Herbs are micronutrient powerhouses for your immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, but some of them may not be recommended during this time of your life. Kathleen Mugnolo talks with Adriana about how you can figure out which ones are right for YOU, as well as whether it makes sense to use herbs to get labor started, to lessen the chances of Group B Strep colonization, to help with constipation, to increase milk supply, and how they can support your postpartum recovery.
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- Download Kathleen’s “Breastfeeding Herbal Breakdown” (.pdf)
- Download Kathleen’s “Resource List for Sourcing Herbs” (.pdf) for easy printing, which includes Mountain Rose Herbs, Pacific Botanicals, Horizon Herbs, Frontier, and others.
- In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
- Real Food for Pregnancy by Lily Nichols
- Group B Strep (GBS) in Pregnancy: What’s a Mom to Do? from Aviva Romm
- Evidence on: Group B Strep in Pregnancy, from Evidence Based Birth
- American Herbalists Guild, an association of herbal practitioners
- Learn more about Heartstone Center For Earth Essentials’ Kris Miller and Tammi Sweet
- 5 Safe Herbs for a More Comfortable Pregnancy and Better Birth, Aviva Romm, MD
- Herbs for an Easier Labor, Aviva Romm, MD
- Evidence on Red Raspberry Leaf Tea for Natural Labor Induction, Evidence Based Birth
- Red Raspberry Leaf Tea: Pregnancy, Benefits and Side Effects, Healthline
Related Birthful episodes:
- Do You Really Need to Stop Eating Sushi?
- Your Pregnancy Microbiome
- Your Baby’s Microbiome
- The Microbiome and Your Baby’s Immune System
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How to Tap Into the Nourishing Power of Herbs in Pregnancy and Postpartum
Adriana Lozada: Welcome to Birthful, Mighty Parent or Parent-to-Be. I’m Adriana Lozada and as we continue with our Nutrition and Nourishment series, today we’re going to be diving deep into the plant realm to talk about how herbs can support you during pregnancy and postpartum.
Herbs are amazing micronutrient powerhouses. They can support your immune system, your nervous system, your endocrine system… but I get that it can be difficult figuring out where to start, especially when there are so many conflicting messages out there about what is safe to consume during the perinatal period.
This is exactly why I reached out to Kathleen Mugnolo to help us sort out how to approach these plants so you can tap into what works for you. Kathleen is a very knowledgeable herbal educator, as well as a professional childbirth consultant, family advocate, Innate Postpartum Care Provider, and I’m lucky to have her as part of my village.
She and I are going to be talking about what herbs can help with your nourishment during pregnancy and with your recovery during postpartum. We are also going to be talking about what place these powerful plants may or may not have in cases of inductions, in the prevention of being Group-B Strep positive, as well as dealing with nausea, constipation, and supporting lactation. So yeah, we’re going to be covering a whole lot today.
As always, when dealing with recommendations of things to ingest while pregnant or bodyfeeding, make sure you bring your care provider into the conversation, as we do not know all the particulars of your situation, and are only providing general information. What is right for most may not be right for all.
Kathleen was also very gracious in providing a couple of handouts that you can download from the show notes of this episode at Birthful.com
And, last two things, I wanted to say that since we spoke, Kathleen has completed her certification with Aviva Romm (go Kathleen!) and I also wanted to give you a quick glossary of some of the terms that we use and define through the episode, but it’s worth having you warm up to them first:
So the first one is “emmenagogues,” which are herbs that can stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus, and can bring on menstruation.
“Teratogens” are chemicals that disturb the development of the embryo or cause deformities in the fetus.
“Abortifacients” are substances that can induce or complete a miscarriage.
And “nervines” are herbs that nourish and support the central nervous system, so they restore balance and bring restfulness.
Okay! With that out of the way: you’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition.
Adriana: Welcome, Kathleen. It is so lovely to have you here today.
Kathleen Mugnolo: Hi, Adriana! It’s lovely to be here. Thank you so much.
Adriana: And so, full disclosure: Kathleen lives in Rochester, New York and we’re good friends. She’s a doula. And so we hang out. So this recorded conversation is going to be interesting, ’cause we’re used to just chatting. So I guess we’ll do a bit of that, right?
Kathleen: Sure. Yeah. I would love to chat. And usually that’s how some of the good stuff comes out, right?
Adriana: Yeah, exactly.
Adriana: So why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Kathleen: Okay. To begin, I think my highest credential is being a mother of three. And then I began my herbal exploration as actually a Montessori teacher in Michigan; I had an assistant who was an herbalist and really turned me on to it.
So that was years ago. I started this journey (a life exploration of plants) and our birthright according to plants, too. And then, years went on… a midwife friend of mine said, “You’d be a good doula.” So I looked into what a doula was and decided that would be good for me. So I got my DONA certification and then I went on to receive my holistic doula certification with Whapio.
I did my first herbal apprenticeship at Heartstone Herbal Academy. It’s now called Heartstone Center for Earth Essentials. Amazing teachers! Kris Miller and Tammi Sweet… Tammi Sweet is by far my favorite A&P teacher ever, and she has stuff online. You should check her out, little plug here! And then just learning from different herbalists throughout the years.
And now currently working through Aviva Romm’s Herbal Medicine for Women course, which I found is very enlightening and life-changing and requires a lot of discipline, but I’m happy about it. So that’s where we’re at now.
Adriana: So a lot of different perspectives into herbs and specifically the work that’s required for postpartum and birth, then, and all that change of pregnancy, that fun stage of life.
Kathleen: That fun stage! Yeah, where it’s so fluid and everything’s happening and changes happen so quickly.
Adriana: Yeah! And one of the things that— why I was so excited to have you here to talk about herbs is because during pregnancy— there is so, so much caution and limitations into what a pregnant person can use for their health in terms of medicines/medications to ingest and then herbs as well.
And some people say, “Stay away from these teas and stay away from this and/or use that.” And I’d love to get your perspective into: How should people approach the use of herbs during this time of pregnancy and postpartum?
