During pregnancy, hormonal fluctuations and the physical changes to the body and the woman's environment can affect well-being and cause anxiety. Unfortunately, sedative and anti-anxiety medicines used safely before or after pregnancy can be dangerous during some pregnancy trimesters. Herbal products have been used for centuries to treat anxiety, and some may be safely used with medical supervision during pregnancy.
One lesser known herb studied to treat anxiety is passion flower, from the passiflora tropical fruit. According to the German Commission E, passion flower appears more effective and safer than a leading antidepressant, oxazepam, used for anxiety. The liquid extract of the flower is the most common formulation used. However, passion flower may be possibly unsafe during pregnancy when ingested, according to the American Pregnancy Association, so topical use might be considered as a safer alternative.
Lemon balm, an anti-infective and soothing herb, is a known mood elevator and calming agent, according to the New York University Langone Medical Center. Crushing the leaves releases lemon oil for topical rubs and inhalation. Dried leaves can be steeped in hot water for tea. Other lemon herb sources, including verbena, have been used similarly but are less studied than lemon balm for anxiety.
Although most often associated with treatment of skin rashes, avena savita has more widespread application than just topical use. Known commonly as oat or oat straw, avena is likely safe during pregnancy and has been acknowledged by the German Commission E as a calming agent for nerves. Oat masks, baths, soaks or lotions applied topically can reduce anxiety symptoms and affiliated symptoms, including restlessness and headache.
Although German chamomile has insufficient evidence to support effectiveness or safety, its use is anecdotally safe for reducing anxiety and insomnia, according to the NaturalMed Database. Its high levels of calcium and magnesium also ease joint swelling, which can occur during pregnancy and can worsen existing anxiety and discomfort.
Herbal Use Warnings
Although European data from the German Commission E and similar working groups support the use of pure herbal preparations as medical treatments, the products marketed and available in the United States are not subject to oversight by the Food and Drug Administration. No amounts of herbs are standardized or verified, and their true content and safety are also unknown.
- New York University Langone Medical Center: Lemon Balm
- American Pregnancy Association: Natural Herbs and Vitamins During Pregnancy
- "Nutrition Journal"; Nutritional and Herbal Supplements for Anxiety and Anxiety-related Disorders: Systematic Review; Shaheen E. Lakhan and Karen F. Vieira; October 2010