Last updated by Dr Sarah Brewer on
Red raspberry leaf is a traditional herbal medicine used towards the end of pregnancy to help soften the neck of the womb in preparation for delivery, and to shorten the duration of labour. It is usually taken in the form of a raspberry leaf tea or as raspberry leaf tablets. Raspberry leaf has also been used to reduce pain in endometriosis, to relieve painful periods and to treat diarrhoea.
Red raspberry leaf in pregnancy
Raspberry leaf is thought to reduce the duration and pain of childbirth by strengthening the longitudinal muscles of the uterus and increasing the force of uterine contractions. Raspberry leaf tea seems to only work on the pregnant rather than non-pregnant uterus, and the active ingredients are likely to be unique flavonoid polyphenols which also have antibacterial and anti-thrombotic actions (to prevent unwanted blood clots).
Red raspberry leaf for labour
Women who have taken raspberry leaf extracts often confirm that their contractions were relatively pain-free and that their baby was born within just a few hours of the start of labour.
A trial involving 192 women having their first baby looked at the effects and safety of taking 1.2g raspberry leaf tablets, twice a day, from the 32 week of gestation (34 weeks of pregnancy) until labour.
There was no effect on the first stage of labour (dilation of the cervix) but there was a significant shortening of the second stage of labour (pushing the baby out) of 9.59 minutes, and lower rate of forceps deliveries in those taking the supplements (19.3% versus 30.4% in those not using raspberry leaf tablets). No significant side effects were reported.
Another study, from Australia, involving 108 mothers, of whom one half had used raspberry leaf products, found that they appeared to be effective in shortening labour with no identified side effects for the women or their babies. Those taking raspberry leaf appeared to have a lower likelihood of early or late delivery (pre and post-term gestation). An unexpected finding was that women who took raspberry leaf were less likely to need artificial rupture of their membranes, or require a caesarean section, forceps or vacuum birth than the women who did not use raspberry leaf products.
Red raspberry leaf dose
Do talk to your midwife or doctor before taking raspberry leaf during pregnancy, as some recommend it and some do not.
The usual dose is one cup of raspberry leaf tea a day, gradually increasing to 2 or 3 cups. If you don’t like the taste, raspberry leaf tablets are available. A typical dose is 400mg to 800mg, two or three times a day, with meals. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as concentrations will vary.
NB Raspberry leaf should only be taken during the last six weeks of pregnancy (from 34 weeks gestation). It should not be taken during early pregnancy and is best taken under the supervision of a qualified medical herbalist or a midwife.
Raspberry leaf safety
Some herbalists advise avoiding raspberry leaf tea if your baby is breech, or if you are expecting twins, experience vaginal bleeding during the last trimester of pregnancy, have had a previous caesarean section, or are experiencing any complications such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes.
In women with gestational diabetes, raspberry leaf may decrease insulin requirements. There is one published report of a 38-year-old, having her first baby, who developed low blood glucose levels (hypoglycaemia) after consuming raspberry leaf tea at 32 weeks of gestation and her insulin dose was lowered. Fetal surveillance and growth were reassuring, and she had a caesarean delivery at 39 weeks to deliver a healthy baby. The doctors advised caution and for women with gestational diabetes who use raspberry leaf to have their glucose levels monitors closely. This is good advice, as needing a lower dose of insulin is a beneficial result as long as the interaction is recognised before it leads to hypoglycaemia.
Raspberry leaf tea worked for me
I drank raspberry leaf tea, and took raspberry leaf tablets, towards the end of both my pregnancies. With my first baby, contractions started at 38 weeks during a biophysical scan to assess blood flow through the umbilical cord. If I hadn’t been in hospital I honestly wouldn’t have believed I was in labour. It was so odd to see the contractions on the scan, and see my abdomen tense while experiencing no pain. Having helped deliver numerous babies while working as a doctor at the Rosie Maternity unit in Cambridge, I knew that was not a normal experience!
I was immediately booked for a Caesarean, as a precaution due to the umbilical blood flow issues, and remained pain-free until the op four hours later.
Due to my pain-free experience, I also started taking raspberry leaf tablets towards the end of my second pregnancy, with twins. At the time, I had not come across any advice to avoid raspberry leaf in a twin pregnancy or after having a previous Caesarean.
Again, my contractions started in hospital during a routine scan at 36 weeks (early but not surprising with a twin pregnancy). Their arrival was probably triggered by the pummeling of the technician as he tried to get a good view of my babies who were lying in a horizontal position. I had some massive contractions, in which the babies literally turned themselves around in great heaves (rather like in Alien), but again it was totally painless. Really extraordinary – the hospital staff couldn’t understand why I was laughing rather than doubled up in pain. Because of the twins’ horizontal position, I had to have a second Caesarean, but often wonder whether my labour would have continued to progress in such a pain-free manner.
Have you tried raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy? What was your experience?
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