Kathleen: Okay. Well, to begin, I just want to say that in our culture, we are very conservative with the use of herbs. In several other cultures there’s food-grade herbs that people just use every day. It’s not so much of a conflict or confusion. But in our culture, the general population is wary about herbs because I think there’s not a lot of actual double-blind scientific studies done on the use of herbs and their effects on, specifically, pregnancy. So the general rule is to avoid them, especially during the first trimester, “just in case,” it’s medically-indicated to not ingest herbs at all. Y’know, that being said, with the “not a whole lot of scientific research,” there’s even pharmaceuticals that would fall into that category, that people still choose to take and put into their bodies.
So, it’s really a personal choice to, on what you feel is safer and effective for you, y’know, and doing your research makes a big deal. So you, y’know… there’s… it’s a huge rabbit hole to go down, actually. And a lot of the fear too, I think, surrounding the use of herbs is based on studies that have isolated a particular constituent of a plant, an isolated compound, and then they’ve applied that in very large amounts and found adverse reactions.
So chamomile is an example of that, which is a very gentle herb, and in 1979 they did a study where they isolated particular compounds and applied large doses to rats’ uterine tissue (pregnant rats) and they found they had teratogenic effects.
Now this is a very gentle herb and you could never drink enough tea to match those doses of this isolated compound!
So we also, when we look at using herbs, look at using the whole plant as medicine and what that means, because there’s so much to a plant where they play off each other and the different constituents in it help each other.
So, y’know, we need to keep that in mind as well. So generally, if you want to play it really safe, no herbs in the first trimester. But then getting into your second and third, herbs are very safe… but there are also categories of that, y’know? So there are certain ones you definitely want to avoid and certain ones that you might really want to invite into your life.
Adriana: So, can we talk about what those are?
Kathleen: Sure. So where do you want to start with: “no”s or “yes”s?
Adriana: Let’s go with “yes.”
Kathleen: So “yes”s… so I make a tea called “Everybody Needs This Tea,” because it’s good for everyone— but I really had pregnant people in mind because that’s who I work with the most. And it was an assignment in herb school, and it has nettle, which is an amazing plant.
I love nettle. I cannot say its praises enough! And it has red raspberry leaf, chamomile, rosehips, oatstraw. and spearmint or peppermint. So starting with nettle, it has the alphabet of vitamins and minerals and— including iron, which a lot of women experience iron deficiency during pregnancy. And this is one good way to increase your iron intake in an absorbable way!
And I also got to say, I love teas because there’s a ritual involved in it, that gets you involved in your medicine and builds a relationship with them. And it also gets you hydrated, which we need.
Adriana: It makes you slow down a bit too!
Kathleen: Absolutely, absolutely. Which is absolutely needed in pregnancy. So nettle is very nourishing. And should be added in, I think, to the diet. It tastes a little bit like spinach, so if you need a flavoring agent, that’s fine. So that’s why I put this tea together!
And red raspberry leaf: it tones the uterus and reproductive organs, not just for women, but for men as well. So red raspberry leaf is good for everybody and unless you have a particular aversion to it… And it also has… is loaded with vitamins and minerals, and including iron.
And then also in the tea is chamomile, which is a nervine. So it helps us to relax. It helps us to slow down like we were talking about, and balances our anxieties, which we all experience a lot during pregnancy. So I would say absolutely use chamomile. And again, you can’t use enough of it to be harmful.
And a rosehips are in it, which contain Vitamin C. It’s one way to help boost your immune system, which is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy pregnancy when you’re dealing with UTIs or, y’know, the possible consequences of just having your body squished and then being tested for things like GBS, y’know, so that helps along with that.
And oatstraw is another nervine, which— y’know, I can’t emphasize enough to anybody in our culture in general, but to pregnant women as well— that we need to chill out and find ways to do that. And herbs are very, very useful for that! And then if you’re experiencing nausea in pregnancy, adding peppermint to your blends, just a little bit— and we want to take it easy on the peppermint, it does contain volatile oils that can cross the placental barrier— but small amounts are fine and it does help with the nausea, if that’s something that you’re experiencing.
Kathleen: So that’s like an “in a nutshell,” and there are so many other herbs too, that are safe and are “yes”s. But if you are going to, y’know, use something to help you be nourished and feel well during pregnancy, that would be a good little encapsulated start.
Adriana: And I think the… I was just going to ask you about the concept of nourishment, and you just mentioned to “keep you nourished,” because we think of herbs as something to help us to combat something like nausea, or to help us relax— but this concept that our herbs can also give us nourishment, like you were saying with the nettle, of iron and different vitamins, and red raspberry leaf tea. Talk to me a little bit about this concept of having herbs as more nourishment in your day-to-day.
Kathleen: Well, prevention is our best medicine. So a lot of the ailments and things we experience are because our body hasn’t gotten what they needed, and in pregnancy that becomes increasingly so, because you need a lot more to support this other life that you’re carrying. So finding ways to proactively give your body things to work with, things that will help you feel healthy, things that will help you form building blocks of life.
Y’know, that’s nourishing. That’s… and also, things that will help you to be calm and relaxed, that’s nourishing. That’s helping you to be healthy. So… Does it answer…?
Adriana: And I think, it goes back to the “Why would we want to use herbs?” and it’s just another alternative. I think during pregnancy, we talk a lot about nutrition and the importance of eating well, but I think it’s something that’s being discovered more now, the importance of the micronutrients (not just your big ones of proteins and carbs and… but, y’know, “little things” like choline and iron).
And, so the fact that that opens a huge door to being able to use herbs to support that, I find fascinating! And something as simple as a tea and using herbs in that way, and having that relationship with the plants, and not just have it be exclusive to taking a supplement, for example.
Kathleen: Right. And, y’know, Michael Pollan, he cited in his In Defense of Food that we’re the only species on the planet that has to ask, “What do we eat?” Think that before we had to ask that question, herbs and plants were just a general part of the diet. There wasn’t a thought about, “Is this okay? Should I eat this?”
Y’know, it was just kind of what was available and what people did, so it was just kind of folded in any way! And so now we have to make a conscious effort to reach out for the plants, because they’re also not something that is provided to you, say on your plate, right? So not necessarily a part of the diet.
