by Jane Palmer, Midwife, reprinted with permission from Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond
This article is for information purposes only. Please consult your health care practitioner before taking raspberry leaf.
You are probably familiar with the popular fruit, the Raspberry (Rubus idaeus). The raspberry is native to many parts of Europe and Northern America. The leaves of the raspberry plant have been used as a medicinal herb for centuries. It is thought to have many varied properties including those that are beneficial for pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. It is believed that raspberry leaf, if taken regularly through pregnancy and labour can:
- Ease the symptoms of morning sickness
- Sooth and prevent bleeding gums which many pregnant women often experience.
- Relax the smooth muscles of the uterus when it is contracting (Burn & Withell, 1941).
- Assist with the birth of the baby and the placenta.
- Calm cramping of the uterus.
- Provide a rich source of iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium. The magnesium content is especially helpful in strengthening the uterine muscle.
- Raspberry leaf also contains vitamins B1, B3 and E, which are valuable in pregnancy.
Raspberry leaf is also used for the following:
- To aid fertility.
- To promote a plentiful supply of breastmilk.
- To help stop excess bleeding after birth.
- To treat diarrhoea.
- To regulate irregular menstrual cycle and decrease heavy periods.
- To relieve sore throats.
- To reduce fever.
It is thought that around one fifth of pregnant women take some form of raspberry leaf. Women believe that it will shorten labour and make the birth easier. The use of this herb for remedial purposes dates back to the sixth century and its benefits in childbirth have been recorded as a proven aid in maternity in the most ancient of herbal books.
Has there been any research on the effects of Raspberry Leaf?
There has been research on the effects of raspberry leaf extracts on animals and on women in the first week after birth (Burn & Withell, 1941; Whitehouse, 1941). Raspberry leaf was found to cause a relaxant effect on the uterus. It was believed that this relaxant effect caused the uterine contractions of labour to become better coordinated and more efficient, thus shortening the length of labour. It is also commonly assumed that women who take raspberry leaf throughout labour will have an improved second and third stage of labour. Consequently there is supposed to be a reduced risk of bleeding after birth.
Three midwives from Westmead Hospital in Sydney looked at the literature to try to find further research on the use of Raspberry leaf and its effects on labour. They could find no such research. These same midwives decided to do their own research. The first study they carried out was an observational study on women who were currently taking raspberry leaf in pregnancy. They compared them to women who did not take any raspberry leaf. There were 108 women in the study (57 taking raspberry leaf and 51 who did not take any). Some women started taking raspberry leaf in their pregnancy as early as 8 weeks and others started as late as 39 weeks. Most women however started taking raspberry leaf between 28 and 34 weeks in their pregnancy. The findings of the observational study suggested that the raspberry leaf herb can be consumed by women during their pregnancy for the purpose for which it is taken, that is, to shorten labour with no identified side effects for the women or their babies. An unexpected finding in this study was that the women in the raspberry leaf group were less likely to require an artificial rupture of membranes, a caesarean section, forceps or vacuum birth than the women in the control group.
Two of the three original midwives (Myra Parsons and Michele Simpson) decided that the next step was to perform a randomised controlled trial, using a larger sample, to substantiate the findings of the observational study. This second study was completed earlier this year. Parsons (2000) reports that this second study demonstrated the safety of raspberry leaf tablets (2.4gm daily) taken from 32 weeks pregnancy until the commencement of labour. There were no side effects identified for mother or baby. The analysis of the findings suggested that raspberry leaf tablets shortened the second stage of labour by an average of 10 minutes but made no difference to the length of the first stage of labour. Raspberry leaf tablets reduced the incidence of artificial rupture of membranes, forceps and ventouse births. Although the reduced incidence of these interventions did not prove to be statistically significant - the researches stated that 'these results are clinically significant'.
How is Raspberry leaf taken?
Raspberry leaf can be taken in tablet form, teabags, loose leaf tea, or as a tincture. Raspberry leaf can be purchased from many health food stores or from a health care practitioner. Due to the limited research on raspberry leaf - the ideal preparation and the ideal dosage is not known at this stage.
The following guidelines on consuming raspberry leaf during pregnancy have been taken from Parsons (1999):
Tablets - Take two 300mg or 400mg tablets with each meal (three times a day) from 32 weeks.
Teabags - 1st trimester- one cup per day -2nd trimester - two cups per day -3rd trimester - up to 4 to 5 teabag cups throughout the day.
Loose leaf tea - Bring one cup of water to the boil. Remove from heat and add one teaspoon of the herb. Stir, cover and let sit for ten minutes (do not boil the herb), strain and sip. Adding sugar or honey many improve the taste. 2 to 3 cups per day is often recommended especially after 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Tincture - A tincture is an alcoholic extract of the herb raspberry leaf. The dosage will depend on the strength of the tincture.
Raspberry Leaf has been recommended by naturopaths and herbalists as well as some midwives and obstetricians. Consult a health care provider regarding the type of preparation and what dosage to take.
When is the best time to start taking Raspberry Leaf?
Many practitioners recommend that raspberry leaf is best commenced at 32 weeks of pregnancy and continued through to the birth. Parsons (2000) found that taking raspberry leaf tablets, 2.4gm per day from 32 weeks, produced no side effects. Other practitioners recommend that Raspberry leaf can be started at the beginning of pregnancy or even prior to pregnancy. However at the present time there is no known research on the safety of taking Raspberry Leaf earlier in pregnancy. When is the ideal time for a woman to start taking raspberry leaf in pregnancy? What is the correct dosage? These are questions that need to be answered by further research.
Are there any known side effects to Raspberry Leaf?
Both recent studies on Raspberry leaf found that there were no reported side effects (Parsons 1999; Parsons 2000). Anecdotal reports say that Raspberry leaf may cause nausea, increased Braxton Hicks contractions and diarrhoea. But more research is needed involving larger numbers of women before we will truly know if there are any side effects.
The use of herbal products during pregnancy should undergo the careful consideration you would give to taking any medication during pregnancy. One of the problems with herbal preparations in general is the lack of regulation on their manufacture. Some herbal preparations have been contaminated with other substances. There has been reports of contamination of imported herbal products with drugs and animal faeces. It is for this reason that it is important to purchase a product through a reputable source.
Raspberry leaves are naturally high in tannins. Tannin can be constipating, which is something that pregnant women are already prone to. Long term safety of consumption of tannin is unknown and maybe carcinogenic. If choosing a tincture form of Raspberry leaf be aware that it is alcohol based. Some preparations are very high in alcohol. Remember that there is no safe level of alcohol established in pregnancy.
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