It might be hard to picture an herbal tea as potentially harmful, but soothing teas such as chamomile have been the subject of some controversy for pregnant women. The stomach-settling and calming properties of chamomile can make it an attractive beverage when you're in your first trimester, but as with many things, moderation is key to prevent potential harm from some of the ingredients often included in herbal teas. You should weigh the pros and cons of drinking herbal teas during pregnancy with your doctor or midwife and then decide what works best for you.
All About Chamomile
There are two varieties of flowers that are generally attributed to chamomile. The more common German variety comes from the flower Matricaria recutita, and the less common Roman variety comes from the flower Chamaemelum nobile. German chamomile is used in teas and other supplements such as capsules and oils and is also used in ointments for skin care. The medicinal properties of the plant are not well described, but the herb is generally associated with the treatment of chest colds, sore throats, anxiety, ulcers and skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and acne.
Pregnancy Risks from Drinking Teas
In the early stages of pregnancy, it's best to avoid nonherbal teas such as black tea, green tea and oolong tea based on their caffeine content. Herbal teas such as chamomile don't contain caffeine, making them safer for pregnant women, but there is some controversy over the safety of certain herbs not fully described by the Food and Drug Administration. There is insufficient information to say for sure whether chamomile can cause harm to a pregnancy. As with many herbs, the full effects of chamomile, especially in association with other medicines and herbs, has not been studied conclusively. Chamomile is "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS, under Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, though the FDA has considered the touting of certain health benefits of chamomile to be in violation of laws prohibiting false marketing claims of drugs.
Information on the effects of herbal teas on pregnancy is very limited, but many pregnancy experts consider certain herbal teas to be beneficial to the health of you and your baby. Red raspberry leaf tea, for instance, "has been used for centuries to promote fertility, relieve menstrual cramps, provide nourishment during pregnancy and prepare for labor. It is full of calcium and acts to nourish and tone the uterus," according to George Washington University's Midwifery Guidelines for Optimal Nutrition and Exercise in Pregnancy.
Chamomile has a more complicated history. While some natural medicine proponents say that drinking chamomile tea in moderation does no harm, the University of Maryland Medical Center states in its Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide that "pregnant women should avoid chamomile because of the risk of miscarriage." Moderation is key with any herbal tea or supplement; in very high doses, some herbs such as chamomile may have unknown effects on the health of you or your baby.
"There's little information on the safety of herbal and green teas in pregnancy, so it's best to drink them in moderation," reports the United Kingdom's National Health Service. "The [Food Standards Agency] recommends drinking no more than around four cups of herbal or green tea a day during pregnancy, and to seek advice from your [doctor] or midwife if you are unsure about which herbal products are safe to consume.”
Allergen Risk of Chamomile for Pregnant Women
Chamomile flowers are closely related to other asters including the daisy and present a slight risk of allergic reaction in women with a history of hay fever. If you're allergic to daisies, ragweed or other asters, you should steer clear of chamomile altogether. If you're looking for a safe alternative to chamomile, there are pregnancy-safe teas available that are fully tested and certified. Ginger tea is an alternative tea that possesses some of the same stomach-soothing properties of chamomile, and red raspberry leaf tea is considered one of the most beneficial teas for a happy, healthy pregnancy, touted for helping prevent complications such as postpartum hemorrhage. As with all things pregnancy-related, consult with your doctor or midwife for the final verdict on health and safety.