So why herbs? Why consciously think about putting them in? Because y’know, they naturally have a benefit to you. And these are things that women for centuries and millennia have used and have found effective and help them. So this is part of you being a person on a planet.
Adriana: Yeah. And I think it does go back to this idea that we’ve— with birth, with breastfeeding, and with herbs— we’ve lost the knowledge along the way that was just embedded into our day-to-day realities. And then we have to make such big efforts to learn about it. Like breastfeeding: people would see breastfeeding happened just normally around them, all the time. And that’s the best way to learn, and see about the struggles, and how other people support the breastfeeding person. So now we have to make efforts to create that. Same thing with birth! Y’know, how many of us, including myself, had never seen a birth before giving birth themselves, right?
And then I have a different approach with plants and it’s very… it’s very romanticized and it’s very nostalgic for me because, well, having grown up in Venezuela, my Nana— who I learned to cook from just by sitting and watching her cook day in/day out— I would spend so much time in that kitchen, but she also had a normal, natural, sort of intuitive relationship with plants, from the knowledge passed down through generations. So every time something happens in my house, I have the reminder of her words in my mind, like, telling me what to do.
And so aloe plants were a constant around our lives— y’know, we would eat, like, for upset stomachs. And also, being in this tropical reality of Venezuela, the seeds of the papaya fruit. You don’t chew them; you just, like, swallow them. They’re great for helping digestion and balancing. So to me, like, that’s the most natural thing, if my stomach’s kind of not doing so well, I’m like, “I’m going to buy a papaya and have some seeds.” And my husband looks at me like, “What the…?!?” right?
Kathleen: Whole plant medicine!
Adriana: Exactly, yeah, So, what are… We talked about some of the things that could be really helpful for anybody. What are some things to stay away from during pregnancy?
Kathleen: Well, just to wrap up the “yes”s too, I want to say that culinary uses are generally okay. Right? So like, if a… tumeric is…. you find that on a contraindicated list, but you want to use a little bit when you’re scrambling your eggs? It’s not really a concern. The same as sage, there’s a lot of things you’ll find like that.
But also please source your herbs well, because that’s another… that’s a “yes” and a “no.” Please, yes, organically, please, “yes.” Good sourcing, to avoid contamination, don’t just… the “no” is to not just willy-nilly get any possible herbs that, y’know, “Oh, this will be good for me,” y’know? Know where it comes from. So on that note, the “no”s— and again, there’s a long list and there are varying degrees of “no”s.
So, some plants like arnica and comfrey are okay for topical use, right? And goldenseal for topical or a suppository use, but you would not want to ingest them during pregnancy. And I generally say don’t ingest those necessarily at all. There’s a lot of other things you can do! So a very clear “no” list, though, that I could… to absolutely avoid during pregnancy is blue cohosh, cat’s claw, Jamaican dogwood, pennyroyal poke, tansy, wormwood, black walnut, thuja, cotton root, rue, red clover.
So most stimulating laxatives, anything that’s teratogenic, any emmenagogues and abortifacients, toxic herbs, and high alkaloid contents— so all of those can have consequences.
So, some of the language there… We all know what a “laxative” is, I think! Something that moves the bowel, so stimulating laxatives can cause also contractions of the uterus. And so you want to avoid that during pregnancy, of course.
And “teratogens” are chemicals that cause deformities in developing fetuses. So there are herbs that have fallen into that category— like the isolated compound of chamomile that we talked about earlier— but there are ones like thuja that are much more serious, so absolutely avoid that.
“Emmenagogues” are plants that will bring on your blood. So they— like feverfew, which you are not familiar with— if you were taking that for a migraine cure or a headache cure prior to pregnancy, it is something you would want to stop, because it does have emmenagogic effects and can cause (potentially cause) miscarriage.
“Abortifacients” are herbs that in the past had been deliberately used to complete a miscarriage or to bring on a cycle, and you would definitely want to avoid anything like that. So, abortifacients like wormwood that’s really— and pennyroyal, and you don’t see a lot of pennyroyal around anymore, it’s gotten a really bad rap because some people died from just using/ingesting the oils of it, but the leaves, y’know, are generally safe outside of pregnancy, but you just don’t see a lot of it anymore anyway.
Adriana: Well, and the list of things that you named, like the only one that I recognized was red clover. Thuja I have heard, but the only one that I’d say I’ve ever come across, where it was like, “Oh, well, drink this tea,” was red clover. You don’t find very much of, like, thuja tea out there.
Kathleen: Right. And you don’t, you have to… those are things you probably would be seeking out for very specific conditions. So you’d also probably know, y’know, whether or not they’re safe during pregnancy or it’d be something you’d looked into.
Red clover is one that a lot of women use to try to balance infertility issues, so it would be something you’d definitely want to stop when you found out that you were pregnant, but it is useful up until that point, y’know. And then after, it has its purposes there, but it’s an estrogenic/a phytoestrogenic herb, so it can upset the balance of hormones that’s going on with the body.
And I generally hold a philosophy of “Let things be.” I mean, unless it’s really indicated, just let the body do what it does and focus more on the nourishment aspect of it. But sometimes we need help.
Adriana: And then with the nourishment, is back to what we talked about of, y’know, nettle red raspberry leaf tea, chamomile, rosehip, oatstraw— I don’t think I’ve ever heard about oatstraw before, either— and peppermint in small doses.
Kathleen: Right. And with anybody else— but especially with pregnant women— a general focus and a lot of things (symptoms) can be cleared up by focusing on supporting the liver, supporting the nervous system, and nourishment, y’know, so even dietary changes and changes in your routine can happen with that.
And then if there’s exacerbating symptoms or things that are persistent, and then we delve in closer and focus more on that.
Adriana: Is there a specific way to support the liver and support the immune system, other than what you already mentioned?
Kathleen: Yes. Yes, look into milk thistle. Milk thistle is the best liver support that, at least I’ve found in all of my… from all my teachers, and I don’t believe it’s contraindicated during pregnancy. I haven’t found anything like that.
And dandelion! Dandelion during pregnancy is amazing because it too— if you can use the whole plant— you can use the leaves in your salad or cook them up, y’know, make a little, like, egg soufflé out of them. They’re delicious— a little bit bitter. You can also use the roots and make syrups out of that.
