Some pregnant women continue to use herbal medicines during pregnancy, which could put them at risk of dangerous drug interactions and bleeding complications during childbirth, according to a study by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
The survey of 734 mothers-to-be found that 52 (7%) used herbal remedies. Fourteen percent of women who used herbs considered them to be medications and 42% did not, while the rest did not know if the herbs were considered medication. About 9% of pregnant women stopped taking herbs after finding out they were pregnant.
The researchers said the most common reasons women stopped were concerns about risks to the fetus and recommendations by an obstetrician.
Although alternative medicines have gained popularity in the United States and Canada, they are largely unregulated by both governments. So there is no guarantee of strength, purity, or safety of herbal products.
According to the Harvard researchers, herbal medicines may have adverse effects on a pregnant woman and her fetus, and could interfere with other medications or procedures used during pregnancy.
Herbs can also inhibit or exaggerate the effects of other drugs used during labour and delivery. When combined with prescription anti-clotting drugs or medication to numb pain during labour, herbal medicines can spell trouble.
The most commonly used herbal remedies among the women surveyed were echinacea, St. John's wort and ephedra. Others included primrose, garlic, ginger and ginseng.
St. John's wort, which is used to improve mood, also lowers blood pressure and can interfere with labour drugs like meperidine that increase a woman's blood pressure during childbirth. A continuous drop in blood pressure can be dangerous, causing decreased blood flow and oxygen to the fetus.
Ginger, used to curb nausea, and garlic, taken to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, can increase bleeding by interfering with mechanisms involved in blood clotting.
Because people often don't consider herbal remedies to be medicines, many pregnant women might not disclose their use of herbal medicines to their obstetricians.
It is important for women to tell their doctors what herbal medicines they are taking and why, so their providers can identify any potential for dangerous drug interactions and determine if herbal components pose an increased risk of bleeding.
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