During pregnancy, it is often unclear what herbal supplements are safe for you and your fetus. Native Americans have used Actaea racemosa, or black cohosh, for centuries to help treat everything from menstrual cramps to sleep disturbances. Nurse midwives also commonly use black cohosh in combination with other herbs to induce labor. Most physicians today, however, frown on the use of black cohosh in any dose during pregnancy. Always consult your physician before using black cohosh or any other herbal supplement, especially during pregnancy.
A member of the buttercup family, black cohosh is a tall plant found in North America. Herbalists commonly use the roots to treat menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings and sleep disturbances, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Black cohosh may possess estrogen-like chemicals known as phytoestrogens that work similarly to natural estrogen in the body.
The American Academy of Family Physicians explains there is a potential for black cohosh to stimulate uterine contractions. In early pregnancy, this can cause a miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, it may result in pre-term labor. The exact dosage of black cohosh that causes miscarriage varies dependent on the individual, which is why the FDA recommends women avoid it during pregnancy. If you have taken black cohosh and experience low back pain or abdominal cramping, vaginal bleeding with or without abdominal cramps or tissue or blood clots passing through the vagina, seek medical attention immediately.
Some women use a combination of black cohosh, blue cohosh and dong quai to induce a miscarriage or abortion. The amount of herbs needed to induce miscarriage varies and some women may experience a miscarriage immediately and some women may not miscarry at all. Inducing a miscarriage without a physician's supervision is dangerous and can result in an incomplete miscarriage, in which parts of the fetus can remain inside the uterus.
An incomplete miscarriage can cause a life-threatening systemic infection known as sepsis. The National Institutes of Health explains that symptoms of an incomplete miscarriage can include foul smelling vaginal discharge, heavy bleeding, severe abdominal pain and cramping, fever, nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek emergency medical attention immediately.
High doses of black cohosh can cause headaches, perspiration, dizziness, visual disturbances, slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, muscle damage, nausea and vomiting, according to MayoClinic.com. Black cohosh may interfere with hormone-related conditions such as uterine, breast and ovarian cancer. Liver damage and liver failure have been reported with the use of black cohosh.
Black cohosh goes by several names including black snakeroot, bugwort, squawroot and bugbane. It is important that you read labels to avoid accidentally ingesting black cohosh. The FDA does not regulate the use of herbal supplements and some have contained other drugs and traces of toxic metals.