It’s an amazing liver support, which also helps with constipation (which is another thing we experience a lot in pregnancy), because it stimulates the digestive system and keeps things going. So dandelion is your friend, especially, y’know, if you’re pregnant at springtime (which is a great time to be pregnant!), you could go out and harvest what you want.
It’s so funny, ’cause some people just work so hard to get them out of their yard, and then plant them actually in their gardens, but they’re all right there, ready and available for you. And that’s the kind of medicine I like, is to be able to go outside and find something that’s going to benefit you.
Adriana: Now here’s… this is an interesting connecting-the-dots that I just had: so you mentioned that you want to stay away from stuff that are laxative and stimulating, which would be, y’know, something that red clover does, but we do have constipation during pregnancy, so in that case, it’s interesting to draw the difference between something that helps constipation and something that is laxative. Let’s talk about that a little more.
Kathleen: Right. Well, there’s different types of laxatives too. There’s a stimulating laxative that, y’know, basically kind of irritates the bowel and gets it to let loose. And then there’s, like, bulk laxatives that bring bulk and water into the bowel, in order to push things through, right? And then there’s digestive aids, like dandelion, that increase liver bile and help to get the digestive system functioning more (or higher or hotter, however you want to put that). So, yeah, so there’s different types of laxatives. There’s also a lot of other things you can try if you’re constipated before you try herbs: so, like, walking, y’know, getting plenty of exercise. And again, we have some cultural issues here, with how we live our lives; y’know, a lot of our jobs require us to be sedentary for a while and, like, most of the day. And also with what we’re fed, is foods that don’t necessarily help digestion. So again, going back to that, y’know, if we were just eating, y’know, from nature, we would probably already have dandelion as a part of our diet, right? So that wouldn’t even be something we need to think about. Does that make sense?
Adriana: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I definitely wanted to focus a bit on that, on the constipation issue, because that is a common symptom that a lot of people experience when pregnant. So making sure they’re hydrated, walking, even doing some, like, “shaking the apple tree” movements, of just shaking that bottom.
Kathleen: Right. And then if you need a little more help, go for bulk laxatives, like flax or psyllium seed.
You could also find recipes to make a dandelion root and yellow dock syrup that will help to move things along. And also those would be really high in iron, so you’ll get a double-whammy with that one and it’ll help you.
Adriana: Dandelion root and… what?
Kathleen: Yellow dock. They’re both extremely bitter. So, yellow dock root is another thing you’d find on a walk in these parts. It’s pretty common.
Kathleen: Cool. So things to avoid: laxatives, these are like aloe and cascara and buckthorn, definitely castor oil. Don’t drink castor oil when you’re pregnant! But I think we know that. But they all act as, like, a y’know, the “stimulating the bowel.” And if you stimulate the bowel, you’re going to stimulate everything in that area.
Adriana: But see, I didn’t know aloe was something you wanted to stay away from.
Kathleen: Ingesting it, yeah. Topically it’s probably fine, right?
Adriana: Right. Different applications. It’s not going to stimulate your bowels from your skin. Yeah, but like the aloe, that’s something that— back to my Nana— whenever there’s, like, you have a sore throat or feel a cold coming on, or just really the throat discomfort, I make an aloe tea.
Kathleen: Yeah. And you can handle bitters more than anybody else. Aloe is very bitter. I think that brings up another thing too: it’s, like, if you’re in question of, like… so you think that this everybody’s told you, every source you’ve read has said, “This herb is safe,” but you touch a little bit to your tongue and your body says, “Oh, I don’t think so.” Just trust yourself. Don’t do it.
Y’know, an aloe for me would be one of those things. Like when I was pregnant, I wouldn’t be able to eat that or make a tea out of it, y’know? So there’s that element of intuition that goes into things, along with your very thorough research. Got to put that out there!
Adriana: Yes, and even better, contact a certified herbalist to, like, guide you through this or take you on walks for foraging.
Kathleen: Absolutely. And I want to… can I touch a little bit on “certified herbalist,” in our country, anyway? Would that be okay to spend a minute?
Adriana: Yes! Tell me about certification (herbalist certification) and our, I guess, in our country, you said?
Kathleen: Yes. You know, there’s other countries, like Australia, that have an actual herbal program or certification for herbalists. So unless in our country, somebody has a degree in Chinese medicine and acupuncture or Ayurveda, then your herbalists are going to be either self-taught or have gone through many certification programs.
So it doesn’t necessarily make you a certified herbalist. It just means that you’ve got a certificate from learning from these people over here, and another certificate from learning from these people over here, but, like, the term “certified herbalist,” I think, is a little deceptive and I just wanted to touch on that. In the United States, there’s the American Herbalist Guild that gives guidelines for what an herbalist should have learned at a certain point in order to practice such-and-such, but there is no, like, set course of study that an herbalist would be deemed, y’know, a “certified” or have a degree in herbalism.
Adriana: Gotcha. So, yes, that’s an important distinction. And also, like we say with any podcasts that I do, that relates to anything that you might ingest: Make sure you also include your care provider in the conversation.
Kathleen: Yes, please. Please do that. And it would be great to just continue to get them involved in these types of conversations, y’know, so that we can maybe possibly work together and build confidence in each other…
Adriana: Yeah, absolutely.
Kathleen: There’s a lot of benefit on both sides.
Adriana: Indeed! So we talked about red raspberry leaf tea, and that’s something that comes up a lot. And people, the— y’know, if you Google “red raspberry leaf tea and pregnancy,” you’re going to get tons of articles talking about using it for natural induction— “Don’t do it in the first…” y’know, “Don’t have it at all during pregnancy, it’s going to bring in contractions.” “It’s really good if you use it during your whole pregnancy.” There are conflicting points of view there. What do you think people should know about red raspberry leaf?
Kathleen: To start, I used red raspberry leaf before, during, and after my pregnancy, without issues. Yeah, that’s me. And I am, y’know— instead of again, referring to myself as a certified herbalist, I’m an “herbal educator,” y’know— so I’ll give you that piece of information. I will also give you the information that a lot of the fear that surrounds red raspberry leaf, it’s another one of those studies: back in 1954, where they applied isolated compounds to uterine tissue of guinea pigs and frogs, and some had major relaxation effects and some, some serious contractive effects.
