The Risks of Black Cohosh in Pregnancy

Black cohosh is an herbal product that midwives sometimes use to induce labor, typically in combination with another herb called blue cohosh. It can also be used to treat other gynecological problems in women. Until there is more evidence regarding its safety during pregnancy, pregnant women should avoid taking black cohosh.

A pregnant woman. (Image: ptaha_c/iStock/Getty Images)

Uses of Black Cohosh

One of the main modern uses for black cohosh is to relieve symptoms of menopause. It can also be used to treat pain during menstruation. These conditions, however, are extremely unlikely during pregnancy. Black cohosh, either when taken alone or when combined with blue cohosh, can also be used to try to terminate a pregnancy.

Black Cohosh and Pregnancy Complications

Because it can potentially induce labor, black cohosh should not be taken by pregnant women in their first or second trimesters. There are also reports of severe fetal complications, including seizures, kidney damage and breathing problems in infants after their mothers took black and blue cohosh to induce labor; these side effects may be due to a compound found in blue cohosh, according to a March 2002 article in the "British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology."

Other Risks From Black Cohosh

Aside from pregnancy complications, the most commonly reported side effect from taking black cohosh is gastrointestinal discomfort, though it can also cause nausea, giddiness, headaches and dizziness. Black cohosh may also be able to mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. This means that it should be used with care in women with a personal or family history of breast cancer.

Recommendations and the Need for More Information

Until more rigorous scientific studies are completed, it is difficult to know if black cohosh is safe during pregnancy, especially given its potential role in inducing labor. You should talk to your doctor before taking any sort of herbal supplement and be sure not to use any labor-inducing herbs without the supervision of a trained medical professional.

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