Your Guide to Drinking Tea During Pregnancy
What teas are safe to drink while pregnant? From green tea to black, peppermint tea to chamomile, here's what to steep when you're expecting.
The ritual of making and drinking tea has been practiced for thousands of years, and for good reason. Tea contains polyphenols to protect your heart, antioxidants that may lower your risk of cancer, and nutrients that boost your immune system. When you're expecting, the benefits get even better: A comforting cup may ease morning sickness and help you through labor. But while many teas are safe for pregnancy, some are potentially dangerous for moms-to-be and should be avoided. Read on for a guide to drinking tea while pregnant.
The Best Tea for Pregnancy
If you're looking for a pregnancy-safe tea, herbal options may be your best bet. "Herbal teas can help hydrate the body when women don't want to drink plain water," says Amelia Hirota, D.Ac., an herbalist and acupuncturist at Phoenix Fertility Center in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Plus, some herbal teas provide important pregnancy nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Rooibos tea, in particular, has beneficial antioxidant properties; it's also caffeine-free. Other herbal teas may help alleviate morning sickness (ginger tea and peppermint tea), prevent insomnia (chamomile tea), and shorten labor while promoting more effective contractions (red raspberry leaf tea). "Many midwives believe that drinking red raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy tones the uterine muscle, which may help make contractions more efficient," says Hirota.
Note, however, that these teas are considered safe in moderation during pregnancy, but you should always speak with your health care provider before consuming them. That's because herbal supplements and teas aren't regulated by the FDA, and there are few studies on the benefits and risks of drinking herbal tea during pregnancy. Some evidence suggests that large amounts of peppermint tea can stimulate menstruation, raspberry leaf tea can promote uterine contractions, and excessive chamomile tea has been linked to miscarriage. Many experts recommend avoiding these options in the first trimester, while others suggest limiting your intake of all teas that aren't from well-known brands. Your health care provider should be able to provide some guidance.
Herbal Teas to Avoid During Pregnancy
Some herbal teas are unsafe when you're expecting; these include diet, cleansing, and detoxification teas, as well as those with the herbs black cohosh, blue cohosh, dong quai, and others. Always do your research, and ask a health care provider if you're unsure whether a certain tea is safe during pregnancy.
Pregnant people should also avoid herbal laxatives, because they can promote diuresis (increased urination) or diarrhea, both of which can cause dehydration, says Laurie Green, M.D., an obstetrician in San Francisco. "In high doses, some naturally occurring laxative substances, such as cascara sagrada or senna, can cause changes in electrolytes," says Dr. Green. Electrolytes include chloride, sodium, and potassium, and they're required for normal cell and organ functioning. Such tea varieties are best avoided until after you deliver and finish breastfeeding; even then, use caution.
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Take care not to overindulge in any tea during pregnancy. A 2012 study suggests that high consumption of tea (more than three cups per day) may interfere with the absorption of folic acid, that essential nutrient for preventing neural tube defects like spina bifida. "If you limit your intake to two to three cups per day, there's no evidence of any harm coming from that," says David Elmer, M.D., an OB-GYN at Nantucket Cottage Hospital in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Overall, as with anything else in pregnancy, it's best to practice moderation.
What About Black Tea, Green Tea, and Oolong Tea in Pregnancy?
Unlike herbal teas, which contain only about 0.4 milligrams of caffeine per cup, non-herbal teas (like black tea, green tea, and oolong tea) contain about 40 to 50 milligrams per cup. Sip four or five cups throughout the day, and you've gotten about 200 milligrams of caffeine. A study from Kaiser Permanente's Northern California Division of Research found that pregnant women who consumed more than 200 milligrams of caffeine daily had double the risk of miscarriage compared with those who avoided the stimulant. However, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found no association between intakes of up to 350 milligrams of caffeine and miscarriage.
Without a definitive answer on the effects of caffeine while expecting, most experts agree it's best to use caution and limit intake to less than 200 milligrams a day. "Caffeine in any form is too stimulating during pregnancy," says Hirota. "It also increases the load on the liver, which is already busy processing pregnancy hormones." Even so, drinking tea during pregnancy tends to be better than coffee, so you can indulge a little bit more.
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And here's a trick to decaffeinate your favorite tea. Caffeine is the first substance released into the water during steeping (this occurs within the first 25 seconds). To decaffeinate, steep the leaves or bag for 30 seconds, dump the water, then refill your cup with hot water and steep again. Most of the caffeine will be removed.
Also keep in mind that iced tea may be a better bet, as larger servings often come with less caffeine than their hot counterparts.