Because I have a midwife, a doula, and took a natural childbirth class, I hear a lot about alternative/natural/herbal methods for childbirth and child-rearing. Some of these go too far for me – the woman teaching my natural childbirth class wasn’t just into delaying vaccinations, she didn’t seem to want to have them done at all, which is not something I want – but a lot of them are appealing. When almost every medication, painkiller, supplement, or even cream that I want to put on my face has a warning about “check with your healthcare provider before use if pregnant/breastfeeding,” natural treatments seem like a safe, appealing option.
So I was surprised to learn that that was in fact not the case. When I suffered from some bad colds and rhinitis earlier in my pregnancy, I called my practice’s nurse hotline for advice about methods to treat them. I told the nurse that I might go to the herbal store later that day and get some Echinacea and other tea. To my surprise, she discouraged that option, preferring to tell me to take Tylenol Cold.
The nurse referred me to the practice’s list of medications that were safe to use during pregnancy. She said they wanted me to stick with what was on the list. ‘But herbal teas are natural,’ I thought to myself, ‘what could be wrong with them?’
What’s wrong is that natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe. Just because it comes from the Earth, and isn’t created in a laboratory somewhere, doesn’t mean it can’t have adverse effects. It makes sense when you think about it: many plants are poisonous, and technically they’re all natural too.
Still, I drink Echinacea and cold care teas all the time when I’m sick, and I’ve never had a problem. Does that mean they’re unsafe all of the time, or just when pregnant? I don’t think the nurse was necessarily saying either of those things.
The problem with determining whether or not a medicine, chemical or herbal, is safe for pregnancy is that it’s not really ethical to test on pregnant women. Even in controlled cases, it takes years of study to determine a medicine’s safety. The simple fact is that many of these natural remedies and treatments haven’t been put to modern scientific study. So many doctors don’t want to endorse them merely because they haven’t been put to the same trials and levels of scrutiny as other medicines.
Of course, it all seems a little silly. A friend of mine – whose daughters are only a few years younger than me – said that when she was pregnant, her doctor didn’t even want her using ginger to treat nausea. Nowadays it’s a well-known and commonly “prescribed” treatment.
The fact remains that we just don’t know whether or not “natural” necessarily means “safe.” If there’s a natural or alternative treatment that you’d like to try during pregnancy, just use the same caution you would for a chemical one: check with your healthcare provider first.
*(The above image by lemonade is from freedigitalphotos.net).