And so this is where the warning about red raspberry leaf during pregnancy comes from. Now again, it’s one of those plants that you probably couldn’t drink that much tea in order to get those amounts of those compounds that are gonna affect you and that way, during pregnancy. But that being said, if you’re prone to miscarriage, if you’re concerned at all, if you don’t want to take any chances, just avoid it during your first trimester. There’s enough time to build up your uterus with it and have it be effective. If you want to start in your second and third trimester— some women don’t even start it until 32 weeks.
But it is an amazing plant women have been using for centuries. It’s a uterine tonic. It can improve labor outcomes that can reduce the need for intervention and the chances of hemorrhaging. You could just do one to three cups a day of tea. So a tea is a nice light way to get it into your body.
And so it also has this fragrine, which is an alkaloid which tones the reproductive organs, so it has a very specific purpose with the uterus and other reproductive organs that many other plants don’t. And it also has iron and niacin, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins D, C and E.
So you’ve got a whole world of benefit from using it. And you had a podcast with a nutritionist that, y’know, weighed these benefits-to-consequences using food. And it’s the same with herbs. Like, y’ know, do we want to, out of fear, not use red raspberry leaf because, y’know, somebody told us it could cause miscarriage or, y’know, are we going to relax about it and, y’know, just maybe second and third trimester, accept it as this wonderful thing that can give us a lot of the nutrients and other benefits that we need, like the toning of the uterus?
Adriana: Yeah. And that I’ll link to on the show notes, to the episode that was with Lily Nichols on pregnancy and nutrition.
Of course, this makes me think that red raspberry leaf tea is… would be highly-recommended to everybody during postpartum, when your uterus has gone through an enormous stretch and then you’re, y’know, wanting to tone everything back up.
Kathleen: Right. Absolutely. And what a smart thing to that, it includes all these things you need to help make milk, you know? So there’s that aspect of it too. Great postpartum remedy.
Adriana: And I do want to talk more about postpartum stuff, but before we get into that, one last thing related— I guess, two things related to pregnancy— GBS, right?
Kathleen: So… yes.
Adriana: GBS. Oh my God. So in the U.S., the approach to GBS is that every single person who’s pregnant gets tested for it. And if you are positive, then the treatment is to have antibiotics prophylactically during labor.
Adriana: Which is great to target the GBS and minimize the risk of baby getting an infection. However, it also harms your microbiome and your baby’s microbiome, which… there’s so much importance to that microbiome and seeding at the moment of birth. So, once you’re positive, you’re most likely, again, to get antibiotics. Is there anything that can be done to minimize your GBS colonization, to prevent it?
Kathleen: Absolutely, there are things. And also because I’ve had some clients that are like, “I tested positive for GBS, am I dirty?” and I really want to emphasize that you are not, it is a regularly occurring organism that lives in our intestinal tract and can colonize in the vagina, and it comes and goes.
So you could test positive for GBS one week and then a few weeks later without doing anything, test negative. There’s nothing inherent wrong with you. So it’s a Group B Strep (or “streptococcus”). It comes and goes. It’s found in 15 to 30% of women, they culture positive for it. Most healthy babies are colonized with the bacteria and only 1 to 2% would develop the infection.
So, but there are still like 1600 cases/80 deaths a year, despite the use of prophylactic antibiotics. So you’d want to do something anyway, not just to avoid the antibiotics, but maybe you want to take that extra step. Y’know, antibiotics do change the trajectory of our health and we want to avoid them, but if it can reduce your risk of your baby dying, that one baby is a 100% when it’s yours, right?
So, I don’t advocate for the use of antibiotics, but I do think they have their place. And I understand, I do understand the medical approach. It’s a very, very small percentage of babies that will develop an infection, but when it’s yours, it’s everything, right?
So, there’s that. But you can find probiotics repositories. You can take an oral probiotic that will help you. I— my rule of thumb is to find a good refrigerated one that has lactobacillus in it. There’s a couple of different strands and those are specific to vaginal health and balancing out the flora in the vagina. And fermented foods are a good way to get probiotics— eliminating sugar and junk foods. So again, we have these lifestyle changes that we need to make.
Adriana: I think it’s important to know also that, like, the environment that promotes Group B Strep colonization is the same kind of environment that is loved by Candida. So…
Kathleen: …that’s a reason to consider reducing sugar and junk food.
Adriana: Yeah, exactly. So going back to that point that you made— of, by lessening those foods, you are lessening both that Candida that can cause yeast infections and thrush.
Kathleen: Great. And, creating the environment that you want for yourself and that you want it for your baby, internally and externally, y’know? And, the— back to the nourishment part of it too, and the prevention— instead of, like, attacking an organism that has been on our planet for billions of years, y’know, ’cause these bacteria, they are our building blocks and instead, like, create and host what you want to be there, using a good probiotic or, y’know, eating the right things and, y’know, using the nourishment aspect of it instead of the battling one.
But there are options, and if you do test GBS-positive and— ’cause once you test GBS positive, if you are being treated in the hospital, even if they tested you again— they’re going to treat you as though you are positive. So, like, they’re going to require you to use antibiotics. But you can still go that extra mile, right, to ensure that your baby doesn’t get a GBS infection by treating yourself with herbs. There are also secondary GBS infections that are beyond your control. And I want to put that out there too, that, y’know, like, 45% percent of the hospital staff have it on their skin somewhere, right? So we’re… we are in constant exposure to it. It’s just kinda how it is, but you can take these extra precautions.
Adriana: Absolutely. And I will link in the show notes also, Evidence-Based Birth has a thing about GBS and the effects on the microbiome. And I find it— as a person who had GBS and took the antibiotics, at the time— and because this was like so many gazillion years ago, we did not know about microbiome that much, so I didn’t take any probiotics.
Kathleen: Did you say millions of years ago?
Adriana: Gazillions. Gazillions.
Kathleen: That’s a lot better.
Adriana: In pregnancy terms, it’s gazillions, like dog years!
Kathleen: You’re absolutely right.
