In some parts of the world, consuming saffron during pregnancy is considered to have several benefits. But there are potential side effects.

Saffron on a white plateShare on Pinterest
Alie Lengyelova/Stocksy United

Your culture affects what you eat more than you may realize. Your heritage may even color the advice you get when you’re pregnant about “what’s good to eat for the baby.” (If you have lots of aunts and great-aunts, you’re probably nodding along in recognition.)

So, if you have roots in cultures in which saffron is a popular or commonly used spice, you might have already encountered some advice about saffron’s benefits during pregnancy. However, it’s also important to know about its potential effects during pregnancy.

Saffron is a spice that comes from the saffron crocus plant, also known as Crocus sativus. The vast majority of the world’s supply of saffron is grown in Iran, although it’s also grown in countries like India, Afghanistan, Morocco, and Greece.

Saffron is known for its antioxidant properties — among other health benefits — and impressive price. Saffron is generally considered the world’s most expensive spice due to the labor-intensive process involved in growing and harvesting it.

During pregnancy

Some cultures believe you should find a way to ingest saffron after the first trimester of pregnancy.

Many cultures have traditional or cultural taboos about food during pregnancy (and during breastfeeding). For example, in some rural parts of India, certain foods are believed to be “hot” and “cold.”

Furthermore, since pregnancy is considered a “hot” state, pregnant people are generally advised to avoid “hot” foods like pineapple, papaya, banana, and even eggs and meat until after delivery. People worry that those foods cause miscarriage, problematic labor, and even fetal abnormalities.

Yet, surveys of women in rural Indian regions have revealed that saffron gets a nod of approval during pregnancy. Why? Because it’s supposed to make the baby’s skin appear lighter or fairer, which is considered a desirable outcome. It’s also believed to relieve some common pregnancy symptoms.

Some research, including some clinical trials, have indicated that saffron can help relieve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, such as cramping.

But when you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, it’s not just about you anymore. So, it’s important to understand whether saffron is safe for you and your baby.

As with many pregnancy do’s and don’ts, it seems that the first trimester may be the most significant. While more research would be useful, existing research suggests that it may be best to avoid saffron during your first trimester.

One small 2014 study found that miscarriage rates were higher in female farmers who were exposed to saffron during their first trimester of pregnancy.

Cultural Ayurveda practice encourages avoiding saffron during the first trimester, but most people are encouraged to begin saffron after they feel their baby move.

Saffron has been used in traditional medicine for centuries for a wide array of conditions, including some that may affect pregnant people, such as:

And some people continue to turn to saffron to relieve these conditions. It has even been suggested that you could consume 0.5 to 2 grams per day to maintain uterine tissue elasticity during pregnancy, but only after the first trimester.

Nevertheless, there haven’t been many studies on the potential toxicity of this spice among those who are pregnant or nursing, and experts believe that more studies on toxicity are needed.

However, once you’re full-term (or nearly there), and you’re awkward, uncomfortable, and dreaming of ways to get labor started, saffron might not be a bad idea.

Traditional medicine holds that saffron is useful for inducing labor, as it affects the smooth muscles, stimulates uterine contractions, and helps the entire process along.

Plus, research indicates that consuming saffron might help get your cervix ready for the big show.

One randomized clinical trial examined the effectiveness of saffron in 50 full-term women. Results showed that saffron seemed to help ripen the cervix and prepare it for labor. However, the researchers concluded that more research is needed to determine its effect on the actual delivery.

After you give birth, you might consider saffron if you’re feeling down. A 2017 randomized clinical trial including 60 new mothers found that saffron seemed to help improve symptoms of postpartum depression.

You might want to run it by your OB-GYN first, of course, since more research is needed.

One reason people have embraced saffron is its purported effect on their baby’s skin tone. Some cultures hold that saffron will make your baby’s skin lighter. However, there doesn’t seem to be any scientific evidence that consuming saffron while pregnant will have this effect.

Don’t worry: Your baby will be absolutely beautiful, regardless of whether you enjoy any saffron during your pregnancy.

There’s reason to exercise caution with saffron during pregnancy.

Some research has shown that exposure to a large amount of saffron may increase the risk of miscarriage. For example, one study cautions that large doses, such as those greater than 5 grams per day, should be avoided during pregnancy, as they can stimulate the uterus.

So, if you tend to cook with saffron or have been thinking about whipping up some saffron milk, you might want to consult your OB-GYN or midwife first. They might give you the green light for a small amount, but it’s always better to discuss it first.

Are you a fan of saffron milk and out of the first trimester? Saffron milk is a sweetened milk that’s infused with, yes, saffron. It’s made by soaking a few saffron threads in milk, then adding other substances to sweeten or enhance the flavor, such as cardamom or crushed or slivered almonds.

Also known as kesar milk or Indian kesar milk, saffron milk is often recommended to pregnant people in some cultures. However, your OB-GYN may urge you to hold off, at least during the first trimester or so, given some of the warnings about saffron’s effects.

Before you turn to any herbal medicines or treatments, consult your OB-GYN. Some herbs, spices, and plants may be considered safe to consume during pregnancy, but it might also come down to how much you consume and when.