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The ritual of making and drinking tea has been practiced for thousands of years, and for good reason. Tea contains polyphenols to protect your heart, antioxidants that may lower your risk of cancer and other nutrients that boost your immune system. When you’re expecting, the benefits get even better. A comforting cup may ease morning sickness, and even make for a shorter labor. However, some teas are potentially dangerous during pregnancy and should be avoided.
Herbal teas can help hydrate the body when women don’t want to drink plain water,” says Amelia Hirota, D.Ac., an herbalist and acupuncturist at Phoenix Fertility Center in East Greenwich, R.I. Plus, some provide important pregnancy nutrients, including calcium, magnesium and iron. Rooibos tea, in particular, is a good one to try because of its antioxidant properties; it’s also caffeine-free. Other herbal teas may help alleviate morning sickness (ginger and mint), prevent insomnia (chamomile) and promote more effective contractions during labor (red raspberry leaf). “Many midwives believe that raspberry leaf tones the uterine muscle, which may help make contractions more efficient,” says Hirota.
Nettle leaf (also known as stinging nettles) is an herb commonly found in pregnancy teas and recommended by many herbalists and midwives. “It’s a fabulous source of vitamins and minerals, including iron, vitamins A, C and K, and potassium,” says Hirota. However, make sure any nettle tea you drink uses dried leaves, not root (the label should list nettle leaf), and don’t drink too much, especially in the first trimester, because of its stimulating effect on the uterus. However, it is safe to drink throughout the second and third trimesters, Hirota says. You can steep your own by adding an ounce of dried nettle leaf to a quart of boiling water.
Some herbal teas are unsafe when you’re expecting; these include PMS, diet, cleansing and detoxification teas, as well as those with the herbs black cohosh, blue cohosh, dong quai and others (for a complete list, go to fitpregnancy.com/tea). Also avoid herbal laxatives, so read tea labels carefully. “In high doses, some naturally occurring substances, such as cascara sagrada or senna, can cause changes in electrolytes,” says Laurie Green, M.D., an obstetrician in San Francisco. Electrolytes, which include chloride, sodium and potassium, are required for normal cell and organ functioning. These herbal laxatives can promote diuresis (increased urination) or diarrhea, both of which can cause dehydration, says Green. Such varieties are best avoided until after you deliver and finish breastfeeding; even then, use caution.
Unlike herbal teas, which contain only about 0.4 milligrams of caffeine per cup, non-herbal teas (black, green and oolong) contain about 40 to 50 milligrams per cup. Sip four or five cups throughout the day, and you’ve gotten about 200 milligrams of caffeine. A study from Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Division of Research found that pregnant women who consumed more than 200 milligrams of caffeine daily had double the risk of miscarriage compared with those who avoided the stimulant. However, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found no association between intakes of up to 350 milligrams of caffeine and miscarriage.
Without a definitive answer on the effects of caffeine while expecting, most experts agree it’s best to use caution and limit intake to less than 200 milligrams a day. “Caffeine in any form is too stimulating during pregnancy,” says Hirota. “It also increases the load on the liver, which is already busy processing pregnancy hormones.”
Caffeine is the first substance released into the water during steeping (this occurs within the first 25 seconds). To decaffeinate your favorite tea, steep the leaves or bag for 30 seconds, dump the water, then refill your cup with hot water and steep again. Most of the caffeine will be removed.
Sip a safe cup with these pregnancy-specific brews made with organic ingredients:
Earth Mama Angel Baby Organic Morning Wellness Tea, $6, earthmamaangelbaby.com
Traditional Medicinals Organic Pregnancy Tea, $6, traditionalmedicinals.com
Tea For Two Pregnancy Tea $15 fairhavenhealth.com
Tea Time! For a complete list of safe herbal teas during pregnancy fitpregnancy.com/tea.