Kombucha – a fermented tea that originated in China thousands of years ago – has become a very popular drink in recent years thanks to its supposed health benefits. It has similar benefits to green and black teas (think antioxidants and even certain minerals) while also offering probiotics, which are important for maintaining gut health and decreasing inflammation. Kombucha has also been said to help relieve constipation and heartburn, especially during pregnancy, and its B vitamins supposedly offer an energy boost and prevent depression. This tasty, refreshing drink can be purchased at grocery and other stores and it can also be made at home.
When you are pregnant, you should be mindful of everything you put in your body, and kombucha is no exception. There are a few things that pregnant women should keep in mind before consuming kombucha.
Kombucha contains very small quantities of alcohol. The fermentation process required to make kombucha results in the production of alcohol. Home-brewed kombucha likely contains more alcohol than store-bought products. Even products that are sold as “non-alcoholic” beverages can contain up to 0.5% alcohol according to federal regulations, and home-brew may contain 2% to 3%. Kombucha contains far less alcohol than a normal serving of an alcoholic beverage, but pregnant women are advised to avoid all types of alcohol during pregnancy, since all can be equally harmful to a developing fetus.
Lack of pasteurization
Pasteurization is a process of heating foods and beverages to kill bacteria and make the products safe to eat and drink. In its purest form, kombucha is not pasteurized. Pregnant women should avoid unpasteurized products since exposure to bacteria in foods like milk, soft cheeses, and raw juices can pose health risks to both mother and baby.
Presence of bacteria
Probiotics are bacteria. While your body – inside and out – needs bacteria to thrive and stay healthy, the environment needed to grow “good” bacteria like probiotics is the same environment needed to grow “bad” bacteria that can make you and your baby sick. Any product that requires fermentation is at risk for becoming contaminated with “bad” bacteria and kombucha is no different. Mass-produced, store-bought kombucha is likely manufactured under very careful, clean conditions and poses little risk of bacterial contamination, but home-brewed varieties may not be as sterile. Proper sanitation and handling are critical when making and storing kombucha.
Kombucha is made from green or black tea, both of which contain caffeine. Kombucha actually contains less caffeine than the teas it’s made with, however, offering only 6 to 14 mg of caffeine per serving, which is a lot less than a cup of coffee. (12 ounces of coffee has about 200 mg of caffeine.) Women are usually advised to avoid excess caffeine during pregnancy, but small amounts are generally considered safe and do not cause harm to the fetus.
To drink or not to drink?
There are no large, clinical studies evaluating consumption of kombucha during pregnancy, so its true risks and benefit are unclear. Some experts believe that if kombucha was part of your regular diet before pregnancy, it’s most likely safe for you to continue drinking it, but others believe that because of its alcohol and caffeine contents, as well as its potential to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, it is a less-than-ideal choice for pregnant women. And, most advise that if you’ve never tried kombucha before, pregnancy is not the time to start.
Many pregnant women play it safe and decide to lay off the ‘booch’ and find another refreshing beverage to enjoy for a few months. Talk to your doctor or a dietician if you have any questions about how to keep you and your baby healthy during pregnancy and how to eat safe foods with the health benefits you need.