overseas, be sure to contact the manufacturer and inquire whether the A and D in their cod liver oil is naturally occurring or synthetic. If you are in the US, check the list below:

  14. Kathleen said,

    June 5, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

    I hope you find this, wasn’t sure on where to put it! I need some advice for staying healthy whilst breastfeeding – my iron’s shot right down & I need to stay strong & energetic!

  15. Rebekah said,

    July 10, 2010 @ 1:02 am

    what is the best way to do nettles and raspberry leaves? I’d love to try both, but can you make it yourself? How do you know that the stuff in the box is potent enough?

  16. Brooke said,

    July 15, 2012 @ 1:49 am

    I’d always heard that tea made from rasberry leaves and fruit wasn’t a smart choice for pregnant women… I’m not arguing with what you’re saying, I’m just confused…

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  18. Marivel said,

    December 4, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

    hello I’m 21 weeks pregnant and have been struggling with anxiety for 11mths.Dr. prescribe the velenxafine pills its the generic brand of effexor which by the way didn’t work so good either. I’ve been off them for a month and a half and I’ve been having terrible withdrawals symptoms from it which the Dr say it should only last for a couple weeks which is not true cause I still have them and my anxiety has being creeping up again. My Dr recommends me to drink chamomile tea and I have but that doesn’t seems to help a lot. So my question is What teas or any other herbal pills do you recommend I drink for my anxiety insomnia nausea’s and headaches any information will be greatly appreciated.

  19. Sage said,

    May 11, 2013 @ 1:48 am

    Choose an algae supplement; fish eat algae and you can too.
    Ovega 3 or another algae vegan supplement

  20. yanna said,

    October 9, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    So I just read here:
    that bee balm should be avoided?
    I have also heard flax should be avoided?
    (maybe just limited?)
    So much information out there…can get confusing!

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