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Herbs For Pain Relief In Pregnancy & Lactation

in Breastfeeding, Pain Relief, Pregnancy

Pregnant and lactating women are no strangers to pain, but the usual conventional pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen come with risks to the developing baby. The good news is that some pain-relieving herbal medicines have a long history of safe use in pregnant and lactating women. Listed below are six herbs for pain relief in pregnancy and lactation. 

The safety of the following herbs depends on using appropriate doses for appropriate timeframes, especially during pregnancy. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider for individualized advice. 

Turmeric Root (Curcuma longa)

Dr. Green Mom TurmericTurmeric contains the potent anti-inflammatory molecule curcumin, which has been measured against conventional medications in randomized controlled trials for joint pain. Turmeric’s pain-relieving strength is comparable to many commonly prescribed NSAIDs. This is usually the first herb that I think of for pain relief during breastfeeding.

Side benefits of turmeric include more energy, better digestion, and antiviral activity. To receive the most benefit from turmeric, it should be taken with a small amount of black pepper, or piperine (derived from black pepper), which improves its absorption.

Ginger Root (Zingiber officinale)

Ginger is another potent herbal anti-inflammatory and is my favorite herbal pain reliever to use during pregnancy because of the extensive safety studies done on this herb. Research has shown it to be effective for relieving joint and postpartum pain. It may be effective for neuropathic pain. Ginger is also well known as an anti-nausea treatment, immune tonic, cold & flu treatment, and digestive herb. New research shows that ginger is good for treating seasonal allergies.

Note: People with sensitive stomachs don’t always tolerate ginger. This goes for babies, too. Introduce it slowly if breastfeeding or you have a sensitive stomach. However, ginger is a common remedy for infant colic and increasing lactation. It is safe for babies to consume in a remedy or breastmilk. 

Rose Hips (Rosa canina)

Rose hips are the beautiful red fruit that roses produce after their petals fall. They are best known as a great source of vitamins and minerals and they feature strongly in many immune fortifying herbal formulas. However, rose hips also have a history of use for treating the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis and low back pain. In my experience, rose hips are most often taken as a powder or capsule.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Dr. Green Mom St. John's WortSt. John’s wort is a great herb for nerve pain. This herb is also anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and mood-lifting, and it supports liver health. It’s important to note that St. John’s wort interacts with many medications so caution and expertise are required when combining this herb with other drugs. St. John’s wort can be infused in oil to use externally for pain or can be taken internally in capsule, tea, tincture, homeopathic, or glycerite forms. 

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm helps to soothe spasm, reduce inflammation, and treat pain. It is especially good for cramping pain or pain that is worsened by anxiety or stress. Lemon balm tea is traditionally used for labor after pains and to treat infant colic. It also works well in a tincture or glycerite.  

Arnica Montana

Arnica is helpful for joint pain, muscle pain, inflammation, and soft tissue injuries when used externally. This herb should not be taken internally unless it is in a highly diluted homeopathic form. For more information about how to use arnica for pain read: Introducing Amazing Arnica Oil.

Important Safety Notes Re: Herbs For Pain Relief In Pregnancy & Lactation

The safety profiles of herbs used for pain relief in pregnancy and lactation depend on using appropriate doses for an appropriate time frame. Consult a health professional with expertise in herbal medicine to find the right dose for you, especially if you’re attempting to manage chronic pain in pregnancy or if you are in your first trimester of pregnancy. 

Turmeric, St. John’s wort, and ginger all have the potential to thin blood. Use caution with these herbs near the end of pregnancy to avoid heavy bleeding during labor and delivery. In my practice, I usually have women stop taking most of the above herbs for pain relief at 36 or 37 weeks. Speak with your doctor or midwife for guidance.

Summary

Herbal medicine offers safe and effective pain relieving alternatives to conventional medications when used in appropriate doses. Turmeric, ginger, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, rose hips, and arnica are all pain-relieving herbs that have a history of safe use in pregnant and breastfeeding women. 

References

Majeed, M., Natarajan, S., Pandey, A., Bani, S., & Mundkur, L. (2019). Subchronic and Reproductive/Developmental Toxicity Studies of Tetrahydrocurcumin in Rats. Toxicological research, 35(1), 65–74. https://doi.org/10.5487/TR.2019.35.1.065

Viljoen, E., Visser, J., Koen, N., & Musekiwa, A. (2014). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting. Nutrition journal, 13, 20. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-20

Ginger. (2022). In Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). National Library of Medicine (US).

Turmeric. (2022). In Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). National Library of Medicine (US).

Black Pepper. (2022). In Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). National Library of Medicine (US).

Moghadamtousi, S. Z., Kadir, H. A., Hassandarvish, P., Tajik, H., Abubakar, S., & Zandi, K. (2014). A review on antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity of curcumin. BioMed research international, 2014, 186864. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/186864

Paultre, K., Cade, W., Hernandez, D., Reynolds, J., Greif, D., & Best, T. M. (2021). Therapeutic effects of turmeric or curcumin extract on pain and function for individuals with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine, 7(1), e000935. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2020-000935

Mozafari, S., Esmaeili, S., Momenyan, S., Zadeh Modarres, S., & Ozgoli, G. (2021). Effect of Zingiber officinale Roscoe rhizome (ginger) capsule on postpartum pain: Double-blind randomized clinical trial. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 26, 105. https://doi.org/10.4103/jrms.JRMS_544_20 

Raziq, N., Saeed, M., Shahid, M., Muhammad, N., Khan, H., & Gul, F. (2016). Pharmacological basis for the use of Hypericum oblongifolium as a medicinal plant in the management of pain, inflammation and pyrexia. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 16, 41. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-016-1018-z 

Naderi Dastjerdi M, Darooneh T, Nasiri M, Moatar F, Esmaeili S, Ozgoli G. Investigating the Effect of Melissa Officinalis on After-Pains: A Randomized Single-Blind Clinical Trial. J Caring Sci. 2019 Sep 1;8(3):129-138. doi: 10.15171/jcs.2019.019. PMID: 31598505; PMCID: PMC6778308. 

Gruenwald, J., Uebelhack, R., & Moré, M. I. (2019). Rosa canina – Rose hip pharmacological ingredients and molecular mechanics counteracting osteoarthritis – A systematic review. Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology60, 152958. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2019.152958

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