Chai tea, also known as masala chai, is a fragrant, spicy beverage originating on the Indian subcontinent. This delicious concoction includes black tea with a combination of herbal seasonings. When consumed in moderation, chai tea and similar drinks are considered safe for use during pregnancy, with some caveats. Not all herbs are safe during pregnancy. Consult your obstetrician or midwife with any questions regarding the use of caffeine or herbal teas during any stage of gestation.
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Black tea is the primary ingredient in traditional chai beverages. Some manufacturers also offer novel chai drinks made with green or white tea leaves. Cardamon, ginger and black pepper provide bold, spicy flavors to the drink. Other ingredients may include cinnamon, star-anise, fennel seed, saffron, clove, nutmeg, rose, licorice or almond. When used in moderation, most of chai's ingredients are considered to be safe during pregnancy. However, some may theoretically increase the risk of pregnancy complications.
Traditional chai tea contains roughly 40-50 milligrams of caffeine per cup. According to the American Pregnancy Association, caffeine does cross the placenta and may affect a growing fetus. Excessive caffeine consumption during pregnancy may cause miscarriage, birth defects and other complications during pregnancy. The APA recommends limiting your caffeine consumption as much as possible and limiting your total caffeine intake to 150 milligrams per day.
Some chai beverages contain hormone-affecting herbs such as fennel, star-anise or licorice root. According to a report by the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, these sweet-tasting plants contain estrogenic compounds that have been used historically to promote menstruation and induce labor. Chai drinks containing these herbs may cause miscarriage or preterm birth, particularly if they are used frequently or during a high-risk pregnancy.
For some women, chai tea's potential risks during pregnancy may be greater. A woman carrying a high-risk pregnancy may be at a greater risk of experiencing preterm labor after exposure to anise seed. Obstetricians and midwives generally advise women with pre-eclampsia, or pregnancy related hypertension, to avoid any source of caffeine. Caffeinated chai tea is also a powerful diuretic and may cause fluid loss; this could lead to dehydration and subsequent preterm labor.
Several common-sense precautions can prevent any dangers associated with chai tea. Decaffeinated formulas can prevent any potential problems associated with excessive caffeine consumption. Although trace amounts of fennel and anise are considered to be safe in moderation, it is prudent to choose chai drinks that do not contain these hormone-affecting herbs. Discuss any concerns with your prenatal health care provider, particularly if you have a medical condition or a complicated pregnancy.