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Moms Are Giving Babies Herbal Supplements, Teas

Survey Shows 9% of Mothers Give Herbal Supplements, Teas to Their Infants
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 2, 2011 -- The first study to look at the use of herbal supplements or medicinal teas in babies finds that about 9% of moms report using these remedies in infants under a year old.

The study, which is based on a nationwide survey of new mothers conducted by the CDC and the FDA, found that moms who used herbal supplements themselves were nearly four times more likely to give them to their babies than moms who didn’t use them previously.

Hispanic women were more likely than African-Americans or whites to give herbal supplements to their babies.

And the more weeks a mom breastfed her infant, the more likely she was to give the infant an herbal supplement or tea, the study found.

Study researchers think the connection to breastfeeding may offer a window into beliefs about these kinds of preparations.

“It may be because many people think of herbal supplements as more natural, and breastfeeding may be something people think of as more natural, so they kind of go together for that reason,” says Sara B. Fein, PhD, a consumer science specialist with the FDA.

The jury is still out, however, on whether the use of herbal supplements in infants is a cause for concern.

Guidelines recommend that babies get nothing but breast milk or formula for at least the first six months of life, with vitamins and medicines as needed.

Experts point out that there are few studies on the safety or effectiveness of dietary supplements in children, and even fewer in infants.

“Infants are not just small adults,” says Fein. “They have a different metabolism. They have organs that are growing rapidly, and there are special concerns with almost anything with infants.”

Supplements and teas are less stringently regulated by the FDA than drugs. They have been found in some cases to have been contaminated with heavy metals, bacteria, or other pathogens.

But, says pediatrician Kathi J. Kemper, MD, “We don’t see babies flooding emergency rooms because they’ve gotten toxic amounts of some herbal tea.” Kemper is a chair of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Overall, Kemper thinks the study is significant simply because it takes stock of how often and for what ailments people use herbals in babies.

“I think it’s a really important contribution because it tells us a lot more than we knew before about the prevalence of using herbals and teas in babies,” says Kemper, who was not involved in the study.

Tracking Herbal Supplement Use in Infants

For the study, researchers surveyed around 3,000 pregnant women before their babies were born and then at regular intervals during the baby’s first year.

All the women were at least 18 years old. The study over-represented women who were older, white, middle-class, and well educated.

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