Tea for two
Herbal tea is more than just a refreshing or soothing drink for pregnant mums. Drinking the right herbal tea can really help with pregnancy symptoms, says nutritionist Jessica Giljam-Brown (wellnessbyjessica.com).
Herbal tea has been used for centuries to support women through their pregnancy journey. From helping to strengthen and ready the body for labor to aiding women in managing those pesky pregnancy-related conditions and complications, herbs have lots to offer.
Herbal tea is, in fact, not tea at all – real tea is the drink made from the leaves of the tea plant, and includes black and green tea drinks. Herbal tea or, more accurately, herbal infusions are made from the leaves, roots, flowers, bark, or berries of other types of plants. Plants contain fantastic healing properties and nutrients that can be used to help support women throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Ginger-based teas can help manage one of the most common pregnancy ailments: Morning sickness (or, as we like to call it, all-day, anytime sickness). Fresh or dried ginger infusions can provide rapid relief from mild to moderate nausea and, unlike anti-nausea medications, ginger can be used several times a day. Often, more persistent cases of morning sickness can be due to stress on the liver from the increased levels of circulating hormones. To help aid the liver in clearing these hormones and subsequently reduce nausea, dandelion root tea can be used daily, and many women find this a great alternative to coffee.
As your baby grows, the space left over for your organs begins to decrease, and as your stomach gets pushed up your abdominal cavity, you may find that you start experience reflux or heartburn in the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy. Slippery elm bark, while not usually seen as a tea, is a traditional remedy that can ease reflux. Slippery elm bark can be purchased as a powder and mixed with water, giving you a thick, smoothie-like drink which coats the oesophagus and stomach helping to reduce the burn of acid reflux.
The digestive system slows down during pregnancy, causing some women to suffer from indigestion, bloating, and gas. An easy remedy for this is peppermint tea – fresh or dried mint tea can be used after meals to help relieve gas and bloating. Be aware that in later pregnancy, peppermint tea may contribute to reflux, as peppermint can relax the sphincter between your oesophagus and stomach, which normally prevents stomach acid from travelling back up and causing reflux. If you find yourself suffering from reflux, be sure to avoid peppermint tea.
Urinary tract health
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common complication to arise during pregnancy. If you have ever had a UTI, then you know it is worth putting effort into preventing the infection, rather than relying on treating one should it arise. Nettle leaf tea strengthens the elimination organs and is a diuretic, helping to flush out bacteria from the bladder. Raspberry leaf, a pregnancy all-rounder, it is high in minerals such as silica, calcium, and magnesium and, alongside mineral-rich nettle, can help repair and nourish damaged and irritated mucous membranes in the urinary tract. Cranberry can be found as a tea, and helps to prevent the bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder, allowing the bacteria to be flushed out more easily. A blend of nettle, raspberry leaf, and cranberry may help to prevent urinary tract infections, especially if you are prone to them.
Drinks to avoid in pregnancy
Alcohol and coffee should not be consumed during pregnancy due to increased risks of damage to the baby, but several teas should also be avoided. Any form of caffeinated tea, like black or green tea, should be avoided as caffeine can cause low birth weight and premature birth. Hibiscus flower tea should be avoided as it can cause uterine contractions. Liquorice should be avoided as it has been linked with low birth weight and premature birth in some cases. Any form of diet, detox, or laxative tea should also be avoided.
Where to buy herbs for tea
Be sure to buy your loose herbs from reputable health food stores, so that you can be sure that the herbs are of a high quality and you are buying the correct plant. The herbs should smell fragrant and not musty or stale. Several New Zealand companies offer great blends for pregnancy and breastfeeding and can be purchased in most health food stores and pharmacies. However, if you are suffering from specific pregnancy symptoms and complications, then it is best to have a blend customised for you by a qualified practitioner.
Tea can offer support to those suffering from nerves, anxiety, and depression, both during pregnancy and afterward. A tea blend containing St John’s Wort can be most useful during pregnancy, as its energising properties can help relieve fatigue, anxiety, and mild to moderate depression. It also works to support your nervous system, helping to make you more resilient to stress. If you are suffering from feelings of anxiety or depression at any point throughout your pregnancy or afterward, it is important that you speak to your primary care provider and/or a trusted friend or family member.
Overall pregnancy support
Raspberry leaf is the classic herb used to support women throughout their pregnancy. Raspberry leaf has been used for centuries, to help tone and build strength in the uterine muscle, readying it for childbirth. Historically it has been said that raspberry leaf tea helps strengthen the uterine muscles, making contractions more effective. Raspberry leaf tea can safely be used throughout pregnancy. Nettle is a nourishing plant and can be used as a base for pregnancy tea blends. Nettle leaves contain iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C, all nutrients which can help nourish you and your growing baby. Nettle tea can also help alleviate water retention, often seen in later pregnancy.
Breast milk-promoting teas should include fenugreek, fennel, St Mary’s Thistle, and oat straw. These herbs are known as galactagogues or milk-producing herbs. If you have low milk production, you may find that a breastfeeding tea blend might help to boost breast milk production. It can be a good idea to get into the habit of having a cup of breastfeeding tea at each feed – this way, you are getting in fluids and herbs to help breast milk production. Fennel has the added benefit of helping settle infant indigestion, as the oils from the fennel seeds are passed through the breast milk to the baby, and can work to calm spasms in the digestive tract, reducing wind, colic, and cramping. Oat straw has calming and restorative properties, helping to calm and nourish the nervous system of both mother and baby.
Often mums-to-be will find themselves restless at night, due to nerves or simply being uncomfortable. A calming blend of chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm tea can help you feel more relaxed and get off to sleep sooner. Try having one to two cups an hour before bed to help relax your nervous system for a more restful night.