Is it Safe to take Elderberry while Breastfeeding?

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No one likes to be sick, especially when you are breastfeeding. Before you turn to natural remedies when you come down with a cold while breastfeeding, learn whether it is safe to take elderberry while breastfeeding.

From food you can’t eat to medicine you can’t take, there is a long list of things that you can’t do while pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you are an over-cautious mom like me, you may also check the ingredients of every single product, whether it is makeup, body lotion, or face masks you use on your body or emergen-C or hair growth supplements or vitamins you might take while pregnancy or breastfeeding, to make sure that it’s not only safe for you but your baby as well.

While personal hygiene, regular exercise, eating healthy foods while breastfeeding is almost essential to keep up with your immunity, sometimes your body can’t support you. And when you feel under the weather, the first thing that comes to mind is turning to drug-free options or natural remedies to speed up the recovery.

Elderberry syrup is my all-time favorite option to combat cold and flu in our household. But the safety of taking elderberry while breastfeeding was my first concern when I came down with a cold when my baby was one month old.

In this article, I will share whether it is safe to take elderberry while breastfeeding and what I have found out after spending many hours researching.

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What is Elderberry?

Is it Safe to take Elderberry while Breastfeeding- black elderberry in a stainless steal container
Image by RitaE from Pixabay

Elderberry is a flowering plant that belongs to the Adoxaceae family. The most common type of elderberry is Sambucus nigra, also known as a black elder or European elderberry, a cluster of white flowers with black or blue berries.

The flowers and leaves of the Sambucus tree have been used to treat inflammation, burns, fever, swelling by ancient Egyptians and Indigenous people(1-2).

Specifically, the flowers (elderflower) and dried or cooked fruit (elderberry) have been used today for respiratory problems such as colds and flu(3).

Disclaimer: I am presenting this data based on my research and personal experience. I do not give any warranty and am not liable for any loss or damage caused to the user by reliance on the information provided in this article.

What Research says about the effectiveness of Elderberry to treat cold and flu

Several studies have shown the effectiveness of elderberry in reducing the duration and severity of cold and flu, while other studies did not see the same effect of elderberry consumption. And most of the studies have been conducted on people who are not pregnant or breastfeeding.

Let’s look at what research says.

The research study published in 2016 showed that elderberry consumption reduced the severity and consumption of colds in air travelers (4).

A similar observation was made in a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials published in 2019. The study concluded that people who took elderberry had substantially reduced upper respiratory symptoms (5).

The recent systemic review of the literature published in 2021 investigating the effectiveness of elderberry for the prevention and treatment of upper respiratory illness amid the COVID-19 pandemic showed that elderberry might not decrease the risk of developing the common cold. Still, it may reduce the duration and severity of colds. And they did not find any evidence of elderberry overstimulating the immune system. However, the review also concluded that the evidence of both benefits and harms is uncertain, and further research is warranted (6).

In contrast, the study published 2020 shown that elderberry is not effective in reducing the duration of flu or symptoms (7).

Overall these studies suggest that elderberry may be helpful in reducing the duration of upper respiratory infections. However, these studies were conducted on non-pregnant or non-breastfeeding people, so the risk and benefit of taking elderberry while breastfeeding should be carefully considered.

How does Elderberry work to reduce the duration of Cold and Flu?

Elderberry contains flavonoids such as quercetin and anthocyanidins, which have an immunomodulating and possible anti-inflammatory effect.

Anthocyanidins attach to virus glycoprotein and prevent it from entering the host cells, thereby inhibiting viral infection (8).

Is it Safe to take Elderberry while Breastfeeding?

There are no scientific studies that have tested the safety of elderberry while breastfeeding, so it is hard to conclude whether it is safe to take while nursing. That’s why it is important to talk to your health care provider before taking elderberry while breastfeeding.

Elderberry is labeled as “not safe to take while breastfeeding,” mainly because its safety is not tested on breastfeeding women. In addition, most of the research studies do not include pregnant or breastfeeding mothers because of the potential risk of an experimental drug.

