Before you got pregnant, you didn’t pay that much attention to nutrition labels. (Trans fat? What’s a trans fat?) But now that you’ve got a baby in tow, you don’t let anything near your body unless it’s been approved by your OB-GYN…or at least heavily Googled at 3 a.m.
One of the trickiest topics to maneuver? Herbal tea. Because the ingredients and strengths of herbal teas can vary depending on the manufacturer, and since there haven’t been many herbal tea studies conducted on pregnant women, there isn’t a lot of information out there about which herbal teas are safe to drink. But if you’re wondering whether or not it’s safe to keep drinking your nightly cup of chamomile, read on.
What Is Chamomile Tea, Anyway?
Chamomile tea is made by soaking dried chamomile flowers in hot water. The potency of the tea depends on the manufacturer and how long the tea is steeped. Chamomile contains flavonoids—naturally occurring plant pigments that are present in many nutritious fruits and veggies. Foods with flavonoids have a host of health benefits, including, according to promising research, the potential to reduce risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.
Chamomile tea bags are sold at grocery stores, health food stores and drugstores across the country, and can also be purchased on Amazon. You can also make chamomile tea by soaking the dried flowers (also available online and at health food stores) directly in hot water.
Is Chamomile Tea Safe to Drink While Pregnant?
This is a tricky one. We polled several obstetricians, and the general consensus is that drinking chamomile tea is a personal decision you should make with your doctor. There is no hard-and-fast rule as to whether or not chamomile is definitely safe or definitely unsafe. Because there is so little research in regard to pregnant women and chamomile tea, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Could chamomile tea be safe for some pregnant women and not for others? It's a tough call, because research is so lacking. In a study conducted by doctors at Case Western Reserve University (including Sanjay Gupta), the benefits and risks of chamomile tea have been researched extensively amongst the general population. However, it is noted that safety in pregnant and nursing women “has not been established, although there have not been any credible reports of toxicity caused by this common beverage tea.”
Why the complete lack of evidence when it comes to moms-to-be? "Pregnant women are considered a vulnerable population, so, in general, researchers aren't permitted to experiment on pregnant women," Jacqueline Wolf, a professor of the history of medicine in the Department of Social Medicine at Ohio University, told NPR.
"Given the lack of evidence about its long-term safety, chamomile is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding," WebMD reports. Hmm, fair enough. Unless you clear it with your doc, steering clear sounds like the best policy.
Health Benefits of Chamomile Tea
Pregnant or not, what’s so great about chamomile tea, anyway? Basically, it has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and astringent properties—in fact, it’s been used as a popular medicinal herb for centuries, dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece. According to the Case Western Reserve study, chamomile has been proven to help reduce symptoms of the common cold, gastrointestinal conditions and throat soreness and hoarseness. It’s also widely touted as a sleep aid (which is why your grandma probably tried to push chamomile tea on you as a kid when you were all riled up before bed).
Chamomile is also widely recommended as an effective home remedy to reduce anxiety. In a 2016 study published by the National Institutes of Health, subjects diagnosed with moderate-to-sever generalized anxiety disorder were given 1500mg of chamomile extract every day for 12 weeks. Chamomile was found to be safe and effective in significantly reducing GAD symptoms. While chamomile extract contains a much higher dose than your average cup of tea, you may also reap the anxiety reducing benefits by slowly sipping a warm cup and taking deep breaths.
Risks of Chamomile Tea
While chamomile tea is largely considered safe (for the non-pregnant population, anyway), it can cause vomiting if you take it in large doses, warns WebMD. Additionally, if you have an allergy to any plant in the daisy family (like marigolds, ragweed and chrysanthemums), you may develop an allergic reaction after consuming chamomile tea. Chamomile may also interact with some medications, including ibuprofen and aspirin, so talk to your doctor before consuming the tea in large amounts.
Chamomile tea isn't regulated, so the amount of chamomile present in the cup of tea you're drinking will vary by the manufacturer If you're concerned about the dosage of chamomile you're taking, chamomile extract or capsules (which contain regulated doses) may be a better alternative.
What Can I Drink Instead?
If you’d rather be safe than sorry, you may feel more comfortable ditching chamomile tea during your pregnancy. If so, there are plenty of other beverages you can try instead.
While hot water with lemon isn’t exactly a glamorous swap, it will keep you hydrated and satisfy your desire for a warm, soothing beverage to sip before bed. Best of all, it’s completely safe, you can drink as many cups as you want and you don’t have to clear it with your OB ahead of time. (Win, win, win.)
Black and green teas contain caffeine, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists maintains that 200 mg of caffeine per day is unlikely to cause harm to you or your unborn baby. (For reference, a cup of black tea has about 47 mg of caffeine.) Your doctor might have a different opinion, so check with him or her before incorporating caffeinated tea into your daily routine.
Like chamomile tea, the effects of herbal teas on pregnant women have not been significantly studied. Fruit-based teas, like blackberry or peach tea, are likely safe, but check the ingredients to determine that the tea doesn’t contain a blend of herbs that could be dangerous during pregnancy. For instance, hibiscus is a common ingredient in many herbal teas, but it is not safe for pregnant women. Lemon balm tea is also generally considered safe according to the American Pregnancy Association, but check with your doctor before you try it.
In the third trimester, raspberry red leaf tea is a popular choice among pregnant women all over the world. One-third of midwives in the United States recommend raspberry red leaf tea to stimulate labor, according to a recent study published by Integrative Medicine. Another study conducted by the Holistic Nurses Association in New South Wales found that women who drank the tea were 11 percent less likely than those who did not to require forceps during delivery. Even the American Pregnancy Association approves, suggesting that the tea can be safely consumed while pregnant and can both decrease the length of labor and reduce the chances of needing assisted delivery or a C-section. For some women, raspberry red leaf tea can trigger contractions, so get the go-ahead from your doctor or midwife before you drink it.