St. John's Wort: Safe during pregnancy?

Can I use St. John's Wort for depression during pregnancy?


Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

Your own health care provider should be consulted before the use of any herbal remedies during pregnancy. However, the literature on St. John's Wort (Hypericum) during pregnancy is scant.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a few case reports of client's who used this herbal medicine during pregnancy. One of the women gave birth to an apparently healthy baby but had a low platelet count in the last trimester. She discontinued it at delivery and the baby developed jaundice on day five, which was treated successfully. Lactation was successful as well; she resumed taking the product on her twentieth postpartum day.

There is some evidence that St. John's Wort can cause contraction of the uterine muscle in animals. This could mean that women who take the herb might be predisposed to preterm labor.

Secondly, there is the possibility that certain chemicals in St. John's Wort may lead to chromosome damage or to cancer in living organisms. This did not occur in all studies, however.

One should potentially be concerned with the effect of any antidepressant agent on the developing nervous system and brain of a fetus or newborn. Many of the currently used antidepressants have undergone much more controlled testing than has Hypericum.

My last caution would be that self-medicating might restrict a woman's decision to pursue counseling and treatment. Depression should be managed with a variety of protocols and self-treatment may keep a woman from getting the kind of therapy she needs.

So, my answer would be "no," I don't think this herbal therapy should be used in pregnancy or lactation. We simply do not yet know enough about it.

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