But that does not make the herbal supplement “unsafe to take while breastfeeding.” Also, most of the clinical studies of the effectiveness of elderberry in treating colds and flu did not report any adverse impacts of consuming elderberry on participant’s health (6). And elderberry preparations have rarely caused allergic reactions.

Also, there is no data on trace of any components of elderberry into breastmilk or on the safety and efficacy of elderberry in breastfeeding mothers or infants (9).

That being said, most medical professionals advise against the use of elderberry while breastfeeding because of a lack of evidence on the safety and efficacy of elderberry use and the risk of potential side effects.

On the contrary, most herbalists consider elderberry safe to use while breastfeeding, given that you are aware of how to consume it safely.

Things to consider before consuming Elderberry while Pregnancy or Breastfeeding

The safety of elderberry is also dependent on the way you consume the elderberry.

The root, bark, and leaves of the elderberry plant contain sambunigrin, which releases cyanide. And this toxic chemical can induce nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. So the raw elderberry consumption can lead to these symptoms. But cooked berries do not carry this risk.

So, never consume raw elderberry regardless of whether you are breastfeeding or not.

Also, if you have an autoimmune condition like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or lupus, it is best to avoid elderberry as it might cause the immune system to become more active and worsen the symptoms of autoimmune disease.

Before you decide whether elderberry is safe for you to take while breastfeeding, it is also important to know that elderberry is not FDA approved, just like any other herbal supplement. Elderberry is an herbal supplement and does not require FDA pre-marketing approval before it goes on sale. The manufacturer is responsible for the safety and effectiveness of the preparation. So, often there is a difference in labeled and actual ingredients (or its amount).  

So, it is important to purchase an elderberry herbal supplement from a reputable source if you decide to take it during breastfeeding or beyond.

Is it Safe to take Elderberry while Breastfeeding?

trust the Sambucol Black Elderberry Syrup brand for adult and children use. It is developed by a virologist, tested in clinical trials, and shown to support the immune system. And Sambucol Black Elderberry Syrup is the most extensively researched elderberry product in the world.

When I am not making my DIY elderberry syrup, I buy Sambucol syrup, or tablets, or gummies for my family.

Benefits of Elderberry

Elderberry has been used from ancient times to boost the immune system and reduce the symptoms of upper respiratory infections (cold and flu), sciatica, fatigue, burn, constipation, headache.

Bear in mind these benefits of elderberry are not medically proven. Other than mixed data on the effectiveness of elderberry in reducing the duration and severity of cold and flu, all the other benefits of elderberry are purely anecdotal.

So, it is important to talk to your health care provider about the benefit and risks of taking elderberry while breastfeeding.

And because of the lack of scientific data, no recommendation can be made on the dosage of elderberry usage while breastfeeding.

Elderberry Preparations

Once you are given okay from your health care professional, you can either make it your own or consume commercial preparation.

Elderberry Syrup recipe

Here is an elderberry syrup recipe that I prepare for my household. And I consumed the exact same preparation while breastfeeding.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Pour water in a large saucepan and add elderberry, cinnamon, and ginger.
  2. Bring it to boil on high flame and then reduce the flame and simmer it for about 35-40 min until it is reduced by half.
  3. Once the liquid is reduced to half, remove it from the stove and let it cool for 45 minutes.
  4. Once cooled enough to handle, mesh the berry with a potato smasher.
  5. Strain the mixture in a glass jar.
  6. Discard the elderberry and let the liquid cool down completely.
  7. Once cooled, add honey and mix it well.
  8. Store the elderberry syrup in a glass jar and store it in a refrigerator.
  9. Use it when you need it.

You can avoid ginger and cinnamon based on your preference. I usually prefer ginger and cinnamon because of their anti-inflammatory properties.

I give ½ teaspoon to my 4 years old and 1 teaspoon to adults once a day in the flu season. And if someone catches a cold or flu, I give them the same dose every 4-5 hours to kids and double the dose for an adult until symptoms disappear.

I took 2 teaspoons of elderberry syrup thrice a day when I caught a cold while breastfeeding with permission from my naturopath and health care provider.

Note: Do not give homemade elderberry syrup with honey to children under 1 year of age because of the possible risk of botulism.

