Stinging Nettle: What You Need to Know if Pregnant
Stinging nettle is an ancient herb found in most pregnancy teas and prescribed by many natural medicine practitioners, herbalists, and midwives to pregnant women. Yet the modern medical consensus seems to be that stinging nettle is “likely unsafe.”
This contradictory information is extremely puzzling and worrisome for many pregnant women.
The best course of action is to learn everything you can about herbal remedies like stinging nettle. Armed with that information, you can talk to your healthcare provider about what’s safest and most helpful for you and your baby.
You May Be Wondering, What Is Stinging Nettle?
Stinging nettle (also referred to as “nettle” or “nettle leaf”) is the Urtica dioica plant grown throughout many countries in the world.
Why is it “stinging?” The plant leaves have tiny hairs all over. When you touch them, those hairs are released into your skin – and “stinging” is an understatement. Interestingly enough, when you touch those leaves to an area of the body that already hurts badly, it’s been shown to actually decrease that pain.
Throughout history, stinging nettle has been used as a medicinal tonic. There is even documentation that shows this herbal remedy being used as far back as medieval times to treat people’s joint pain and get rid of excess water weight.
In the modern era, however, the uses of stinging nettle are wide and diverse – as are the methods of taking the herb:
- Nettle Tea: This is definitely the most common use. You will find nettle in many different herbal tea blends for various medical needs – pregnancy tea, milk production tea, menstrual cycle tea, etc.
- Nettle Pills: You can find nettle alone or in an herbal supplement blend.
- Nettle Tincture: Can be used similarly to pills.
- Nettle Extract: This topical application is often used for direct pain relief.
- Nettle Leaves: You can actually cook with nettle similarly to the way you would cook a leafy green like spinach.
With Urtica dioica, the root and all the above ground parts of the stinging nettle plant are used for medicinal reasons, but each part of the plant has different medical benefits.
Some General Benefits of Stinging Nettle
Why is this herbal medicine so popular and effective? First off, stinging nettle is an herb rich in nutrients including:
- Vitamins A, B complex, C, and K
- Minerals such as iron, calcium, and potassium
- Phyto-nutrients like beta-carotene, which is a safe form of vitamin A
A majority of its benefits stem from the fact stinging nettle has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.
Here is a list of health problems nettle leaf, stem, or root may aid:
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia
- Urinary tract infections
- Joint problems
- Kidney stones
- Hay fever
- Internal bleeding
- Stomach acid
- Insect bites
- Wound healing
- Muscle aches
- Hair loss
- Hot flashes
- Kidney support
Stinging nettle has also been used as a diuretic and an astringent (similar to witch hazel).
The Facts and Science of Stinging Nettles
The scientific backing on these nettle leaf/nettle root benefits comes on a spectrum. Some benefits have been researched heavily, others a little, some none at all.
For example, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is when a man’s prostate gland enlarges and makes urination difficult. Stinging nettle as a treatment for BPH has been studied and determined to not only be effective, but also to be very low in potential side effects.
Another study looked at nettle for the treatment of allergic rhinitis. They concluded there was a “significant difference in post-treatment” for the treated group.
Same can be said of arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation even recommends it as a natural medicine option on its website.
Unfortunately, many of these reported benefits have gone unstudied in modern science – and that includes its use in pregnancy.
Warning: Possible Side Effects of Stinging Nettle
For the general population, stinging nettle is considered to be well-tolerated with little to no side effects – with the big exception being the intense skin irritation if you touch a stinging nettle plant directly.
Some other reported side effects include stomach problems and sweating more than normal.
In addition, people with the following conditions must talk to their doctors before trying a nettle tea, supplement, or tincture.
- Diabetes: It is possible that stinging nettle can lower your blood sugar levels
- Low blood pressure: If you are already low, this herb can make your blood pressure dip even lower
- Kidney issues: While nettle may help some kidney problems, it could also interfere with treatment plans
The only other group typically given a special precaution is pregnant women. Let’s take a deeper dive into why it’s a popular herb for pregnancy and why there is also a warning behind it.
