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Q&A: Are Pregnancy Teas Safe?

Question: Are pregnancy teas safe?

Answer: This is a surprisingly hard question to answer, but my best answer is “maybe not.”

Products marketed as pregnancy teas are caffeine-free multi-herbal infusions. Research on safety and effectiveness of anything in pregnancy can be difficult to come by because pregnant moms don’t usually volunteer to be guinea pigs for studies and researchers don’t want to expose fetuses to anything that might turn out to be harmful. So most of the information we have comes from experience of herbalists with use of these products over time, mixed in with a rare scientific study.

Potential Benefits: Since complications of pregnancy can happen whether a product is used or not, you have to be very scientific to sort out whether a product makes outcomes better, and most of the publications on herbal products don’t show clear-cut benefits for pregnant moms or their offspring. Some of the components of pregnancy teas may have medicinal properties but, with the exception of ginger for nausea, most herbal tea ingredients have not been proven effective. That said, centuries of pregnant moms have used herbals for their presumed benefits.

Potential Risks: As you can imagine, anything that can have a biological effect can have a negative effect—just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is safe. And since herbal treatments are not regulated as medicines by the food and drug administration (FDA) we have very limited data on safety. From Rakel: Integrative Medicine the following herbs may be unsafe during pregnancy. The most common pregnancy teas don’t contain any of these ingredients, except Pregnant Tea Plus contains squaw vine.

Angelica
Arbor vitae
Barberry
Beth/birth root
Black cohosh
Blue cohosh
Cascara sagrada
Cinchona
Cotton root bark
Goldenseal
Greater celandine
Juniper
Marjoram
Meadow saffron
Motherwort
Mugwort
Pennyroyal
Poke root
Rue
Squaw vine
Tansy
Wormwood

Three common pregnancy teas and their ingredients:

Organic Pregnancy Tea (Traditional Medicinals brand)
Raspberry leaf
Strawberry leaf
Nettle leaf
Proprietary Blend (I don’t know what this includes)
Spearmint leaf
Bitter fennel fruit
Rose hip
Alfalfa leaf
Lemon verbena leaf

Tea for Two (Fairhaven Health)
Strawberry leaf
Alfalfa
Dandelion leaf
Oatstraw
Ginger root
Lemon verbena

Pregnancy Tea (Herb Lore) and Pregnancy Tea Plus
Red Raspberry Leaf
Nettle Leaf
Dandelion Leaf
Alfalfa
Chamomile
Oatstraw
Peppermint
Squaw Vine (Only in pregnancy Tea Plus—labeled for last six weeks of pregnancy)

Really the question is: Why drink a pregnancy tea? If you like the idea of natural approaches to health in pregnancy, consider these evidence-based activities:

  • Include low-mercury fish in your diet. Eating fish during pregnancy improves the development of the visual system of the fetus. Low mercury choices can be found here
  • Fresh ginger or ginger tea, or acupuncture for nausea
  • Doula support during birth, which can lead to shorter labor, less need for anesthesia, fewer surgical deliveries, and Cesarean sections and greater satisfaction with the birth experience
  • Avoid herbals and megadoses of vitamins during pregnancy (the positive and potential negative effects are not well researched)
  • Exercise regularly

If you do want to use an herbal product like pregnancy tea talk to your doctor or midwife, just as you would for any over-the-counter or prescription medication.

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