Adriana: That it was encouraging to me to read about the studies that they’ve done, that if you are otherwise like, exclusively breastfeeding and doing… being proactive about other ways to improve the microbiome of your child, and because usually the penicillin used for GBS treatment is a narrower spectrum, they found that after about a year, the kids, their microbiomes kind of leveled out. So for people who get really, really scared and go like, “I’m ruining my baby’s health for life,” well, you’re not.
Kathleen: Right? And you can do probiotics for your baby too. Once they come out, you can— there’s a probiotic infant powder, you can put on your nipples while you’re nursing, and that will help to rebalance and re-establish gut flora. There’s other ways too, I’m sure. So, yeah.
Adriana: Go and research!
Adriana: Yes, so…
Kathleen: Please do your research.
Adriana: And I did want to make sure we mentioned nausea, commonly— not commonly— mention nausea, because it’s such a big thing that happens to most people.
Kathleen: Yeah. Common thing.
Adriana: Common thing during the first trimester. Do you have, like, quick thoughts on nausea and how to minimize it?
Kathleen: Quick thoughts on nausea: avoid triggers, eat small amounts lots of times a day, explore acupuncture and hypnosis. If you want to use herbs, ginger root. There’s a lot of studies done on ginger root, it’s one of those that there’s actual studies on, but up to one gram a day— beyond that it may have an emmenagogue or abortifacient effect.
So, y’know… but it is safe within that limit. So up to one gram a day, you can use powder or get crystallized ginger. Lemon— I found lemon is amazing and it… we consider lemon a “herb.” It does a lot of really cool things, the plant, but even smelling it can help with nausea if not tasting it or putting it in your water and sipping on that, y’know, sip your water, don’t down it.
Small amounts of peppermint tea, just sipping on the peppermint tea can help or smelling the peppermint essential oil, right? You don’t necessarily want to put the essential oil on you. So put it on a cotton ball and put it in a little jar and then just carry that around with you and sniff it whenever you start feeling nauseated.
And again, back to dandelion, the dandelion root as a tea or a tincture can help your digestive system kind of settle and to, y’know, come into balance and do the right thing. So that can help with it too. So you could do any combination of those: lemon-ginger is really yummy, if you don’t like the taste of dandelion, put a little bit of lemon in there. That’s nice too.
Adriana: I had somebody on the podcast at one point recommend that. I’m glad you brought up a lemon, because they were like, “Carry a lemon in your bag and just smell it as you go.”
Kathleen: That saved my life, my first pregnancy.
And then also just, like, eat what you can, especially at first trimester. If you can’t stomach much, y’know, try… but, like, please just eat what you can in small amounts. If it’s chocolate cake, then take a bite of chocolate cake.
Adriana: Mhm. On that note, let’s move on to postpartum.
Kathleen: Chocolate cake! That’s my herb for postpartum.
Adriana: Yeah! So postpartum, what are we… we talked about raspberry leaf tea. What are some other things that are good to do?
Kathleen: Continue with the “Everybody Needs This Tea,” do the nettle. Nettle, instead of it being a galactogogue, it’s a nutriative. It has all the things, y’know, the alphabet soup of vitamins. It’s got all the stuff you need. And so it will help to increase your milk supply, right? It will also make you feel better because you’re nourished, right?
So in… as an infusion, it keeps you hydrated, which you need to do when you’re nursing. Y’know, teas and postpartum depression can go hand-in-hand, and as a community, we can help with this. And this is my little soapbox, right? So if you’re a woman, or a person— but women need each other— and you know a mama that’s just had a baby or that’s nursing, go make some tea and sit with them and have tea with them and include in their tea things that will help their mood. Like St. John’s Wort, in small amounts, is fine while you’re nursing. Lemon balm— lemon balm is a great mood lifter, and it’s a nervine, so it helps to soothe the new mama. It’s so stressful in postpartum, right? To have this new life and things you need to… all these new responsibilities and there’s no handbook.
And, y’know, “Where’s my tribe?” So, like, becoming a tribe— and plants can help us come together as a tribe. and do these little rituals, like making tea for each other and sharing it and sitting there, and then healing the perineum.
Yeah, we have these topical herbs and I also make a postpartum herbal bath and it contains comfrey, which is a [unintelligible], which helps heal the skin, and a demulcent, so it would soothe any irritated or inflamed tissues.
The urva ursi I put in there— a lot of people use it for UTIs, and I put it in there as urinary antiseptic and astringent. Calendula, I had— my teachers at Heart Stone, they had a phrase that “When in doubt, calendula.” It’s, like, everything: It has antifungal, antimycobacterial, antimicrobial properties, as well as being soothing and nutritious, y’know, it has all the things. And it’s a beautiful flower. I think it’s just a lovely plant to have a relationship with.
Then you have yarrow, which is also an antiseptic. And shepherd’s purse is in it, which helps to close down blood vessels to help reduce any bleeding. So these postpartum herb baths are not necessarily just for your perineum and healing up any tears, but also for getting in the bathtub and letting the medicine get in through your skin. It helps to shut things down, and the shepherd’s purse will help any bleeding in the uterus to start to slow down as well. And then oatstraw, which I mentioned before. And a lot of these are just… they’re just common things and they’re just really simple. And the oatstraw helps to soothe the nervous system, which is… I can’t emphasize that enough.
Have I emphasized that enough during this podcast?
Adriana: Take a breath, calm. You’re so excited with this! And I— and back to the ritual, the fact that it’s an herbal bath— so make a big pot of, like, walk us through what you do to prepare this herbal bath. Like, if you’re using it, not you making it, but the pregnant person or a postpartum person that’s going to use it.
Kathleen: Right. So you can make your own, or you can contact me. I’d be happy to mail them. So it comes in a little muslin bag. You can get your own muslin bag, and I put a little bit of kosher salt in there too, which helps for, y’know, reducing the chances of infection.
And then you would make… Please don’t boil your herbs. All these aerial parts of the plant are very delicate. So you boil your water first. You can do, y’know, three or four quarts even, and throw this big bag of herbs in there and cover it.