Ready to use Elderberry Preparation

Is it Safe to take Elderberry while Breastfeeding?

Elderberry is available in various forms, such as syrups, powders, gummies, and teas. Before you purchase commercial elderberry preparation to use while pregnancy or breastfeeding, make sure to check the ingredient list to avoid the potential risk of side effects.

If you are not into making your own elderberry syrup or dried elderberry is not available to purchase, Sumbucol is a brand I trust for great elderberry gummies and elderberry syrup.

How to take Elderberry syrup while Breastfeeding?

This is really a question for herbalists or naturopaths, but I personally took 2 teaspoons of homemade elderberry syrup 3 times a day while breastfeeding until I felt better with cold or flu-like symptoms.

My naturopath did not recommend taking elderberry syrup daily to boost immunity. But suggested taking a teaspoon a day if someone else in a household has caught the virus.

Also, you do not need to take elderberry syrup if your baby has cold or nasal congestion. Actually, breastfeeding your sick baby more than usual is recommended by the most pediatrician. This is because the sick baby gives the signal through her saliva to the breastfeeding mother to produce breastmilk with illness-specific antibodies.

Is It Safe to take Elderberry While Breastfeeding? Conclusion

Unfortunately, there is no straight answer to this. Lack of data on the safety and efficacy of elderberry consumption while breastfeeding makes it a personal choice.

I did take elderberry syrup while pregnancy and breastfeeding, and my health care provider had no objection to it. In addition, I did not experience any side effects.

I like to avoid medicinal drugs as much as possible, whether I am breastfeeding or not, and herbal supplements have always proven effective without side effects for my family.

I personally keep elderberry syrup in our fridge 365 and gave it to my toddler (now 4 years old) and consumed it myself when someone has a cold or flu in the household. We also consume it regularly during the flu season to boost immunity.  

That being said, I can not say whether elderberry is safe for you to take while breastfeeding or not. As I said earlier, it’s a personal choice.

If you decide to take elderberry syrup while breastfeeding, I highly recommend talking to your health care provider, as they are aware of your overall health and guide you in the right direction.

Lastly, it is best to avoid catching cold or flu during breastfeeding. Here are immune booster tips to prevent viral illnesses.

References

  1. European Medicines Agency (EMA). Elderflower https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/herbal-summary/elder-flower-summary-public_en.pdf. 2018. Accessed 25 May 2020.
  2. Knudsen BF, Kaack KV. A review of traditional herbal medicinal products with disease claims for elder (Sambucus Nigra) flower. Acta Hortic. 2015;1061:109–20. 10.17660/ActaHortic.2015.1061.11.
  3. Knudsen BF, Kaack KV. A review of human health and disease claims for elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) Fruit. Acta Hortic. 2015;1061:121–31. 10.17660/ActaHortic.2015.1061.12.
  4. Tiralongo E, Wee SS, Lea RA. Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 2016 Mar 24;8(4):182. doi: 10.3390/nu8040182. PMID: 27023596; PMCID: PMC4848651.
  5. Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, Dunne E. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Feb;42:361-365. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004. Epub 2018 Dec 18. PMID: 30670267.
  6. Wieland LS, Piechotta V, Feinberg T, Ludeman E, Hutton B, Kanji S, Seely D, Garritty C. Elderberry for prevention and treatment of viral respiratory illnesses: a systematic review. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2021 Apr 7;21(1):112. doi: 10.1186/s12906-021-03283-5. PMID: 33827515; PMCID: PMC8026097.
  7. Macknin M, Wolski K, Negrey J, Mace S. Elderberry Extract Outpatient Influenza Treatment for Emergency Room Patients Ages 5 and Above: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Gen Intern Med. 2020 Nov;35(11):3271-3277. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06170-w. Epub 2020 Sep 14. PMID: 32929634; PMCID: PMC7661609.
  8. Krawitz C, Mraheil MA, Stein M, Imirzalioglu C, Domann E, Pleschka S, Hain T. Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011 Feb 25;11:16. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-16. PMID: 21352539; PMCID: PMC3056848.
  9. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006–. Elderberry. 2021 Jun 21. PMID: 30000895.

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