One way to limit caffeine consumption during pregnancy is to substitute herbal teas for coffee and caffeinated tea. Made from the roots, berries, flowers, and seeds of various plants, herbal teas do not generally contain any caffeine, but that doesn’t mean its safe to consume unlimited amounts of any herbal tea during pregnancy.
It’s a smart idea to read labels carefully and talk to your doctor about the beverages you consume during pregnancy.
Over the centuries herbal teas have been used for medicinal purposes, to treat such pregnancy complaints as morning sickness. Herbal teas have also been used to ease and induce labor but there have been no reliable studies to determine how effective or how safe herbal teas actually are.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbal products the same way it does prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications although some herbal teas can have effects as powerful as some prescription drugs.
The FDA does recognize certain herbs as safe, using the acronym GRAS, which stands for Generally Recognized As Safe, but that category covers the small quantities of herbs used in seasoning and cooking. In general, any herb considered safe in cooking, is considered safe as a tea ingredient, but moderation is key. The brewing process concentrates the amount of an herb, so larger quantities may have a pronounced effect. Timing also matters, as an herb used to ease labor in the last trimester might not be appropriate for use in the first trimester.
In general, the following teas are considered safe, but it’s still a good idea to discuss their use with your doctor:
- Peppermint or mint tea is helpful in coping with nausea.
- Ginger tea also helps combat nausea.
- Lemon balm tea is used to ease stress and reduce insomnia.
- Red raspberry leaf tea, which is rich in iron, also helps alleviate nausea. Traditionally, midwives prescribed raspberry tea as a tonic during pregnancy, both to promote a healthy uterus and later on to ease labor pains. However, it’s not without controversy, since a study associated the use of raspberry tea with premature birth. For that reason, some herbalists only recommend drinking raspberry tea in the third trimester. Before brewing up a cup of raspberry tea, discuss its use with your doctor.
- Rooibos tea is recommended during pregnancy for its antioxidant properties. It’s loaded with calcium and magnesium. Native to South Africa, this herb is actually a member of the legume family.
Here are some herbal tea ingredients you should avoid during pregnancy:
- Black or blue cohosh may cause contractions or bleeding.
- Goldenseal may cause contractions or bleeding.
- Chamomile has been shown to simulate labor. The occasional cup of chamomile is probably safe but don’t drink it consistently throughout your pregnancy, especially if you’re allergic to ragweed, daisies or chrysanthemums, since chamomile can trigger an reaction in people who have those allergies.
- John’s Wort is used to alleviate depression, but some experts worry that maternal use may affect a baby’s developing nervous system. There is no definitive data on the safety of this herb.
- Ginseng may cause contractions or bleeding.
- Feverfew may cause contractions or bleeding.
- Pennyroyal tea may increase uterine contractions.
- Licorice root tea is estrogenic so there’s some concern that it may increase the risk of preterm labor.
- Dong Quai tea is known as “female ginseng.” Used in traditional Chinese medicine, it may also cause uterine contractions.
When buying herbal tea, choose a well-known brand and read the label carefully for any health warnings.
Also, note caffeine levels because some teas that are sold alongside herbal teas are not caffeine free. An example is yerba mate tea, a traditional South American drink, which looks like an herbal tea but contains as much caffeine as coffee. You may also want to avoid any teas marketed as “pregnancy teas,” since there are no clinical studies available to support those claims and their safety is not regulated.
Drinking black or green tea is safe during pregnancy as long as your caffeine intake does not exceed the recommended limit of 200 mg a day. Eight ounces of brewed black tea has 25 to 48 mg of caffeine, while coffee has 95 to 165 mg in a single cup.