Covering your infusions is very important because a lot of your volatile oils have— the medicinal parts of the plant— will escape through steam, so you cover it. If you let it sit for 30 minutes to a couple of hours, even, and it can sit there longer. If you’re not ready to use it, you can refrigerate it until right after the birth, you can freeze some of it, right?
So once the infusion is made, you can make compresses, cold compresses, which I know that there’s some conflict of ideas about putting cold on the yoni after birth or anytime, anyway… but some women like to have an ice pack.
So you can take this infusion and put it on some— all-natural, organic— pads, please (because there’s a lot of chemicals found in feminine products), and you can put those in your freezer. You can lay them on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer and let them freeze up. And then when you’re ready to use them, let them thaw a little bit, and even put a barrier there, before we put them on your labia and your perineum.
And you can also take this infusion and pour it into the bathtub and mama and baby can get into the bathtub and the herbs, and it will help to soothe and comfort the mama and baby, and also help to shut things down, which is a nice ritual. Like we were talking about, we were talking about rituals— that’s a really beautiful ritual in and of itself. So that’s the postpartum herb bath in a nutshell.
Kathleen: Yay! And baths are important. They’re just as important as tea.
Adriana: That’s a whole, like, another hour-long conversation.
Kathleen: A whole ‘nother hour, yes.
Adriana: And I want to say like, if you want to be selfish, get in the bath by yourself. You don’t have to get in there with your baby. If you’re feeling a little touched out and just want that “ahh” calm, or if it’s really nurturing to you to do it with your baby, then with your baby, like, whatever feels good.
Kathleen: Right, but it’s safe with baby, but absolutely right. If you just need a minute, because goodness, you just did something big, please take that time for yourself, of course.
Adriana: Awesome. So is there something we’re forgetting for postpartum that would be helpful? Something you need to stay away from during postpartum also?
Kathleen: Well, y’know, the same is true for postpartum: There’s herbs that you wouldn’t want to use. And, you know, we would also… we had talked about galactagogues briefly, and why they might not be a good idea.
Adriana: So, wait a second. “Galactagogues”: let’s define what the term is. I know we’ve mentioned it a few times.
Kathleen: Galactagogues are herbs that are going to increase your milk supply. Some of them stimulate the letdown reflex and some of them just build up milk supply, but galactagogues themselves (the ones that stimulate the let down reflex) can become… you can form a dependency on them and over time they won’t be as effective.
So certainly after you’ve tried nourishment with the nettle and the raspberry leaf, after you’ve tried these things, and diet, proper diet and lots of fluids, that if you still need some help since then fenugreek or fennel seeds, I just would chew a little bit of fennel seed, every once in a while.
And it would help, but it’s not something to use all the time because of the dependency. I think that you can’t… don’t want to rely on it. And the really… the best way to get your milk going is to nurse your baby often.
Adriana: Yeah, have them stimulate that response signal through the actual baby latching, yeah, latching on. And it’s funny, ’cause every time— I mean, my goodness, every time I talk about lactation and latching, like, we’re talking about this, my nipples are tingling.
Kathleen: And it’s been a gazillion years since then.
Adriana: So I love it. Nourish first, hydrate, put baby to the breast, a lot… lots of skin-to-skin. And then if you’re still needing extra help, go to the additional things, like chewing on some fennel seeds.
Kathleen: Absolutely. But the things— y’know, the teas, the food grade stuff— that could be a part of your daily life, like nettles, are gonna help you with that. Y’know, raspberry leaf is probably going to help you with that. Avoid sage, y’know, that might dry things up a bit, and there are a list of herbs that are not good for postpartum for nursing, that you might not want your baby to ingest, but that’s… I did not write that list, but you can find it easily.
Adriana: And if you happen to have a link that you want to send to me, I’ll put it on the show notes.
Kathleen: Okay. I can do that.
Adriana: Awesome. And we’re almost out of time, but there was one thing that we were, like: Should we talk about this? Should we not talk about this? But let’s do it. Let’s briefly talk about induction.
Kathleen: Okay, we will briefly talk about inductions. And what I really want to say about induction from the beginning is: Why do we feel we need to find ways to induce a process that the body is naturally designed to do? Now, that being said, in our culture, we have a lot of situations and it happens very frequently where we want to try to get things going.
And in order to either avoid a medical induction or, um, it’s a mama’s right. If she’s really uncomfortable or something’s going on with baby, y’know… there are circumstances where it’s a better alternative or even necessary.
Adriana: Right. And, yeah, we all know that there’s these artificial constraints that are being put on how long you can be pregnant, and that’s unfortunately a reality you have to navigate and can be really stressful if you’re looking at an induction date of next Thursday, and then that anxiety is not going to help you go into labor.
Kathleen: Right. Exactly. You need to relax. We need to be able to relax, to have successful labors and even enjoyable, y’know, experiences. The pressure takes a lot of what could be very joyful out of what we’re experiencing and doesn’t allow us to be fully present. So, y’know, I think a very patient approach to an herbal or natural induction method is more proper, although women for centuries and midwives forever have been exploring and recommending castor oil… that seems to be the one thing that people swear by the most. However, in my experience, I’ve seen it go both ways; but I’ve also seen it be very uncomfortable and very messy too. So, it’s not my first go-to. I think sex, lots of sex, is my first recommendation to get things going.
And also acupuncture would be another way, but to get things going from the ground zero, herbally, after, y’know, if you want to try some things, you want some herbs that stimulate oxytocin to get your uterus contracting, but also herbs that support the relaxation of the uterus.
And red raspberry leaf tea, there’s an age-old tradition of making a very, very long infusion that does both of these. Right? So you drink, y’know, like, a really strong cup of red raspberry leaf, a couple of times. And, a lot of women swear by that.
Adriana: What would a very strong infusion look like?
Kathleen: Oh gosh. So a normal infusion is one teaspoon of dried herbs to eight ounces of water.
So, a really strong… quadruple the herbs and drink that, y’know, so four teaspoons of dried herbs to eight ounces of water. Does that help?
Adriana: Yeah. And I’m wondering if you’re doing leaves by themselves, so not dried, how would a regular, normal infusion… what’s…
Kathleen: If you’re doing a fresh plant?
Adriana: Yeah, a fresh plant. Ah, I can’t talk anymore.
