Black and Blue Cohosh to Induce Labor

Sally Painter
Reviewed by Dr. Vilma Ruddock
Pregnancy

Black and blue cohosh have been used for centuries to induce labor and treat female ailments, but reported incidences of harmful side effects have many in the medical community concerned. It is very important to discuss these herbs with your doctor or midwife before using them.

How Black and Blue Cohosh Are Used to Induce Labor

Black cohosh and blue cohosh are two different plants. They are used together in a tincture form or separately to induce post term labor. Midwives administer blue cohosh to pregnant women to induce labor or quicken slow labor contractions. Historically, the herb was used for a variety of gynecological problems, such as a menstrual flow regulator, to assist in ovulation, and as a menopausal symptoms treatment.

Blue Cohosh

Blue cohosh is also known as papoose root. Native Americans used it to increase contractions or start labor. They collected the root of the blue cohosh from the wild in the autumn and dried it. Today, most people use it in tincture form, but you can also purchase it in capsule or tea form.

Blue Cohosh Doesn't Increase Contractions

Blue cohosh doesn't increase contractions. It is an antispasmodic. Women reportedly take it when a miscarriage threatens, since it relaxes the uterus and prevents it from contracting. In the birth process, blue cohosh is reportedly used to coordinate the uterine contractions and make them more effective.

Black Cohosh

Black cohosh is a member of the buttercup family and often called black snakeroot. Like blue cohosh, practitioners use the roots of black cohosh to make a tincture, capsule or tea. Black cohosh might have effects similar to estrogen.

Dangers of Overdosing and Self-Medicating

Tincture drops under the tongue or in a labor inducing tea are generally the recommended forms for taking the herb to stimulate uterine contractions. You should never go over 10 drops at a time. You should only repeat if advised by your widwife or doctor. There is always a danger when individuals don't follow the recommended dosages of any medicine or herbal treatment.

  • Blue or black cohosh should never be used beyond the recommended dosage provided by your midwife or other healthcare provider.
  • Many midwives use blue cohosh by itself for labor induction.
  • Black cohosh is mainly used as a menopausal herbal treatment, although some midwives/practitioners use it to induce labor.
  • You should never self-medicate with black or blue cohosh.
  • Never take black cohosh during the first trimesters of pregnancy since the herb can induce miscarriage.

Published Concerns Over Cohosh Use

Studies have been done that examine harmful side effects to unborn infants and their moms from using either black or blue cohosh to aid labor. These papers examine the misuse of black or blue cohosh, self-administered cohosh and infant strokes and heart attacks as a result of using cohosh to speed up contractions during labor.

Call for Black Cohosh Study

The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine review literature on the use of black cohosh to induce labor and cautions against using it during pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester. The review raises concern about the use of the herb during pregnancy because of its potential labor-inducing and hormonal effects, and its effects on menstrual flow and ovulation. The review concludes, "Black cohosh should undergo rigorous high quality human studies to determine its safety in pregnancy and lactation."

Infant Cardiac and Organc Toxicity

A lab study by the University of Mississippi focused on the effect of extracts from the herb on cellular mitochondrial activity as an explanation for newborn cardiac and other organ toxicity reported in patient case reports The paper states, "Blue cohosh components disrupt cellular respiration and mitochondrial membrane potential." Additionally, case studies reviewed by the University of Toronto say, "Blue cohosh has been associated with perinatal stroke, acute myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, multiple organ injury, and neonatal shock." They call for further examination on this potential link to the use of blue cohosh that was revealed in the cases studied.

Neonatal Congestive Heart Failure

The Univeristy of Washington Medical School reported a case of the adverse outcome of a newborn whose mother consumed blue cohosh as an herbal medication to assist in her labor contractions. The baby suffered acute myocardial infarction, which led to the congestive heart failure and shock, a presumed result of the vasoactive glycosides (dilates blood vessels) and an alkoid . The baby was in critical condition for several weeks after birth but eventually recovered. Another harmful property in blue cohosh is an alkaloid proven to cause toxic effects in the heart muscle tissue of laboratory test animals. The paper states, "We believe this represents the first described case of deleterious human fetal effects from maternal consumption of blue cohosh."

Using Black and Blue Cohosh to Induce Labor

While there aren't any major studies on the potential harmful effects using black or blue cohosh to induce labor, the few that are available should alarm most pregnant women. Ultimately, researchers caution using this herb to induce labor until more scientific data on possible harmful effects to unborn babies is available.

Black and Blue Cohosh to Induce Labor