Are Herbal Teas Safe During Your Pregnancy?
Many alternative medicine health care providers feel that consuming 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 ingesting 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.
Differences Between Non-Herbal and Herbal
There are two different types of teas, non-herbal and herbal. The non-herbal teas can be broken down into 3 categories: black, green, and oolong.
- Black tea is the most common type of non-herbal tea. It includes blends such as English breakfast, Earl Grey, and Orange Pekoe.
- Green tea has a more delicate taste than 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 leaves of tea plants.
- The longer the oxidation time (fermenting) of the leaf, the higher the caffeine level.
- The brewing time, size of the leaf 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 plant leaves.
- True herbal teas do not contain caffeine. (This does not include any other drinks that are called “tea” but truly are not, such as mate tea.)
- These teas can also be used as medicinal remedies (relating to, or having the properties of medicine).
Which teas are safe during pregnancy?
Although non-herbal tea is assumed to have great health benefits due to the antioxidants, it also contains caffeine, which pregnant and breastfeeding women are often encouraged to cut down on or eliminate.
The average cup of non-herbal tea contains about 40-50 milligrams of caffeine. Decaffeinated nonherbal tea does still contain a bit of caffeine; however, the amount is usually only about .4 milligrams.
Caffeine crosses the placenta and reaches your developing baby. The baby cannot metabolize caffeine like an adult can. Also, consuming caffeine while breastfeeding could contribute to infant sleep disorders.
For this reason, there is controversy on how much caffeine is safe, or if it should be avoided altogether. We know that the less caffeine consumed, the better it is for your baby while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Talk with your midwife or doctor about what amount is safe. This will help you make the decision on whether to consume non-herbal 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 effects 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 guidelines that the FDA has 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 those found in common foods or drinks), and 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.
There are a number of teas labeled as a pregnancy tea. Pregnancy teas, which often contain red raspberry leaf, are considered to be beneficial in 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 labor, 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 the number of interventions used, such as artificial rupture of membranes (AROM), assisted delivery, and cesarean delivery.
Red raspberry leaf also seems to help prevent pregnancies from pre- or post-term gestation (delivering too early or too late).
The Herbs Used
The following are common ingredients you may find in herbal teas. Note that some have a questionable safety rating. The safety ratings given here are from the Natural Medicines Database.
More extensive research and discussions with your 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 pregnancy teas 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 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 Reliable Information Available) – Rich in Vitamin A, calcium and iron; dandelion root and leaf can also help relieve mild edema and nourish the liver.
- Chamomile (German) (Insufficient Reliable Information Available) – High in calcium and magnesium, also helps with sleeplessness and inflammation of joints.
- Nettles (Stinging Nettles) (Likely Unsafe-see note) – 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 its health benefits.)
- 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:
- Subscribe to the Natural Medicines Database for information on other herbs and natural medicines and more in-depth information on the herbs discussed.
- 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.
Want to Know More?
Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. Gruenwald, J., Brendler, T., & Jaenicke, C. (Eds.), PDR for herbal medicines 4th ed. Montvale, NJ: Thomson Healthcare Inc.
2. Raspberry leaf in pregnancy: its safety and efficacy in labor. J Midwifery Women’s Health. 2001 Mar-Apr;46(2):51-9. PMID: 11370690 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
3. Belew, C. (1999). Herbs and the childbearing woman: Guidelines for midwives. J Nurse-Midwifery. 44:231-252.
4. Tea Association of the USA