Are you pregnant? Have you quit your morning coffee only to discover you miss having something hot to sip throughout the day?
Many expectant mamas opt for tea as a natural, healthy, and satisfying drink during pregnancy. But while it certainly has it’s benefits, the reality is that it’s not without its risks.
If you have questions about drinking tea while pregnant, we’ve got answers. Here’s how it can help, how it can hurt, and some of the best ones to enjoy while you’re expecting.
The Different Types of Tea
Tea is made by pouring boiling water over dried leaves and letting them steep, allowing the flavor to infuse the hot water. It is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, deeply entrenched in many cultures across the globe.
Tea can be made from a nearly endless number of plants. The flavors are often enhanced by combining different types of herbs or spices along with the main tea leaves to create unique concoctions.
Teas fall into one of two categories:
- Real Tea: If you’re a tea purist, there’s only one type of tea, and this is it. Real tea comes from one type of plant (Camellia sinensis), and the different varieties are created by altering the processing methods of the tea leaf. Green tea, black tea, and oolong tea are all considered “real tea” and are made from the same plant (source). Real teas are naturally caffeinated but can be made into decaf through additional processing.
- Herbal Tea: Herbal teas are made from the leaves, flowers, bark, stems, or any other parts of various plants. Sometimes instead of steeping the leaves in hot water, tea is made by boiling the herbs directly. This method is more commonly used when making tea from bark, stems, or other more dense parts of the plant. Herbal teas are naturally decaffeinated.
Benefits of Drinking Tea During Pregnancy
There are many benefits to drinking tea while pregnant, including:
1. It Can Help Keep You Hydrated
It’s easy to get out of the water-drinking habit when you can’t keep anything down, have a stomach that is compressed by your baby, and feel the need to run to the bathroom every 20 minutes. As a result, dehydration can easily happen when you’re pregnant.
Even if you’re not dehydrated to the point you need medical attention, you may be walking around with less water in your body than you need.
Even minor dehydration can exacerbate common pregnancy complaints such as:
Take caution since highly caffeinated teas can have a diuretic effect, which means it can make you urinate more often and in turn cause dehydration if consumed in large amounts. Avoid brewing your tea for a long time since that can raise the caffeine level and remember black and oolong tea are known to contain the most caffeine. Herbal teas are mostly caffeine free and tend to be better for hydration.
Editor's Note:Dr. Njoud Jweihan, MD
2. It Can Combat Morning Sickness
Morning sickness is one of the most difficult symptoms of pregnancy, making it a challenge to enjoy the early months.
Morning sickness most commonly occurs on an empty stomach, leaving pregnant mothers in a Catch-22 in which they need something in their stomach to make them feel better, yet find it difficult to stomach a lot of food or beverages.
One of the most common pregnancy aversions is coffee, so if you’re accustomed to waking in the morning and having coffee first thing, you need to find a substitute that will not only satisfy but that you’ll also find palatable.
Ginger is known as an effective ingredient to soothe nausea, and there are lots of ginger teas on the market. If you find it difficult to stomach a cup of hot tea, pour it over ice and add pasteurized honey or sugar to make a sweet iced tea version. Often cold and sweet foods are easier to keep down if you struggle with morning sickness. Other types of tea that can ease morning sickness include lemon balm. If you are at high risk for miscarriage, avoid chamomile and peppermint tea, especially in the first trimester.
3. Tea Has Antioxidants and Nutrients
Antioxidants are naturally-occurring substances in plants that remove waste products that can cause potential damage to our cells (source). These damaging waste products, called free radicals, are responsible for signs of aging in our skin and have even been implicated in the development of cancer.
To be clear, antioxidants are not unique to tea. They are available through many other foods, but tea is one way to get them into your body. The more antioxidants you have in your body, the better.
Tea also has nutrients that are important in pregnancy (source). These include calcium, magnesium, and iron. Tea also helps to boost your immune system, which is ultra-important when you’re pregnant to ward off disease.
Some studies say that adding milk to your tea neutralizes many of its benefits including its antioxidants and nutrients so try to avoid adding milk and just add some flavor such as herbs or lemon (source). You should avoid tea bags since they are considered not as effective and beneficial as loose tea.
Editor's Note:Dr. Njoud Jweihan, MD
4. Tea Can Help Prepare You for Labor
Aside from the health benefits that are good for you whether you’re pregnant or not, some teas claim to help you during pregnancy specifically.
Some herbal teas such as the red raspberry leaf tea and cinnamon flavored teas are believed to help tone your uterine muscles to help you prepare for labor, making your contractions more efficient, and hopefully shortening your labor.
5. It Can Help You Relax
Something is soothing about sitting down with a warm cup of tea. Many tea drinkers love the feeling of relaxation that comes over them as they take in the aroma of the tea and take a minute to breathe.
Pregnancy can be a stressful time which can turn you into a bundle of nerves. If a cup of tea can give you a few minutes of relaxation, you should go for it.
Precautions When Drinking Tea While Pregnant
When choosing tea while pregnant, consider the following:
1. Tea Has Caffeine
Tea has caffeine, which is widely considered to be okay during pregnancy as long as you consume it in moderation, about 200mg or 12oz of caffeine a day should be acceptable for most pregnant women. Even “decaffeinated” varieties have a little caffeine. Be mindful of the caffeine levels in the tea product you choose.
