Ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng): Everything You Need to Know if You’re Pregnant
Just about any woman who has ever been pregnant will tell you the same thing: pregnancy can be stressful. So, if ever there is a natural way to help lower that stress, it always sounds like a good idea.
But de-stressing can never come at the cost of danger to you or your unborn child – and some otherwise effective calming treatments can do just that.
Ashwagandha is one of the hottest natural products for safely and effectively lowering stress levels. It’s been studied well, and the results tend to be very positive for the general population.
Pregnant women, on the other hand, need to understand the risks associated with using ashwagandha during pregnancy.
What Is Ashwagandha Exactly?
Ashwagandha is an herb that comes from the withania somnifera plant. Other names include: Indian ginseng, Ayurvedic Ginseng, or winter cherry. It is part of the nightshade family just like tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
Withania Somnifera is a shrub with flowers and berries. Typically, the herbal treatments come from the root and from the berry.
Ashwagandha has been used frequently in Ayurveda, a historical medical system with roots in ancient India. Ayurveda means “The Science of Life” in Sanskrit, which is fitting for its goal.
Instead of treating disease symptoms, Ayurveda focuses on holistic wellness and energy balance.
In Ayurvedic medicine, natural remedies are often used to treat the mind-body connection through food, lifestyle changes, and herbs. It’s no surprise, then, that ashwagandha has been shown to help both the mind and the body.
Benefits of Ashwagandha for You
Ashwagandha is classified as an “adaptogen.” These are a group of herbs that help the body “adapt” to the stress response mentally and physically.
This means the health benefits of ashwagandha include improving:
- Low Libido
- Energy levels
- Adrenal Health
Even modern science has shown ashwagandha to be successful.
A 2012 study looked at 64 people with chronic stress. Half were put into an ashwagandha group, receiving 300 mg daily. The others were given a placebo. The ashwagandha group “exhibited a significant reduction in scores on all stress-assessment scales on Day 60, relative to the placebo group.”
Not only did these people report feeling significantly less stressed, but their cortisol levels actually went down too.
Other studies have shown ashwagandha could be helpful for other medical conditions like hypothyroidism, arthritis, and diabetes.
In many cases, scientists and health care professionals report it is a well-tolerated herb with little to no side effects. But this is true for the general population – not for pregnant women.
Is Ashwagandha Safe for Pregnancy?
Short Answer: No. Ashwagandha doesn’t appear to be a safe choice for pregnant women.
First off, it’s important to understand that ashwagandha has not been studied nearly enough in pregnancy. We have a major lack of information on the way a pregnant woman and a fetus respond to the herb.
We don’t necessarily have studies showing it to be very dangerous in all cases, but we also do not have any studies showing it to be safe either.
That being said, we do know large doses of ashwagandha can be used to cause abortion. It stimulates the muscles of the uterus and can bring about early labor.
Additionally, ashwagandha is known to decrease blood pressure, which can potentially be harmful in pregnancy.
Between the lack of proper scientific study and the known abortifacient nature of large doses, most doctors and even alternative practitioners consider it unsafe and do not prescribe this adaptogenic herb during pregnancy.
But Sometimes Ayurveda Uses Ashwagandha in Pregnancy?
It is true that ashwagandha root has been used in very small doses during pregnancies in the Ayurveda tradition.
In these cases, Ayurvedic practitioners are prescribing low doses – around ½ tsp. per day.
This dosage has not been confirmed safe by any medical study, and should not be a part of your pregnancy. Simply because it has been anecdotally well-tolerated in some pregnant women does not mean it will also be safe for you.
If you have any questions or feel very strongly that you want to take the herb, talk carefully with your health care provider before proceeding.
While herbalists can be genuinely helpful to the general population and adaptogens are often beneficial, a pregnant woman should always seek medical advice from her doctor.
6 Safe Ways for Pregnant Women to De-Stress
Since the use of ashwagandha will not be a good option for you to lower your stress levels during pregnancy, here are 6 alternative options.
Scientific study shows us again and again that regular exercise is one of the best stress-busters around even if it means squeezing it into your daily routine. Almost all types of exercise are safe for pregnancy generally speaking, but every woman is different. Ask your doctor if he or she has any individual recommendations for you.
Pro Tip: Most yoga studios and gyms offer prenatal yoga. Not only will this help you get some exercise, but it will also place a lot of focus on calming and centering the mind. A double win!
2. Breathing Exercises
Focusing on your breath can also help you “adapt” to your body’s stress response. It can lower your heart rate, stop a racing mind, and deepen your breathing. Try a few different breathing exercises to see which one feels best for you.
Counting your breaths or simply “following” your breath as it goes in and out of your mouth are simple ways to begin. Or you can follow along with this guided pregnancy breathing exercise video:
Bonus: you will have explored different ways to breathe, so when it comes time for delivery, you will have a few exercises to help get you through labor.
A pregnant woman’s body is constantly in hyperdrive, working hard to create another human life. Here are a few ideas to get more rest:
- Stick to a sleep routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each night and morning.
- Take short naps when you need them (sticking to about 20 minutes shouldn’t interrupt your nighttime sleep)
- Try to embrace insomnia instead of worrying about it. If you cannot sleep, get up and do something calm and enjoyable: read a book, listen to your favorite music, talk to your baby, plan out the nursery, write in your journal, write a novel, learn a craft, or try using some essential oils to help relax you.
- Take advantage of work breaks. If you have a full hour lunch, kick up your feet and rest. If you have a short break, stretch or even go to your car for some total silence.
4. Prenatal Massage
After your first trimester, you should be safe to see a massage therapist for a prenatal massage. Just get permission from your doctor on your next appointment beforehand.
If prenatal massage is out of the question (or if they aren’t frequent enough), regular foot and hand massages can bring great relief. Ask a partner or friend, or head to a nail salon.
5. Therapy/ Talking
So many changes are happening to your body and life during pregnancy…and so many more are on their way. Pregnancy can be an overwhelming time for all women, so it is normal to need a little help processing through the thoughts and feelings.
Seeing a therapist or regularly talking to trusted friends about your honest emotions and fears can greatly reduce stress.
Though we all want to be able to manage our daily stresses on our own, sometimes pregnancy stress tips over into full-out anxiety. If you believe you may be suffering from a serious anxiety disorder, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss pregnancy-safe medication options.
Is Ashwagandha Safe for Breastfeeding?
Within Ayurveda, ashwagandha has been used to improve lactation for many years.
The National Institutes of Health describes one study in which 40 women with an insufficient milk supply take a mixture of herbs that included ashwagandha. After 4 days, none of their babies required supplemental feeding anymore.
Though these results are encouraging, researchers caution these findings. There was no randomization, placebo control, or even specific instruction given to the mothers.
There have not been the other necessary studies to determine its safety for both mother and nursing baby. Due to this lack of information, most health care providers still suggest staying off ashwagandha while breastfeeding.
If you need to increase your milk production, talk to your doctor or local breastfeeding specialist to see if there are any individualized changes you can make to improve your lactation. Here are a few ideas:
- Keep taking your prenatal vitamins (unless your doctor has said otherwise).
- Drink plenty of water each day.
- Try lactation cookies. Here’s a popular recipe from How Sweet Eats.
Lowering Pregnancy Stress Without Ashwagandha
Do not fret about avoiding ashwagandha while pregnant – there are many other ways to manage your stress through lifestyle changes and home remedies without risking the potential abortifacient nature of this Ayurvedic herb.
If you are still experiencing some stress once your child is born and you are done breastfeeding, you can then try an ashwagandha root supplement, powder, tincture, or tea.