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What are the potential risks when
using herbs to terminate pregnancy?

First let me say that Abortifacients are strong powerful herbs and should be used only for short periods of time, as they can tax the body, stress the kidneys and liver and often they will make one feel ill. They should not be used for more than a week to ten days (14 days is the absolute maximum, then you must take a break). Unless directed by your herbalist or midwife. After using herbal abortifacients it is a good idea to drink a healing nourishing teas and do all you can to aid your body in the recovery process. It doesn't matter if the attempt was successful or not. The whole process is hard on the body, mind and spirit.

What can go Wrong

The herbs won't work - If the herbs don't work, its very important to follow up with a clinical abortion (either surgical or chemical). If the pregnancy is continued there is a risk of the child having birth defects, or there may be complications during the pregnancy. Normally attempts to induce miscarriage at home with herbs occurs during weeks 2 through 6, we know that embryo's are most susceptible to damage during weeks 4 through 8 when the foundation for all the major organ systems is formed.1 We don't really know what the effects of abortive herbs are on the embryo might be, and its likely to vary in each situation. But some of the herbs used for abortive purposes are believed to have teratogenic effects, which means that they can cause abnormal development in an embryo.2 So please make sure that you are committed to ending the pregnancy before you try to use herbs to end it at home. Please keep in mind that there is a strong possibility that the herbs will not work for you. At this time we don't know why it works for some women and not for other women. Currently there's about a 45% success rate with women who had confirmed pregnancy tests.3

Self-poisoning - Signs that you are taking too much include headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, upset stomach are the most common symptoms, more serious ones may also develop. Some herbs are toxic by nature, and over use may damage important organs like the liver or kidneys. These two organs are most susceptible to herbal toxicity. If you have liver or kidney problems or issues you should consult with a herbalist to make sure it is safe for you to use herbs. Also watch for warning posted on the individual herbs, and always cross-reference your herbal information.

It is rare that over-dose of herbs occurs with the use of herbal teas and infusions, over use can come more easily with the use of capsules, tincture or essential oils. Dosages on packaging is used for a maintenance dose, not necessarily a therapeutic dose. A maintenance dose is a lower dosage that is safer to use over a longer period of time. Determining how much of a herb is appropriate for you might require a little experimentation. If you choose to use a dosage that is higher than listed on the packaging, please proceed slowly, use common sense and consult with a local herbalist or midwife, listen to what your body is telling you.

For more information please review the symptoms of poisoning. Also, please listen to Christopher Hobbs podcast on herbal dosing, you can find a link to his website in the Apothecary, just keep in mind however he's talking about long term use of herbs, and he's not talking about abortive herbs, so not all his guidelines will apply in this situation.

A final note on the risks of self-poisoning, it is extremely important not to use essential oils internally. An essential oil is a highly concentrated extract, many are poisonous, and some are deadly poisonous. They are not for novice herb users, and they are not made for internal consumption. There are a couple documented cases of women who died using essential oil of pennyroyal while trying to end their pregnancies, it was not successful and they lost their lives as a result.4 Even small amounts are not safe to use internally, and external use should be approached with caution, as essential oils may irritate the skin. In my opinion essential oils should be used only under the guidance of someone who is trained in how to use them safely.

The herbs kill the embryo/fetus but don't expel it Bleeding may start, but the tissue is not expelled. In this situation bleeding may only occur for a few hours or couple of days. Symptoms of pregnancy will persist. A pregnancy test is likely to read positive. If the pregnancy has been successfully terminated a pregnancy test should read negative in about 5-7 days after bleeding begins. The only way to find out whether the fetus is alive or not, is a sonogram which you can obtain from a gynecologist (assuming the pregnancy has advanced to the point where it is visible). But alive or dead, the situation still needs to be resolved. See incomplete abortion below.

Incomplete abortion - This happens when fetal tissue is retained inside the uterus, this can cause several serious problems. The tissue can putrify causing uterine infection which is a very serious situation, and if untreated can result in permanent sterility and even death. The first signal of uterine infection will be fever, followed by abdominal pain. If you develop a fever, get it checked out immediately. Visit your local planned parenthood and tell them you miscarried and you think you have a uterine infection. They will know just what to do.