2. Health Claims are Not Regulated
Many herbal teas make claims they will enhance your health in certain ways. However, most of the claims they make are not backed by thorough scientific research.
When the science is in question, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that manufacturers include a disclaimer (source). If you are purchasing a tea specifically for its touted health benefits, check the side or back of the box.
Check the Box
It doesn’t mean the product won’t work in the way you’d like it to, but it might be worth a little more research on your own before trying it.
3. Some Have Ingredients that Aren’t Safe During Pregnancy
Because herbal health claims aren’t regulated, this can be a bit dicey. But when you’re pregnant, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Some herbal teas have ingredients that may not be safe while pregnant.
If you’re pregnant, it’s a good idea to avoid teas that include (source):
- Earl Grey
- Licorice tea
- Rose hips
- Yellow dock
- Dong Quai
You should also avoid herbal blends that are marketed to relieve PMS symptoms, help with menstruation, detoxify the body or liver, or help you lose weight. It is likely these include ingredients that are not recommended for pregnancy.
Whenever purchasing an herbal blend tea, always read the ingredient label to make sure it doesn’t contain any of the ingredients listed here. Some teas have instructions for women that specifically mention phrases such as avoid if pregnant or consult with your doctor before use.
4. Some Teas Contain Arsenic and Pesticides in Varying Degrees
While teas are full of healthy minerals, some brands are organic while others aren’t. Studies have shown some brands contain an alarming amount of pesticides, arsenic, lead, and other undesirable ingredients (source).
How Much Caffeine Does Tea Have?
A typical 8-ounce cup of real tea has anywhere between 20-48 milligrams of caffeine (source). The exact amount will depend on the type of tea, brewing method, and processing of the tea leaves, but it is considerably less than a cup of brewed coffee, which runs about 95-165 milligrams.
Green tea tends to have less caffeine than black tea which can have up to 90 mg of caffeine, and the decaffeinated varieties still have a bit of caffeine — somewhere around 3 milligrams.
Herbal teas are naturally decaffeinated, but may still contain up to half a milligram of caffeine.
No conclusive studies have been conducted on the effects of caffeine on pregnancy (source). However, there does seem to be evidence that it may be linked to miscarriage, preterm labor, and some birth defects. It’s also understood that caffeine crosses the placenta and can affect the baby’s immature digestive system, which is not yet equipped to handle the substance.
For these reasons, the general recommendation is that pregnant women limit themselves to 200 milligrams of caffeine per day or one 12-ounce cup of coffee. For comparison, you could sip four cups of caffeinated tea throughout the day and still likely be under that amount.
What Teas are Recommended During Pregnancy?
If you’re looking for the best teas to drink while pregnant, you can choose from the following:
- Real Tea: Black, green, and oolong tea are all considered safe to consume during pregnancy. The main concern with these teas, however, is their level of caffeine. So if you drink real tea, limit yourself to four 8-ounce cups per day, or opt for decaffeinated varieties to get the flavor without the jolt.
- Red Raspberry Leaf Tea: This is an herbal tea made with leaves from the raspberry plant. It is believed to tone the uterus and help prepare for labor. However, most medical providers recommend skipping this tea during the first trimester and drinking it only during the second and third — just to be safe.
- Peppermint Leaf Tea: This herbal tea is widely believed to be safe during pregnancy. It also tends to be more palatable to those with a queasy stomach and is believed to help with morning sickness. Avoid this tea if you have heartburn or acid reflux since it can make your symptoms worse.
- Ginger Root Tea: Ginger is widely used across cultures to combat nausea. This is a great option to try if you suffer from pregnancy-related nausea.
There are lots of other options available on the market — many of which your girlfriends probably drank while they were expecting. However, the problem is the limited information available about their effects on the fetus.
Because of this, our list of recommended teas is very short since we believe it’s best to err on the side of caution and stick with the basics.
It is best to never overindulge in drinking any kind of tea since some studies show it can limit the absorption of iron and folic acid which are very important for your baby’s development. (source)
Editor's Note:Dr. Njoud Jweihan, MD
What About Nettle Tea?
Nettle tea is an herbal tea made from the stinging nettles plant. It is listed as “Likely Unsafe for Pregnancy” in the Natural Medicines Database but still widely recommended by midwives and herbal experts. It is often included as an ingredient in tea blends marketed specifically for pregnancy.
The difference between the recommended use and the actual use is likely related to the part of the plant used to make the tea. For pregnancy, it’s thought that using the leaves from the nettle plant renders it safe, while teas made from the roots are not.
Still, nettle tea is considered to be “off limits” for pregnant women by most medical practitioners as the Natural Medicines Database does not distinguish between teas made from the leaves or roots. For this reason, we take a conservative approach and do not recommend nettle tea during pregnancy.
A Word of Caution
In moderation, tea can be a beneficial addition to your diet during pregnancy. It can help to alleviate some of your common pregnancy complaints and also offers you a less-caffeinated alternative to your morning cup of coffee.
Just keep in mind the guidelines we have listed above such as limiting your caffeine intake to 200mg per day and avoiding ingredients which are not safe for pregnancy such as Dong Quai and Nettles.