Today I’m answering a question from a past customer of mine wondering if licorice root is safe while breastfeeding.
I mean, licorice root is a great herb. Not only does it have some pretty amazing therapeutic properties, but it tastes great and it’s known as a “children’s herb”. So why, if it’s labeled a “children’s herb” by herbalists, do so many sites and herbalists tell nursing mothers to avoid it?
What? An adult can take it if they’re not pregnant or nursing, but somehow making breast milk suddenly makes it not okay for your body? It certainly isn’t because of the effect it will have on the baby, right? It is a “children’s herb” after all.
These are all valid questions, and this may be something you’ve wondered at one point or another as well. In today’s post, I’ll be clearing the air once and for all. Keep reading.
Hi Meagan! I received our products (Yeast Tea blend) in the mail and am ready to get started fighting this yeast, but recently saw on a blog that licorice root should not be taken by nursing mothers. I know that licorice root is in your baby’s blend of Yeast Tea, but is it safe for them since it’s not recommended while nursing?
I Googled it and most sites said to avoid it, but I didn’t read too into it since sometimes so much info on the internet will scare you because people are just trying to cover every imaginable situation.
I just wanted to check because I’m still learning about using herbs safely in my family. Are there any side effects I should watch out for?
I guess what I’m really asking or wanting to know is why it’s not recommended for nursing mothers, but it’s okay for babies to take. Not questioning you at all, I’m just wanting to learn more and understand. Thanks!
First off, I love this question. Not only is this mama a customer of mine, but she came across something that piqued her interest and she did some research on it. Now she wants to understand what she found a bit more and she’s coming to me for some help.
This, my friends, is a great way to learn, understand, and grow… not only in using herbs for your family but in any area of life. If you don’t understand something, ask others who may have some help for you!
Okay so below I’m going to talk about 4 different ways licorice root is typically used and then I’ll address this whole “baby, but not nursing mama” issue.
Understanding Licorice Root
Licorice root comes from, you got it, the root of the licorice plant. This Milwaukee Journal article states that the plant is related to the pea family of plants, but that it’s a perennial (meaning it comes back year after year) and its flavor is thanks to the sap in the long root system of the plant.
Many authoritative places (including the FDA and medical websites) warn against using too much licorice as a dietary substance or even against eating too many foods or candies that contain real licorice in them due to the high incidence of overdose. The reason behind this is that licorice has dose based effects which means that you get different effects in the body based on the dosage you take. We’ll talk more about this in a bit.
Thankfully, licorice can be safe for people of all ages although its use is discouraged for certain people. It’s known as a “children’s herb” because it tastes so good and is used to flavor many nasty tasting treats and herbal remedies.
It tastes so good because it contains a saponin-like glycoside (which is a sugar known as glucose) called glycyrrhizin which is 50 times sweeter than sugar, and it’s also used as a catalyst for drugs and other herbs due to its ability to facilitate absorption by the body. This catalyst effect is thought to be because of the large amount of saponin-like substances found in the root that gives it a surfactant-like effect that helps the body absorb the properties of the licorice and whatever else is with it better.
Because licorice root has dose based effects, it can be used in a wide range of therapeutic ways. The following 4 uses are based on that small to large dosing range.
Licorice root has a high mucilage content meaning it gets slippery and slimy when it comes into contact with water, and this helps it to coat the mucous membranes inside the digestive tract. This makes licorice a valuable addition to remedies for digestive issues, diarrhea, sore throats, and ulcers.
Licorice root also acts as an expectorant which means it helps to thin the mucous inside the airways so that it’s easier to cough up. It’s a great addition to cough syrups and works well for remedies for respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia.
Licorice root is known to have at least 25 anti-fungal compounds contained within it. This makes it a great help for anti-fungal remedies used internally and externally.
4. Stress/Hormones/Blood Pressure
One of the most well-known attributes of licorice root is its actions on the body’s hormones, specifically those produced in the adrenal glands. Glycyrrhizic acid is a compound found in licorice root and it helps the body deal with stress by inhibiting the breakdown of cortisol by the liver. Cortisol is a hormone made in the adrenal glands and is released under varying circumstances… stress (good and bad) being one of those.
This is specifically useful for people with Addison’s disease or people with low blood pressure because the glycyrrhizic acid stimulates the production of another hormone, aldosterone, in the adrenal glands which cause the body to retain water and certain minerals and that causes an increase in blood pressure. People using licorice root for these cases should always work with a trained herbalist or naturopathic doctor because the dose of licorice is a fairly large one and there can be negative effects (overdose effects) on the body if too much is used.
Cautions of Licorice Root
Unfortunately, licorice root is not one of those non-toxic, no dosage cap herbs. It can be toxic in large doses, and there are some people who should steer clear of licorice root altogether. It’s not recommended for anyone to use large doses (30 grams or more) of licorice for more than 4-6 weeks.
CLICK HERE to read an article about the negative effects on nursing mothers taking large doses of herb blends that contained licorice to increase their milk supply. This isn’t to scare you from using licorice or any of the other herbs in these milk blends, but to show you that you must not use too much. Starting with a low dosage and working your way up is a good mindset to have with any herbal preparation. Pay attention to how you feel as well. If anything starts to feel “off”, decrease your dosage a bit at a time until you feel fine again and stay there.
It’s perfectly fine to give your child remedies with licorice. In fact, it’s very beneficial to them. Just be sure that they don’t get a hold of your whole licorice tincture bottle and drink the whole thing. Remember, licorice tastes great, and if you’ve made a glycerite, it can taste even better to kids.
Pregnancy is one of those times in life when you want to avoid licorice root due to the simple fact that it can increase blood pressure and pregnant women already have a risk for high blood pressure. From my understanding… this is the only reason why pregnant women should not use licorice root.
Persons with Heart Issues
Because of licorice root’s effect on the adrenal glands, hormones, and blood pressure… it’s not recommended that those with heart issues use licorice root. In fact, it’s best that people with serious health issues use herbs in conjunction with a health professional that is willing to work with them and their health in a natural way.
Thankfully, no matter what reasons a person may have for not being able to use licorice root, there are other safe herbs that can be used in its place if you want to get the demulcent, expectorant, and/or anti-fungal like properties. Plus, some companies that manufacture herbal products have started offering licorice root deglycyrrhizinated licorice which has less effect on blood pressure.
Is Licorice Root Safe While Breastfeeding?
So here we are, back to our original question. Can licorice root be taken while nursing? It’s not okay to take while pregnant, but it is okay for babies and children to take.
As far as the research I’ve done on this goes, my take is that yes, licorice root can be taken by nursing mothers, but the mother needs to be aware of the amount she’s taking and how long she’s planning on taking it. Not only for her, but because the licorice root can cross into breast milk, and then baby gets some too. I can’t really find any information on why it would be a big no-no for a nursing mother to take it, other than someone wanting to take the safe route.
I’m sure there’s a lot more to learn about this great herb as well as the powerful properties it contains. One of the best places to start is learning how to use an herb, then practice using it when the time comes.
Now, I’d love to hear from you.
What are your thoughts on using licorice? Have you used it, and what were your results? Have you tried it with your children? What are your thoughts about the “it’s okay for babies but not nursing mamas” concept?
Thank you as always for being kind, generous, and thoughtful in the comments. If you found value in this article, please share it with your friends — it would mean the world to me. Oh yeah… be sure to pin the photo below to your herbal boards!
Thanks again and have an amazing week!