Guide to using raspberry leaf for pregnancy and labour
Raspberry leaf, or Rubis idaelus has a long history of use by herbalists and midwives in preparing the uterus for childbirth. It also has some traditional use in easing nausea of pregnancy and assisting with breast milk production. As a naturopath it is one of the herbs I am most frequently asked about. It is one of the most commonly used herbal medicines in pregnancy, used by 9-14% of Australian pregnant women.
How does it work?
The constituents of this herb help to tone the uterus muscle. Tests on the pregnant uterus have shown it has the ability to stimulate muscle contractions, bring greater regularity to contractions, and relax the muscle (1). This is what we want for labour! A communicative, coordinated muscle that will both contract well and relax well.
As well as for birthing preparation, the herb might help the uterus to involute (return to normal size) after birth (with those efficient muscle contractions). The herb contains tannins which give an astringent action, meaning it can contract tissues to ease bleeding. It is thought that this might help for prevention of postpartum haemorrhage.
Won’t it bring on early labour?
You might guess so, with its ability to assist contractions. In its long history of use in pregnancy, there are no reports of it bringing on labour. In fact, one study (2) found that women taking the herb were more likely to birth on time. This herb is known as a partus preparator, it prepares the body for it’s role in the birthing process, not brings it on.
What have clinical trials found?
Studies (2, 3) of women taking this herb have shown it to be associated with
- a faster second (pushing) stage of labour (by 10 minutes on average). This makes sense when you consider how it works on the uterus muscle
- decreased pre and post term labour
- decreased likelihood of having artificial rupture of their membranes, or require a Cesarean section, forceps or vacuum birth
Are there any side effects? What else do I need to know?
Studies have found no adverse effects for mother or baby.
An effect that some women notice after taking raspberry leaf is an increase in the sensation of Braxton Hicks contractions (practice contractions). This was my personal experience when taking the herb while pregnant – I actually enjoyed the greater intensity of Braxton Hicks as I felt my uterus muscle was training for the main event! If you have an irritable uterus it is best to talk with your maternity provider and naturopath/herbalist before starting raspberry leaf.
The high amount of tannins found in raspberry leaf have the potential to reduce absorption of iron, calcium and magnesium, as well as some drugs. It’s best to take these substances at least 2 hours away from raspberry leaf.
How is it taken?
Usually as a tea. Traditional usage is 1 cup per day in the first trimester, 2 cups per day in the second trimester, 3 cups per day in the third trimester and 4 cups from 36 weeks pregnant onward.
-Raspberry leaf tea directions-
Infuse 1 teabag, or 1 Tbs of loose dried herb in a cup of boiling water, steep for 20 minutes then strain or remove tea bag before drinking. To improve the flavour you could add some peppermint tea or ginger slices to the infusion, or try it iced with lemon slices.
A liquid extract of the herb, or tableted product can be beneficial for those who don’t enjoy the taste or find they are not drinking the tea. See a naturopath or herbalist for a practitioner grade preparation. I like to prescribe liquid extract starting from the second trimester at very small doses, increasing the dose as the pregnancy progresses to reach a full therapeutic dose in the final weeks of pregnancy.
- Bamford DS, Percival RC, Tothill AU. Raspberry leaf tea: a new aspect to an old problem. British Journal of Pharmacology. 1970 Sep;40(1):161P+.
- Parsons M, Simpson M, Ponton T. Raspberry leaf and its effect on labour: safety and efficacy. Aust Coll Midwives Inc J. 1999 Sep;12(3):20–5.
- Simpson M, Parsons M, Greenwood J, Wade K. Raspberry Leaf in Pregnancy: Its Safety and Efficacy in Labor. The Journal of Midwifery & Womens Health. 2001 Mar 4;46(2):51–9.