Kathleen: I just cram! If I’m using a fresh plant of anything, I just kind of cram the jar full of it and add— this my Italian upbringing— you just shove it all in there and pour hot water over it, it’s not very professional. But it is because the fresh plant already holds so much water and also, I mean, there’s benefits to using a dried plant, but if all you have is fresh, then just load up your jar is full as you can get it and pour water, and again, cover your infusions and let them sit for 30 minutes to a couple hours.
But the dry plant also breaks up the cell wall and allows more of the plant to be exposed to the water, and the water can more easily extract the medicine. So, y’know, either way, but fresh plants are beautiful and amazing and have their own things that have gotten lost in the drying process.
So. ups and downs to both. Yep. And I think that, I want to say too, with— if you want to try castor oil, try it in a pack. A castor oil pack is when you would take, like, a flannel cloth and soak it in castor oil and you put that on, y’know, where your uterus would be or wherever you’re experiencing discomfort.
And then put a plastic bag over that and then apply a warm— not too hot, right, ’cause you don’t want anything too hot next to your baby’s head— and let that just soak in. And you could… This could be a few day process. So instead of being in a hurry, just really relax and coax your baby out, and do some of these things and the castor oil can get in through the skin.
And I think that’s a lot easier way for a body to handle if you wanted to try that route. And then in conjunction with a cotton root tincture, which will stimulate oxytocin production in the body and cause… start causing the uterus to contract. And there’s been a lot of success with the combination of cotton root and the ingestion of castor oil.
But I would like to say that I think it’s possible, if giving yourself more time, is to do the packs, the castor packs, and see how that works for you first. One thing I think I would… Do you want to say something…?
Adriana: I was gonna just say that the unpredictability and possible violence of just doing the castor oil, it’s one of those things that, y’know, you took it and it could go both ways. It can make you really miserable and act really quick and just actually just make the uterus cranky. So it’s contracting, but that doesn’t mean that necessarily it’s effective contractions for labor, but it could also just hit labor and have it go. So, yeah, it’s a difficult one to qualify.
Kathleen: Right. Exactly. And it’s also, it’s not an oxytocic, it’s a stimulating laxative, and it does that because there’s toxins in it that stimulate the bowel and make you want to get it out, right? So that’s why it starts to make your uterus contract and stimulate the uterus because it’s just trying… body’s trying to purge, which is a… it’s an interesting place to be when you’re trying to bring life into the world, y’know?
And like you said, it can go either way. Some people swear by it— y’know, would never do anything different— and others wish they would’ve never touched it. And I think I want to mention one herb that women have used for a very long time, but that has had some pretty serious consequences regarding induction, is blue cohosh.
It can manifest, if you use too much of it, as, like, a nicotine poisoning. And so we start to see cardiac issues with mama and baby. And so it’s a very… it’s not a safe way to go, unless you’re being monitored by a doctor or midwife that’s willing to, y’know, monitor you and baby’s heart during that time.
So there’ve been incidences of mamas trying to self-induce using blue cohosh and the amounts that you’d have to use to get labor going really require you to be monitored. So, please take that into consideration.
Adriana: Yeah. And I think that warrants the mentioning again, that herbs can be powerful medicine. So how the reverence and respect for them and research and figure out how they communicate with you. What effects a certain plant has in your body… That requires some communication. It requires some exploration. It requires a partnership.
Kathleen: Absolutely. Absolutely. It does, the respect and reverence. That’s a good way… good words to use. Absolutely.
Adriana: Kathleen. Thank you so, so much for doing this today. It’s always lovely to talk to you.
Kathleen: I always love talking to you too. And I really appreciate it. It was fun. New experience!
That was professional childbirth consultant, family advocate, Innate Postpartum Care Provider, herbal educator, and all-around community witch, Kathleen Mugnolo. Kathleen was kind enough to provide a couple of handouts for our listeners. The first one lists what herbs to avoid during lactation, including which ones increase milk supply, and which ones will decrease it. And the other handout is a list of her favorite places where she sources her herbs. You can find them both in the show notes for this episode at Birthful.com
You can learn more about Kathleen on Instagram @kathleen.mugnolo, and mugnolo is spelled M-u-g-n-o-l-o.
And you can connect with us @birthfulpodcast on Instagram. In fact, if you are not driving, Kathleen and I would love it if you take a screenshot of this episode right now and post it to Instagram sharing your biggest takeaway from our talk— or maybe giving your favorite herb a shout out! Make sure to tag @birthfulpodcast so we can see it and amplify it.
You can find the in-depth show notes and transcript of this episode at birthful.com, where you can also learn more about my birth and postpartum preparation classes and download your free postpartum preparation plan.
Birthful is created and produced by me, Adriana Lozada, with production assistance from Aysia Platte.
Thank you so much for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to follow us on Goodpods, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, and everywhere you listen.
Come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “How to Tap Into the Nourishing Power of Herbs in Pregnancy and Postpartum.” Birthful, Birthful. June 15, 2022. Birthful.com.
About Kathleen Mugnolo
Kathleen Mugnolo has been practicing birth work and postpartum family support for 18 years. She holds an Advanced Holistic Doula Certification through The Matrona and was previously certified twice through DONA. She’s also an Innate Postpartum Care Certified Practitioner.
Matching her enthusiasm for birth is a love of the plant world. Kathleen feels the use of herbs to support our bodies and personal journeys is our birthright. Following several years of self-study, she completed her first herbal apprenticeship at Heartstone Center for Earth Essentials in 2010, and has completed the Herbal Medicine For Women course offered by Aviva Romm.
Kathleen holds a conviction that we need to know how to bring health to our bodies with plants and that further communion with the plant world will open yet another avenue toward the healing of our planet. Possessing the knowledge to maintain our own health is an expression of much-needed autonomy. Herbal medicine offers a way to move from a managed medical paradigm to one where individuals take charge of their own health.
Kathleen also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and Art, is a trained lower elementary Montessori teacher, and is learning to play the banjo. She’s a mother of three, and feels her experience giving birth and raising children qualifies her for so much more than any letters she could earn.
Learn more at KathleenMugnolo.com
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