Pregnant woman drinking red raspberry leaf tea

When I switched from an obstetrician to a midwife halfway through my first pregnancy, I expected to experience a more holistic approach to having a baby, with fewer tests and interventions. What I didn’t expect was that my midwife would recommend a regime of vitamins and herbs that required a pill organiser to keep track of them all. Instead of the one daily pregnancy vitamin I’d been taking, soon I found myself taking four a day, along with a variety of supplements from alfalfa to papaya enzymes.

Since I was already 20-weeks-pregnant when I started seeing my midwife, she also recommended that I start taking a daily dose of red raspberry leaf tea. Red raspberry leaf, which can be taken in tea or capsule form, helps strengthen the uterus muscles and balance hormones, and my midwife assured me it would help me have a shorter labour. Like any pregnant woman, I was thrilled by the thought of a shorter labour — not to mention all the other benefits of red raspberry leaf — so I took it dutifully throughout the rest of my pregnancy.

What are the benefits of drinking red raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy and postpartum?

• Strengthens and tones uterus

• Can decrease length of labour

• Balances hormones

• High in vitamins C, E and D

• Contains antioxidants

• Helps uterus return to normal size

• Increases milk production

What are the benefits of drinking red raspberry leaf tea during labour?

My daughter was born 12 days past her due date after a 36-hour labour, so it’s hard for me to say whether the tea worked (although my labour could have been even longer!), but my midwife’s belief in it is backed by science. A 2000 study published in Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health found that women who took red raspberry leaf during pregnancy spent less time pushing during labour, although it didn’t seem to affect the first stage of labour (the time from when contractions begin to when the cervix is fully dilated).

How does red raspberry leaf tea work?

The key ingredient in red raspberry leaf is an alkaloid called fragrine, which can help tone the uterus by strengthening the ligaments and muscle fibres in the pelvis, according to Stacie Hunt, a certified midwife and herbalist.

Rachel Hart, a certified midwife says she recommends red raspberry leaf to all of her patients — and suggests that they take it throughout their pregnancies. “But, some women prefer to wait until after their first trimester to start, especially if they have a history of miscarriage,” she adds.

A handful of studies, including a 2010 study published in Reproductive Science, found that high doses of red raspberry leaf caused contractions in some pregnant rats. However, it has never been conclusively linked to contractions in humans.

So ask your doctor or midwife before you take it — and be sure to follow dosage instructions.

Taking red raspberry leaf postnatal can also be beneficial. “I’ve had success with it increasing milk production,” says Freda Rosenfeld, a certified lactation consultant. Rosenfeld adds that she likes recommending the tea to her clients because it has no side effects. (Some treatments for increasing milk production, like fenugreek, can cause diarrhoea or change the taste of your breast milk.)

How much red raspberry leaf tea should you drink while pregnant?

Hunt recommends drinking one cup of tea during the first trimester, two cups during the second trimester and three or more cups after 36 weeks (but check with your doctor or midwife first). If you take red raspberry leaf in capsule form, Hunt says to make sure you choose a respected brand, and take the amount recommended on the package.

Do you take herbal supplements during your pregnancy?

More helpful advice for pregnancy:

Photo: Getty