There’s not much research on the safety of taking ashwagandha during pregnancy. Plus, supplements like ashwagandha aren’t regulated so it’s hard to know exactly what you’re taking.

There’s no denying that pregnancy can be uncomfortable, and many popular over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs are discouraged from use during this time. But what about medicinal herbs like ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is often touted as a cure for many conditions — including some of pregnancy’s most common complaints, like insomnia, pain, and stress.

Like all other supplements, though, ashwagandha isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there can be inconsistencies in ingredients or potency, depending on the manufacturer.

There’s also very little scientific evidence on ashwagandha’s safety and efficacy during pregnancy. Is it safe to take this supplement when you’re pregnant?

We don’t know too much about this herb’s effects during pregnancy, but here’s what we do know.

Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, is a plant native to India, Africa, and the Middle East. It’s part of the nightshade family. It’s been an important herb in the practice of Ayurveda, a form of traditional Indian medicine, for thousands of years.

Typically it’s been used to:

  • reduce stress and anxiety
  • improve energy and reduce fatigue
  • ease pain
  • decrease inflammation

Most people take ashwagandha in capsule form or as a powder mixed into a drink. You can take it any time of the day, but some people prefer taking it at night to help them sleep better.

There is no standard ashwagandha dosage based on clinical research. Some research from 2019 suggests a dosage of 250–600 mg per day for stress reduction. Some other studies have suggested higher dosages.

Fans of ashwagandha credit the herb with a variety of health benefits, but there’s limited evidence to confirm some of them. Still, ashwagandha is used most often for the following:

  • To reduce stress. According to a small 2012 study, in which participants were given 300 mg twice per day, taking regular doses of ashwagandha may help decrease cortisol levels. This, in turn, may have a positive effect on reducing stress.
  • To reduce pain and inflammation. It’s thought that ashwagandha may act as a pain reliever and may also have some anti-inflammatory properties. Some limited research from 2015 has shown that it may be effective in treating arthritis, specifically rheumatoid arthritis. However, this evidence was based on a small study with a short duration and a lack of a control group. Further studies are needed to confirm these findings.
  • To improve sleep. According to a small 2020 study of 74 older adult participants, ashwagandha may help improve sleep quality and mental alertness upon waking.
  • To Improve athletic performance. A few reviews of studies, one from 2020 and one from 2021, suggest that ashwagandha may help with improving cardio health and recovering more quickly from workouts.
  • To improve fertility. The research is still limited, but a 2018 study suggests that ashwagandha may increase sperm quality across several parameters, possibly increasing the chance of pregnancy.

There are a few other supposed benefits to taking ashwagandha, but some of these benefits don’t have enough evidence right now for researchers to confirm a connection between ashwagandha and the outcome.

About ashwagandha studies

It’s important to note that the studies on ashwagandha are of varying degrees of quality. Some studies are very small, are limited to specific population groups, don’t have a control group, and have other weaknesses that may affect the accuracy of the study results. More research is needed to confirm many of the findings of the current studies that have been done on ashwagandha.

Too much of anything, including good things, can be a problem. Ashwagandha is no exception. Even in generally healthy, nonpregnant adults, high doses of ashwagandha can cause side effects such as:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases also reports that excess amounts of ashwagandha can, rarely, result in liver toxicity.

Because there haven’t been any studies that specifically look at the effects of ashwagandha on human pregnancy, the safest course of action is to avoid taking this supplement during pregnancy.

The other concern with ashwagandha use during pregnancy is the lack of clarity around dosage. While studies show that too much of the supplement may cause side effects, there is little evidence for how much of the herb equals “too much” during pregnancy or otherwise.

Instead, talk with your doctor or healthcare professional about your health concerns. Based on your health history and any other medications you may be taking, your doctor can provide advice on the safest way to address your symptom or concern.

Some OTC and prescription drugs are considered safe for limited use to treat concerns related to stress, sleep, pain, and other ailments during pregnancy.

Is it safe to take ashwagandha before pregnancy?

Higher doses of ashwagandha may improve sperm quality, but what about improving female fertility?

A 2018 review did note a few interesting observations:

  • In animal studies, ashwagandha seemed to improve the balance of female hormones and follicle growth.
  • In one human study, it increased sexual function in women.

As such, there likely isn’t any harm in taking ashwagandha before pregnancy to possibly help boost fertility — but don’t bank on it helping you conceive. And you should stop using it if you do become pregnant.

Overall though, there’s a lot less clinical research that’s been done on the effects of ashwagandha on female fertility versus male fertility.

The use of many herbal medications, including ashwagandha, hasn’t been studied in pregnant people. That’s why it’s important to talk with your doctor before taking any herbal medication during pregnancy.

Because herbal medicines and supplements like ashwagandha aren’t regulated by the FDA, there may be inconsistencies in the ingredients and potency of these products.

To be safe, it’s best to avoid taking ashwagandha during pregnancy without first talking with your doctor or healthcare professional.