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Herbs, Breastfeeding May Be a Harmful Mix

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The growing use of herbs by nursing mothers has caught the attention of author Arlene Eisenberg, who tells WebMD that she plans to add a section on herbs in the next edition of What to Expect the First Year,one of the best-selling books in the What to Expect series authored by Eisenberg and her daughters, Heidi Murkhoff and Sandee Hathaway, BSN. Eisenberg says her message will be "natural doesn't equal safe."

While Lawrence says that nursing mothers should be steered away from most herbs, she says there are some exceptions.

"There are some teas that I can recommend for women who want a nice herbal tea. Chicory, peppermint, orange spice, and red bush tea are all fine. Rose hips is an especially good tea because it has a very high concentration of vitamin C," Lawrence says.

Finally, she says, doctors should caution nursing mothers who have postpartum depression that self-medicating with St. John's wort might be risky. St. John's wort contains a type of drug called a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Some serotonin reuptake inhibitors have been shown to slightly affect infant weight gain. Because the FDA does not regulate herbs, there is no way to determine how much of this drug is passed to the infant.

Eisenberg, who attended the meeting seeking material for the new book, says that she thinks "mothers are just using these things without asking. They don't realize that these herbs and so-called natural substances can act just like any other drugs."

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