Incomplete abortion can also create a situation where uterus is not able to return to it's normal size. If the uterus is unable to clamp down hemorrhage may result, it may manifest as mild bleeding that lasts for an abnormally long time or very heavy or profuse bleeding, it can be severe enough to result in hospitalization or death. The further advanced the pregnancy the greater the risk for incomplete abortion. In the 8th week of pregnancy (from conception) the risk for incomplete abortion goes way up. Don't take unnecessary risks. These situations need medical attention, most often a clinical abortion is preformed to remove the remaining fetal tissue and in cases of hemorrhage, a blood transfusion may be required, and in cases of infection antibiotics will be issued.
For more detailed information on Incomplete Abortion including possible symptoms.

Hemorrhage - This can be a serious situation, and is possible to bleed to death. It can happen in a couple different situations; the risk of it happening increases dramatically at 8 weeks of pregnancy (from conception or 10 weeks from the last menstrual period). Soaking a menstrual pad in two hours or less is considered hemorrhage, if this continues for more than a couple of hours, or if bleeding is more profuse seek medical attention right away.

Ectopic pregnancy complications - When the fertilized egg becomes stuck in the fallopian tube it is called an ectopic or tubal pregnancy. This is a life threatening situation. As the egg continues to grow it puts pressure on the fallopian tube and if it continues to grow the tube will rupture and death can be as little as 15 minutes away.
Herbs will not work if the pregnancy is located in the fallopian tube, the only way it can be removed is by a doctor, most often in surgery (I've heard some things about the RU-486 being used to resolve ectopic pregnancy, ask your doctor for more info). If you experience sharp pain in your abdomen especially on one side, this is not normal, and don't try to tough it out, cramps yes, pain no. Get it checked out just to be safe. For more information on Ectopic Pregnancy

Changing your Mind - Proceeding with a herbal abortion when you are not sure that you can follow up with a clinical abortion, or if you are not sure you are willing to follow through with a clinical abortion, is a very risky thing. First of all, herbally induced abortions are not a reliable way to end pregnancy, they are successful approximately 45% of the time.

If you are concerned that you may change your mind about ending the pregnancy, or if you plan to go through with the pregnancy if the home remedies do not work, there is an important consideration when faced with this situation. Our thoughts and intentions send out vibrations, when a spirit is confronted with conflicting signals, ambivalent thoughts towards the pregnancy, the spirit may be unsure of what to do, whether to stay or to leave, and it might be easier to stay if the host is healthy and the pregnancy is well rooted. Our minds have a powerful impact over our body, our emotions, the stress we are under, all of this influences what is going on for us, and how the herbs will affect our bodies, and whether or not they will produce the desired results.

There is nothing easy about ending a pregnancy, whether it is going to a clinic and letting a doctor assist you, or if you attempt to end the pregnancy on your own, either way, it is not easy. I respect every woman's choice when it comes to her body, and whether or not she wishes to be pregnant now at this time.

There are substantial risks involved if you have used herbs in an attempt to end a pregnancy at home and choose to continue the pregnancy. As you may be aware, there is no scientific research telling us what will happen when pregnancies are carried to term after using herbs with the intent to abort the pregnancy. What we do know however, is that the embryo is most vulnerable to toxins and teratogens from the 3rd week of development til the 8th week of development. During this time, the foundation for all the major organ and bodily systems are formed. Most major anatomic birth defects are caused by damage during these few early weeks of pregnancy.

1. Sadler, T.W. Langman's Medical Embryology. 8th Ed. Baltimore, MD. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2000.
2. accessed 6/12/07. Teratogen
3. Sharing our Wisdom Data Collection project. Accessed personal database 6/12/07. Out of 144 women with positive pregnancy tests, 67 (46.5%) of them successfully used herbs to end their pregnancies.
4. Sullivan, John B. Jr, et al. "Pennyroyal Oil Poisoning and Hepatotoxicity", JAMA, Vol. 242, No. 26, Dec 1979, pp 2873-4.

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This page last updated June 12, 2007