The Latest on Using Alternative Therapies in Pregnancy

Armen Hareyan's picture

During a pregnancy, parents are especially interested in optimizing health and minimizing risk to their developing offspring. Many mothers-to-be are worried about side effects of medications and so avoid taking any medications at all.

Although many pregnant women believe "natural" products can be safely used to relieve nausea, backache, and other annoying symptoms, it is wise to check with a practitioner first. He or she will not recommend a product or therapy until it is shown to be safe AND effective. This holds doubly true in pregnancy, since there are two patients, mother and baby, involved.

There are few studies performed on natural remedies in pregnancy.
Mothers-to-be are understandably reluctant to sign up for experiments involving their unborn baby. Also, manufacturers of vitamin and herbal supplements are not required by law to sponsor expensive testing of their products. Even when properly done studies exist, the results can be confusing since so many things can affect the development of a baby.

Some alternative therapies are safe and effective during pregnancy.
In fact, some have been shown to be even more effective than traditional remedies. For nausea in early pregnancy, acupuncture, acupressure, ginger root (250mg capsules 4 times a day), and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, 25mg two or three times a day) work well. For backache, chiropractic manipulation holds the best track record. For turning a breech baby, exercise, hypnosis, and traditional Chinese treatment (burning incense-like substance on the fifth toe) have proven benefit. A certain homeopathic treatment seems to work for labor induction, as does evening primrose oil for cervical ripening. However, conventional methods are more reliable for these. For pain relief in labor, epidurals are most effective, but injections of sterile water near the sacrum works surprisingly well, as do immersion in a warm bath, and a high tech nerve stimulator called TENS. Relaxation techniques, patterned breathing, emotional support, and self-hypnosis are already widely used alternative therapies in labor.

The jury is still out on...
Many herbs, vitamins, and supplements seem to hold no risk in pregnancy, but very few have been shown to actually supply any measurable benefit. The most commonly used of these is Red Raspberry Leaf Tea.

Definite pregnancy No-No's
The following substances have the potential to harm a developing baby when used in a concentrated formulation (not as a spice in cooking). Some are thought to cause birth defects, and some to encourage early labor.

Avoid these oral supplements: Arbor vitae, Beth root, Black cohosh, Blue cohosh, Cascara, Chaste tree berry, Chinese angelica (Dong Quai), Cinchona, Cotton root bark, Feverfew, Ginseng, Golden seal, Juniper, Kava kava, Licorice, Meadow saffron, Pennyroyal, Poke root, Rue, Sage, Saint John's wort, Senna, Tansy, White peony, Wormwood, Yarrow, Yellow dock.

Large doses of vitamin A can cause birth defects.


Avoid these aromatherapy essential oils: calamus, mugwort, pennyroyal, sage, wintergreen, basil, hyssop, myrrh, marjoram, and thyme.

If your baby has been exposed.
Luckily, the chances are greater that the baby will NOT be affected than that it will. If you have a concern, you can find additional information at the Web sites below. Your practitioner may be able to provide further reassurance.

The most dangerous alternative therapy
Unproven therapies can be risky. But choosing an unproven therapy over one known to be safe and effective could be even riskier for your baby. Before you choose any alternative, discuss it with your practitioner.

Update your knowledge
Today, more and more is being scientifically studied and published about complementary and alternative therapies. Your practitioner may not be up to date with the latest information, since he or she must also keep up with the changes in traditional medicine. You can be an active, informed partner in your health care by checking some of these trustworthy web-sites yourself and discussing the findings with him or her.

NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

MDConsult (patient information section)

Alternative Medicine News Online:


This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional written health information, please contact the Health Information Center at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771 or visit This document was last reviewed on: 2/1/2002

The Cleveland Clinic 2004
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