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17 TCM Chinese Herbs to Avoid or Take With Care During Pregnancy

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The moment you announce your pregnancy, you might notice that everyone around you starts to put in their two cents on what you should or should not consume during the course of your pregnancy.

Not only is it not uncommon for you to hear especially from your elders to eat more now that ‘you are eating for two’, but they also encourage you to eat more of certain types of foods.

This is because there is a group of food (in the TCM world) that is proved to be highly beneficial for expecting mothers.  

As such, you may realise yourself receiving many gifts that contain TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) herbs and tonic during your pregnancy since it is widely believed that they help with the development of your baby in your tummy.

However, the truth of the matter is, during pregnancy, not all TCM herbs are suitable for you and consuming them could contribute to adverse effects on both you and your baby. 

In this article, Dr Clement Ng from TCM & You will share with you how to correctly and safely include Chinese medicine during the course of your pregnancy, and also the TCM Chinese herbs that you should avoid during your pregnancy.

It is a common belief amongst many that TCM herbs are generally milder as compared to western medicine.

Thus, during pregnancy, many mothers who are anxious about their pregnancy and are eager to achieve a more comprehensive and holistic gestation tend to seek guidance from traditional Chinese medicine for foetus’ care.

While it is not a problem seeking TCM herbs to nourish the foetus, if you are not in tune with the health condition you are in, rushing to consume such TCM herbs may be a little risky and this is why!

For TCM herbs usage during pregnancy, it can be classified into two categories:

  • Those to be taken with care where medication is typically administered when there are syndromes and conditions present that require it to be used.
  • Those with contraindications where these herbs should not be used during pregnancy


1. TCM Chinese herbs to be taken with care while pregnant

TCM Chinese herbs to be taken with care where medication is typically administered when there are syndromes and conditions present that require these TCM herbs to be used. This is to say, such TCM herbs are only suitable for expecting mothers who show symptoms of an existing health condition.

For TCM herbs which are to be taken with care while pregnant, the herbs typically belong to three categories: 

  • TCM herbs that promote blood flow and meridian circulation ( a concept in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) about a path through which life energy known as “qi” flows) 
    • Noto-ginseng (三七, sān qī)
    • Safflower (红花, hóng huā)
    • Peach kernel (桃仁, táo rén)
    • Artemisiae Anomalae (刘寄奴, liú jì nú)
    • Tabanus (虻虫, méng chóng)
    • Leech (水蛭,shuǐ zhì) 
  • TCM herbs that promote qi flow and remove stagnation ( “Qi” stagnation leads to a slowing of blood flow which can manifest into different health issues) 
    • Borneol (冰片, bīng piàn)
    • Sapwood / Sappan Wood (苏木, sū mù)
    • Knotweed (虎杖, hǔ zhàng)
    • Fructus aurantii (枳壳, zhǐ qiào)
    • Fructus aurantii) (枳实, zhǐ shí) 
  • TCM herbs that induces diarrhoea (to help with constipation) 
    • Rhubarb (大黄, dài huáng) 
    • Senna leaf (番泻叶, fān xiè yè) 

2. TCM Chinese herbs with contraindications that are toxic and to be avoided while pregnant

TCM Chinese herbs with contraindications are the herbs that should not never be used during pregnancy as they are often toxic in nature.

Consumption of such herbs may have negative effects on both mother and foetus.

As aforementioned, not all TCM herbs are suitable for pregnancy. Thus, it is recommended that during pregnancy, professional advice should be sought and it is only after a detailed diagnosis of the pregnant woman’s health condition that the pregnant mother can then carefully nourish her body using TCM herbs.

For contraindications medication, these are typically poisonous in nature and the medication that cannot be taken while pregnant. These herbs include: 

  • Castor oil (蓖麻油, bì má yóu)
  • Guan Mutong (关木通, guān mù tōng)
  • Aloe (芦荟, lú huì)
  • Mirabilite (芒硝, máng xiāo)

Generally speaking, TCM Herbs which activate blood circulation and remove blood stasis aka blood stagnation will promote blood circulation and such herbs may easily cause bleeding which leads to the termination of a pregnancy. 

For TCM Herbs which promote qi and remove stagnation, it will affect the natural equilibrium of the body and this will in turn, affect the development of the foetus. Thus, these herbs need to be taken with care.

One such example of how TCM herbs can affect pregnancy is reflected from the issue of water retention. It is not uncommon for many pregnant ladies to suffer from water retention during pregnancy. While we normally take Chinese barley to help reduce water retention, Chinese Barley is not recommended during pregnancy as Chinese Barley is considered a food with “cooling” properties.

Increased consumption of foods with too “cooling” or “heaty” properties may compromise on your spleen and stomach function. The impairment of your spleen and stomach function ultimately affects the ‘qi’ flow and may result in symptoms such as fatigue, giddiness or even a loss of appetite.

As such, instead of Chinese Barley to help with water retention, pregnant mothers should use red bean soup as an alternative.

As a general rule of thumb, a pregnant lady should only use symptomatic treatment if warranted. On the flipside, the use of these TCM herbs and tonic should be avoided at all cost to prevent any potential negative side effects on both the mother and the foetus.

Having said that, there are alternative TCM herbs that will nourish both mother and the foetus and are safe for consumption throughout the course of the pregnancy.

Chinese herbs to avoid during pregnancy

Pregnancy may pose some challenge along the way and this is especially so for first time mothers-to-be. It is thus vital to ensure the safety of both mother and baby at every turn during the entire pregnancy.

While TCM provides an alternative means of nourishment, however, as with every medicinal purpose, it comes with its set of rules.

It is therefore crucial that you seek professional advice from TCM physicians should you be interested to include TCM Herbs to nourish your body in your pregnancy. 

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