Many alternative medicine health care providers feel that using certain herbal teas during pregnancy is a great way to support optimal pregnancy health. Herbal teas can often provide an additional source of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. However, due to the lack of studies on most herbs, the FDA encourages caution when consuming herbal teas.
To understand which herbal teas are safe to consume during pregnancy, let’s first look at the different types of teas and how they are made.
Difference in Teas: Non-herbal and Herbal teas
There are two different types of teas, the non-herbal and the herbal. The non-herbal teas can also be broken down into 3 categories; black, green and oolong.
- Black tea is the most common type of non-herbal tea, including flavors such as English breakfast, Earl Grey and Orange Pekoe
- Green tea has a more delicate taste then black tea; the Oolong teas are a combination of green and black tea
- Non-herbal teas contain varying amounts of caffeine and antioxidants
- Non-herbal teas are made from tea leaves
- The longer the oxidation time (fermenting) of the leaf, the higher the caffeine level
- The amount of brewing time and the size and type of tea leaf can also influence how much caffeine is in the tea
- Decaf versions of non-herbal teas still contain a bit of caffeine
- Made from the roots, berries, flowers, seeds, and leaves of a variety of plants—not from actual tea leaves
- True Herbal teas do not contain caffeine ( this does not include any other drinks called “tea” that truly are not, such as mate tea)
- Can also be used as “medicinal” remedies, which means relating to, or having the properties of medicine
What teas are safe to consume during pregnancy?
Although non-herbal tea is assumed to have great health benefits due to the antioxidants, it also contains caffeine, which pregnant women are often encouraged to eliminate or cut down on during pregnancy. The average cup of non-herbal tea contains about 40-50 milligrams of caffeine. Decaffeinated non-herbal tea does still contain a bit of caffeine, however the amount is usually only about .4 milligrams.
Caffeine does cross the placenta and reaches your developing baby, and the baby cannot metabolize caffeine like an adult can. For this reason, there is much controversy on how much caffeine is safe or if it should be avoided altogether. We know that the least amount of caffeine consumed, the better it is for your pregnancy. Talk with your midwife or doctor about what amount you feel is safe for you. This will then help you make the decision on whether to consume non-herbal teas like green or black teas.
Herbal teas are naturally caffeine free, so caffeine is not an issue when consuming this type of tea. The concern with consuming herbal teas during pregnancy is the lack of data available on most herbs and their effect on a developing fetus. There are mixed opinions on the safety of herbal teas, for both pregnant and non-pregnant women.
Most commercial brands of herbal teas are thought to be safe for anyone to consume in reasonable amounts. Herbal tea companies, such as Celestial Seasonings, report that they do not use any herbs that are considered dangerous and choose to use herbs from a guideline that the FDA published. The herbal teas that are considered to be unsafe are those that are not made commercially, those made with excessive amounts of herbs (amounts larger than that found in common foods or drinks), or those made with herbs that are known to be toxic. As with most things, it is always best to talk with your midwife or doctor about any herbal teas that you are interested in drinking.
Are the herbal teas called “Pregnancy Teas” safe to drink?
There are a number of teas labeled as “Pregnancy Teas”, or herbs such as red raspberry leaf that are in teas, that are considered to be good for pregnancy. Many midwives and professionals who work with herbs believe that the regular consumption of these teas may help prevent pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, preterm labor, prolonged labors, and postpartum hemorrhage.
Medical studies have shown that red raspberry leaf can be consumed safely during pregnancy and can decrease the length of labor and decrease the number of interventions used such as AROM, assisted delivery and cesarean delivery.1 Red raspberry leaf also seems to help prevent pregnancies from pre or post term gestation (delivering too early or too late).
Herbs used in Teas
The following are common ingredients you may find in herbal teas, even though some have a questionable safety rating. The safety ratings given here are from the Natural Medicines Database. More extensive research and discussions with your treating health care provider will help you make the decision about what herbs are safe for you to use in teas.
- Red Raspberry Leaf (Likely Safe) – Rich in iron, this herb has helped tone the uterus, increase milk production, decrease nausea, and ease labor pains. Many of the “Pregnancy Teas” commonly contain Red Raspberry leaf to help promote uterine health during pregnancy.
There is some controversy about whether this should be used throughout pregnancy or just in the second and third trimester, so many health care providers will remain cautious and only recommend using it after the first trimester.
- Peppermint Leaf (Likely Safe) – Helpful in relieving nausea/morning sickness and flatulence.
- Lemon Balm (Likely Safe) – Has a calming effect and helps relieve irritability, insomnia and anxiety.
- Ginger root (Possibly Safe) – Helps relieve nausea and vomiting.
- Dandelion (Insufficient Information) – Rich in Vitamin A, calcium and iron; dandelion root and leaf can also help relieve mild edema and nourish the liver.
- Chamomile (German) (Insufficient Information) – High in calcium and magnesium; also helps with sleeplessness and inflammation of joints.
- Nettles (Stinging Nettles) – (Likely Unsafe) High in vitamins A, C, K, calcium, potassium and iron. Used in many “Pregnancy Teas” because it is a great all-around pregnancy tonic. (*Note on the safety of Nettles: Natural Medicines Database gives Nettles a rating of Likely Unsafe, even though it is used in countless pregnancy teas and recommended by most midwives and herbalists. This may be in relation to which part of the Nettles plant is used, the root or the leaves, and how much is used. According to other sources, the use of Nettles is encouraged during pregnancy because of all its health benefits.2)
- Rose Hips (Insufficient Reliable Information Available) – Very good source of Vitamin C and helps boost the immune system.
- Alfalfa (Possibly Unsafe) – Has Vitamin A, D, E and K; particularly good in later pregnancy to boost Vitamin K, which helps prevent postpartum hemorrhage.
- Yellow Dock (Possibly Unsafe) – Used to help treat anemia in pregnant women due to the high level of iron. Also contains Vitamins A, C and calcium. *(this may also be used as a laxative – talk with your health care provider about the use of Yellow Dock during pregnancy).
Your Next Steps:
- Make your own herbal tea by adding oranges, apples, pineapples, lemons, limes, pears, cinnamon, or mint leaves to boiling water or decaffeinated tea. *(You should not brew a homemade tea from a plant growing in the yard unless you know exactly what it is and if it is safe to consume during pregnancy).
- Talk with your midwife or doctor about helpful herbal teas to drink during pregnancy
- Order your own Pregnancy Tea http://www.traditionalmedicinals.com/
1 Raspberry leaf in pregnancy: its safety and efficacy in labor.
J Midwifery Womens Health. 2001 Mar-Apr;46(2):51-9.
PMID: 11370690 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
2 Belew, C Herbs and the childbearing woman: guidelines for Midwives. J Nurse-Midwifery 1999;44:231-252
Tea Association of the USA http://www.teausa.com/
American Pregnancy Association, http://www.americanpregnancy.org