Why Is Stinging Nettle a Go-to Supplement for Pregnancy?
There’s no doubt about it: stinging nettle has been and still is a go-to herbal recommendation for pregnancy in the alternative medicine tradition. Many of the benefits listed in the above section are why you commonly find nettle in pregnancy teas, but the list goes on.
For pregnant woman, stinging nettle potentially can:
- Help you lose the water retention that causes puffiness and discomfort
- Boosts iron, which helps to prevent the anemia so common in pregnancy
- Boost B vitamins – all of which help mother and baby during pregnancy and some of which (folic acid) are important for preventing birth defects
- Help with joint discomfort and muscle aches
- Decrease seasonal allergy symptoms without the use of possibly-harmful medication
- Prevent too much bleeding thanks to high doses of vitamin K
- Stop hemorrhoids
- Reduce chances of developing preeclampsia, a pregnancy-related high blood pressure condition (though more studies need to be done to see how effective stinging nettle is at lowering blood pressure)
- Diminish the pain of childbirth through high calcium content
These helpful benefits are why herbalists have been giving women nettle for years – and why it is popular in the natural wellness community today:
- Most well-loved tea brands with a focus on holistic wellbeing include a blend for pregnant women that contains nettle leaf
- Popular blogger Wellness Mama includes it in her recipe for pregnancy tea
- Aviva Romm, an herbalist and MD, recommends nettle in “moderate” amounts
- Herbalist Susan Weed (respected in the alternative health community) recommends nettle as an option for “nourishing mother and fetus”
Is Stinging Nettle Safe During Pregnancy?
It depends! All of this sounds great, but we still have the big question: is it safe? Stinging nettle does indeed have a few side effects that can be dangerous for a pregnant woman.
Here’s what gets the most negative attention: stinging nettle has been shown to change a woman’s menstrual cycle patterns and stimulate uterine contractions. Both of these actions can cause miscarriages.
The controversy of stinging nettle is similar to that of red raspberry leaf tea. On one hand, it has very clear benefits that can help a pregnancy. On the other hand, there have been cases of women experiencing uterine contractions.
Because of these complications, most organizations like WebMD or the Natural Medicines label this herbal medicine “likely unsafe” for pregnant women.
In addition to the possible miscarriage, there can be problems depending upon other health factors.
If you are a pregnant woman with those three special precautions mentioned earlier – diabetes, low blood pressure, or kidney issues – stinging nettle may not be the right tonic for you. You must talk to your doctor first.
Does Safety Depend Upon Trimester?
Absolutely. Even herbalists and natural health care providers tend to agree that stinging nettle is best reserved for the second and third trimester.
Taking stinging nettle – or any other herb that can stimulate the uterus during the first trimester – may exacerbate the chance of miscarriage.
Once again, consult your health care provider to best time your nettle herbal tea usage if you do choose to partake.
Stinging Nettle for Breastfeeding?
For many years, stinging nettle has been prescribed by herbalists to help new mothers with their milk production. Like in pregnancy tea, nettle can often be found in herbal tea blends for milk production.
Herbalists like stinging nettle for not only increasing the quantity of breast milk, but also the quality.
However, there are no medical studies saying it is safe for breastfeeding women.
There are also no studies saying it is unsafe for breastfeeding women – with one exception: if you do choose to use stinging nettle to improve breast milk supply, do not ever put it topically. There are reports of infants getting rashes from their mother’s topical use of the herb.
So, Should You Take Stinging Nettle while Pregnant or What?
Now that you know more about stinging nettle, why it is loved, and why it is feared – you have more information to make your pregnancy plan.
If you are interested in getting as many health benefits for you and your unborn baby via all-natural sources and find yourself interested in taking a traditional tonic for pregnant women, just talk to your doctor first.
He or she will guide you to the perfect choice to keep you and your babe safe and healthy throughout the pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum.