Coffee, sushi, soft cheeses, alcohol—when you’re growing a human inside you, you suddenly have to give up some of your favorite foods and drinks to appease the fertility gods. But while high-mercury fish (we hardly knew ye, tuna poké) and bottomless mimosas are clear no-gos because of the health risks they pose to your little one, one wellness all-star has mamas-to-be scratching their heads: kombucha.
The popular fermented tea beverage has a well-deserved rep as a health-booster, mainly because it’s chock full of probiotics—the type of “good bacteria” that can help promote gut health, improve digestion, and cut down on inflammation in the body—and polyphenols, micronutrients with antioxidant qualities. But it also contains alcohol (a pregnancy no-no) and caffeine (the reason you’ve had to cut your matcha habit way back).
To see whether pregnant women need to add kombucha to the “see ya when my kid can eat solid food” list, I checked in with two healthy eating pros.
Can pregnant women drink kombucha safely? Keep reading to learn the main causes of concern—and whether they’re legit.
Why do some women avoid kombucha during pregnancy?
1. Kombucha contains alcohol
Kombucha famously has some naturally occurring alcohol (you may or may not remember when NFL player Michael Floyd claimed it was his fondness for kombucha that caused him to fail a breathalyzer test last year)—but is it enough to cause harm to your gestating child?
The official word by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that “there is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy." But according to Amy Shapiro, RD, “If concerns are regarding fetal alcohol syndrome, a study done on 400,000 pregnant woman showed no cases of FAS in women who drank 8.5 [alcoholic] drinks per week”—more alcohol than you’d imbibe with a daily bottle of ‘booch.
Ariane Hundt, a clinical nutritionist and fitness expert, points to the same study to support her belief that kombucha is safe for most pregnant women. But, she adds, if you want to keep alcohol levels as low as possible, “The GT's Enlightened [variety] has less alcohol, so I would recommend to stick with that one.” (It has less than .5 percent per bottle.)
2. Bad bacteria can sneak in
Kombucha is created by using a bacteria and yeast culture (called a SCOBY) to ferment a mixture of tea, sugar, and other flavors—and the probiotics that result, as mentioned previously, are the main reason kombucha is touted as a wellness beverage. But here’s where things get tricky: Pasteurization, the process that’s used to kill pathogenic (AKA harmful) bacteria and prevent disease, also kills off most of those good-for-you probiotics. And it’s recommended that pregnant women stay away from all unpasteurized products—including milk, cheese, juice, and, yep, kombucha. “Since many of these drinks are unpasteurized, then other bacteria that can be harmful may be present and we want to stay away from those,” Shapiro says.
“The right kombucha [to consume while pregnant],” Hundt adds, “is one not brewed in a home under potentially bacteria-growth-promoting conditions, but rather a store-bought, reputable brand that is made in sterile conditions.” But if you stick to pasteurized booch to quench your cravings, you’re missing out on many of the probiotic benefits.
3. It has caffeine
Because kombucha is made from black or green tea, it has caffeine in it. But! During the fermentation process, the caffeine content is reduced by about two-thirds, leaving about 6 to 14 mg of caffeine per 8-oz serving (depending on the brand—Health-Ade has less caffeine than GT, FWIW). The official recommendations by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology hold that pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day. (When consumed in these low quantities, caffeine has not been linked to miscarriage or preterm birth.) Which means, if you have one bottle per day, you’re likely A-OK.
The bottom line?
Shapiro and Hundt agree that if kombucha was a regular part of your wellness regimen prior to your pregnancy, it’s likely safe for you to continue consuming it in moderation as your bump grows. (Although, Hundt says, “Many experts and physicians advise against it because there isn’t good research out there on most supplements during pregnancy.”)
Even if you're a longtime fan of kombucha, however, you should pay attention to any new reactions your body has to the beverage. “If a mom-to-be feels any negative effects or has immune-system deficiencies, it is best to avoid any type of food that may potentially launch an immune response,” Hundt says.
And if you’ve never had kombucha before, “I would wait to start or consult your midwife or doctor first,” says Shapiro. Don't worry, you've still got turmeric tonics and chai lattes to hold you over until baby arrives.
Here's the rundown on healthy foods you should avoid or limit during pregnancy. And keep these expert tips in mind when it comes to working out while pregnant.
Kombucha Side Effects: Is Drinking Kombucha Tea Safe While Pregnant or Nursing?
Hospital or home delivery? Co-sleep or crib? All natural or anesthesia?
When did having a baby become so complicated?
And yet, when a woman gets pregnant for the first time, anxieties often rise sky high. Some fears are well founded, while others revolve around confusion or misinformation meant to squeeze money from expectant parents.
Sophisticated media messages have made legitimate concerns nearly indistinguishable from profit-driven half truths.
Over the years, many women have shared with me their experiences drinking Kombucha while pregnant, with passionate opinions registered in both the “Pro” and “Con” camps.
When facebook fan & group member Nicole asked, “Is kombucha safe to drink when nursing or pregnant?”, I went back to those same facebook group folks for a poll of real KT drinking mothers. Then I set out to take apart this issue from a practical standpoint. As we are finding more and more, body knowledge is once again key to this decision.
Rite of Passage
At the risk of stating the obvious, pregnancy is a profoundly personal experience. The woman’s body undergoes a tremendous physiological transformation as she becomes a vessel for a new life growing inside her. Hormones cause dramatic changes; bones soften to allow for passage through the pelvis, senses are on high alert and appetites increase in response to additional nutritional needs.
Despite the wonders of Western medicine, when the sacred rite of birth is taken out of the hands of women who have passed this knowledge down for millennia and placed solely in the hands of modern medical mechanics, a dangerous “wisdom gap” develops. Thankfully, it is not gone forever, and many are striving to learn the old ways and unite them with modern practices to great results.
Several websites preach abstinence and fear in regards to Kombucha and pregnancy for a variety of reasons. Ironically, some of the most common benefits claimed by regular drinkers of Kombucha match up with ailments that afflict pregnant women including low energy, constipation, and hemorrhoids.
Still, when it comes to something this important, all viewpoints must be considered and explored. Let’s take a look at some of the common concerns cited and see how they hold up.
Concerns to Consider
1. “Kombucha is fermented and fermented foods are unsafe for pregnant women.”
Fermentation has been around as long as humans have existed on earth. We are walking bags of bacteria.
Cultures from all over the world have understood that fermented foods are healthy despite current medical trends that foster fear of all bacteria. In the Western world, we have lost our connection to this cultural legacy. Old traditions were discarded in order to fit in to the American way of life which preaches better living through chemistry. Sadly, oftentimes the side effects of modern medications are even worse than their natural counterparts.
97% of women who participated in a study conducted in rural Africa use fermented foods to protect their infants from bacterial contamination during the weaning process which can start as young as 4 months. Without the fear-mongering of for-profit Western medicine hanging over their heads, they have continued the traditional practices of their ancestors with success.
2. “Kombucha contains alcohol (.3-2.5%*) and if alcohol is consumed during pregnancy, the child will get Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”
Alcohol has been mankind’s friend since time immemorial. In moderate quantities, it has been shown in numerous studies to have a tonic effect on the body, benefiting bone density, lowering cholesterol, and balancing mood (most notably when you knock one back on lunch break). Despite these studies, the fear drum is continually being pounded with the message that consumption of even the smallest quantity of alcohol during pregnancy will cause great harm to the fetus.
According to the La Leche article “Anatomy of a Working Breast”:
“The level of alcohol in the milk drops as a mother’s blood levels drop. It takes two to three hours for a 120-pound woman to eliminate from her body the amount of alcohol found in a single glass of wine or beer. When the alcohol is eliminated from her blood, it is also gone from her milk. ”
A meta analysis of the scientific literature shows that moderate consumption of alcohol does not increase the risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
*Alcohol is a natural by-product of the fermentation process. The amount varies based on several factors.
3. “Women shouldn’t start a detoxification program while pregnant because the toxins released in her body will be passed to the child through the breast milk.”
It is generally advised that during pregnancy, the focus ought to be on nutrition rather than detoxification. But what does “detox” mean? Isn’t it good to want to get rid of toxins to help the baby?
Detox is a natural process that occurs on a nightly basis. The organs are able to rest and release the gunk that has been built up. That is why upon arising, there is a need to purge. This process can be aided by the addition of specific herbs to support the organs of elimination (liver, kidneys, intestines, spleen, colon, uterus). Women detox every month with the shedding of their uterine lining. However, when the womb is occupied, best to give it the fuel it needs to grow a healthy baby.
In terms of nursing, Cleansingsite.com says, “The breasts are not eliminative channels so the Body Intelligence would never allow the source for baby food to become a cleansing channel, especially if a baby was nurturing on the breasts.”
On this same topic, the La Leche article states:
“In the first days after birth, there are gaps between the lactocytes, the cells that line the alveoli and either block or allow substances to enter. These gaps mean that substances pass rather freely into the milk in the first days of life. After a few days, the gaps close. From then on, it is harder for substances to cross the barrier between the blood and the milk.”
4. “Giving probiotics to an infant will interfere with the natural development of their immune system.”
I have to laugh out loud when I hear this argument. For what is an immunization other than a medical interference of the development of the immune system, presumably to protect the infant from contracting a disease or death. The United States is an increasingly toxic place to live. Now more than ever before, probiotic, living and whole foods are needed to counteract the auto-immune diseases, allergies and behavioral disorders that are the direct result of all this pollution.
5. “Caffeine consumption ought to be limited during pregnancy.”
According to the Organization of Teratology (study of birth defects) Information Specialists, consuming caffeine during pregnancy is okay in moderation (200mg per day). This warning from the FDA stems from research done in the 1980’s which showed that high doses of caffeine cause birth defects in rodents. Kombucha generally contains around 3-12mg of caffeine per 4oz serving.
Physiology of Pregnancy
When I was pregnant, I would get headaches and the only thing that helped them was a glass of KT and a cal-mag supplement.” – FB fan Sarah Faith Hodges
Kombucha can also help with some of the most common ailments that arise from pregnancy. The symptoms listed below are caused by the influx of hormones released that prepare the body for childbirth. Many of the physiological side effects of being pregnant can be assuaged by consuming Kombucha.
- Constipation, Heartburn and Indigestion – While pregnant, the esophagus relaxes, leading to an increase in heartburn. Digestive muscles also relax resulting in less peristaltic movements; that contribute to constipation. Kombucha is a well known remedy for constipation, indigestion, heartburn and other digestive issues. Drinking small amounts of KT in a large glass of water not only passes on the health benefits of the Kombucha but hydrates the body as well.
- Fatigue, Sleep Problems – Feelings of fatigue are normal. The body expends much energy supporting the growing child. Kombucha boosts energy without the crash and burn cycle of caffeine, all while delivering microdoses of B-vitamins.
- Hemorrhoids – Increased blood flow causes the veins to expand. Couple that with constipation and pressure from the uterus and pop goes the hemorrhoids. Make your own Kombucha suppositories to heal hemorrhoids
- Stretch Marks, Skin Changes – Skin is an amazing organ. It stretches to accommodate the growing baby. Applying Kombucha cultures topically can be effective at minmizing lines.
- Leg Cramps – Due to shifts in how much calcium is used by the body, cramping may occur. Drinking KT with calcium supplements increases the amount of calcium absorbable by the body. Adding crushed eggshells to KT will mellow the flavor and increase carbonation as well.
All things considered, for me, the answer to this question is Yes, Kombucha tea is safe to drink while pregnant or nursing – but there are caveats. Many women have consumed Kombucha both while pregnant and when nursing and have received many benefits. There are also those who choose to abstain and also those for whom their body sends a very strong signal that it should not be consumed at all while they are with child.
Since I’ve not experienced pregnancy myself, I turned to my readers to share their thoughts.
The Reader’s Speak
The poll question on facebook was “Did you drink KT while you were pregnant?” There were 24 responses (see them for yourself here and share your answer while you’re there).
“No and won’t until I’m done breastfeeding.” – Holly Bechiri
The most common reasons cited for not drinking Kombucha during pregnancy have been outlined above. For some women, this choice makes the most sense. In the end, if uncertainty remains, then abstinence puts the mind at ease. Oftentimes Kombucha consumption recommences once the child is fully weaned.
“I used to drink Kombucha but then couldn’t stand it when I got pregnant,” – Vanessa Quednau
This reaction may seem extreme but it is the perfect example of instinct in action. Vanessa is not alone in her physical response to KT. My friend, Jenn C., confided, “I love Ginger Berry and used to drink a bottle a few times a week, but when I became pregnant, something shifted. My sense of smell became more sensitive and even just the smell of it made me gag.” It is imperative that you listen to the signals your body is sending you when making this decision. Trust your gut!
“Every day!” – Bridget Cabibi-Wilkin
Many regular consumers of Kombucha continue their habit into pregnancy and breastfeeding. Karen M @ Food Renegade posted about her experience as a regular KT drinker who made the decision to drink it during pregnancy. She offers some useful guidelines and tips including staying hydrated and drinking small amounts.
A common observation from breast feeding moms is that drinking KT increases milk supply. FB user Sarah Grace Long noted, “I drank KT during both my pregnancies, and drink it now while breastfeeding my daughter, and drank it while i was breastfeeding my son. i used to drink synergy, and now i brew it myself.” When drinking Kombucha on a regular basis, homebrewing makes the most sense for many reasons.
Caveats for Consumption
- Drink small amounts of Kombucha at a time 2-6oz.
- Increase consumption of water. Or drink Kombucha water by adding a few ounces to a glass of water.
- Listen to your body! If at anytime it doesn’t smell good or taste good to you, then don’t continue to drink it.
If you’ve never drunk Kombucha prior to being pregnant, it is generally a good idea to start with small doses and to observe how your body reacts. Those with a regular Kombucha habit can generally continue but again, listen to the signals your body is sending you. While you may decide not to consume KT during pregnancy, it is always possible to resume again once the body is ready.
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Is it safe to drink kombucha during pregnancy?
Is kombucha safe to drink during pregnancy?
Officially, no. But if you choose the right kind, the risk is low. There are four potential concerns: alcohol, caffeine, acidity, and contamination.
Alcohol: All kombucha has some amount of alcohol in it. Even "non-alcoholic" kombucha has up to 0.5 percent alcohol by volume, or around a tenth of what’s in an average beer.
Since there’s no level of alcohol that’s known to be safe during pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises giving up alcohol entirely. Check with your doctor on this issue. (If you’re breastfeeding, the small amount of alcohol should not be a concern.)
Note that there are lots of "hard" kombuchas on the market with as much alcohol as beer (anywhere from 1 to 8 percent alcohol), and they can be tricky to spot. The more alcoholic ones are usually in the beer section, but always check the labels carefully. Home-brewed kombucha has up to 3 percent alcohol.
Caffeine: Kombucha is made by fermenting sweetened tea, which has about 25 to 50 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce serving, but the fermentation process tends to reduce that amount quite a bit.
Most doctors advise pregnant women to keep their caffeine from all sources to under 200 mg per day. As long as you don’t have much other caffeine, the amount in kombucha should not be a problem while pregnant or breastfeeding. But check the label since some brands add caffeine for a more "energizing" drink.
Acidity: When it’s done fermenting, kombucha has some acetic acid — that’s what gives it that vinegary smell and taste. It’s about as acidic as soda, which can cause heartburn and tooth decay. (Some brands of kombucha also have added sugars, so check the label.) As long as it doesn’t upset your stomach, fizzy drinks are probably fine now and then — just rinse out your mouth to protect your teeth.
Contamination: Many manufacturers use heat or chemicals to stop the fermentation process while making kombucha. This kills off the bacteria and yeast and keeps them from making too much alcohol or acetic acid. Depending on the brand, the drink might be flash pasteurized (heated to 160 F for 15 seconds) or preserved with potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate. Safety-wise, these sterilized drinks should be okay to drink.
However, many manufacturers make raw (unpasteurized) kombucha which can get contaminated with mold or bad bacteria somewhere in the process. Doctors advise against eating raw foods or undercooked foods while pregnant — things like soft cheeses, sushi, or runny eggs — because of the risk of food poisoning. Even raw veggies, sprouts, and salads can sometimes cause problems. It’s best to avoid raw kombucha while pregnant, especially any raw homemade brews.
Is kombucha good for you?
Kombucha is made from tea, so it should have the same antioxidants and minerals that any tea would have. It also contains varying amounts of probiotics or live “good” bacteria that can help gut health. But you can easily get probiotics from eating foods like kefir or yogurt with live active cultures, or fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.
Kombucha is marketed as a healthy "cure-all" drink, but a recent review was not able to find a single published controlled study of kombucha in people.
With so many considerations, it’s probably best to steer clear of kombucha during pregnancy. But, if you choose to drink kombucha, make sure to avoid the raw, alcoholic versions, and be careful with the high caffeine ones.
Wellness kombucha while mama pregnant
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