Although kombucha originated in China thousands of years ago, this fermented tea has recently regained popularity due to its potential health benefits.
Kombucha tea offers the same health benefits as drinking black or green tea and provides healthy probiotics.
However, the safety of drinking kombucha during pregnancy and breastfeeding is quite controversial.
This article explores kombucha and the potential problems associated with drinking it during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented beverage often made from black or green tea.
The process of preparing kombucha can vary. However, it typically consists of a double fermentation process.
Generally, a SCOBY (a flat, round culture of bacteria and yeast) is placed into sweetened tea and fermented at room temperature for a few weeks.
The kombucha is then transferred into bottles and left to ferment for another 1–2 weeks to carbonate, resulting in a slightly sweet, slightly acidic, and refreshing beverage.
From there, kombucha is kept refrigerated to decelerate fermentation and carbonation.
You can find kombucha in grocery stores, but some people brew it themselves, which requires careful preparation and monitoring.
Kombucha has increased in sales recently due to its perceived health benefits. It is a good source of probiotics, which provide your gut with healthy bacteria.
Probiotics are associated with various health benefits, including digestive health, weight loss, and potentially helping reduce systemic inflammation.
Summary: Kombucha is a fermented tea, usually brewed from green or black tea. It has recently gained popularity due to its potential health benefits, specifically its probiotic content.
Concerns about drinking kombucha while pregnant or breastfeeding
Although kombucha offers many health benefits, there are some things to remember before consuming it while pregnant or nursing.
Kombucha contains alcohol
The fermentation process of kombucha tea results in the production of alcohol in trace amounts.
Kombucha sold commercially as a “non-alcoholic” beverage still contains very small amounts of alcohol but can contain no more than 0.5%, according to Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulations.
A 0.5% alcohol content is not a lot and is the same amount found in most non-alcoholic beers.
However, federal agencies continue to recommend completely restricting alcohol consumption during all trimesters of pregnancy. The CDC also states that all types of alcohol can be equally harmful.
Plus, it is important to understand that kombucha produced by homebrewers tends to have a higher alcohol content, with some brews noted to have up to 3%.
Alcohol can pass into breast milk if consumed by the breastfeeding mother.
Generally, it takes 1–2 hours for your body to metabolize one serving of alcohol (12-ounce beer, 5-ounce wine, or 1.5-ounce spirit).
Although the amount of alcohol found in kombucha is much less than one serving of alcohol, it should still be considered, as babies metabolize alcohol much slower than adults.
Therefore, waiting a while before breastfeeding after consuming kombucha may not be a bad idea.
The effects of alcohol consumption in minute amounts during pregnancy or while nursing are still undetermined. However, with uncertainty, there is always a risk.
Kombucha is unpasteurized
Pasteurization is a method of heat processing beverages and food to kill harmful bacteria, such as listeria and salmonella.
When kombucha is in its purest form, it has not been pasteurized.
The FDA recommends avoiding unpasteurized products during pregnancy, including milk, soft cheeses, and raw juices, as these may contain harmful bacteria.
Suggested read: Caffeine while breastfeeding: How much can you safely have?
Exposure to pathogens like listeria could harm pregnant women and their unborn babies, increasing the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.
Kombucha could become contaminated with harmful bacteria
Although more likely to happen in home-brewed kombucha than commercially prepared beverages, kombucha can become contaminated with harmful pathogens.
Unfortunately, the same environment needed to produce the friendly and beneficial probiotics in kombucha is the same environment that harmful pathogens and bacteria like to grow in as well.
This is why brewing kombucha under sanitary conditions and proper handling are paramount.
Kombucha contains caffeine
Since kombucha is traditionally made with either green or black tea, it does contain caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and can freely cross the placenta and enter a baby’s bloodstream.
The amount of caffeine found in kombucha varies but is something to keep in mind, especially as your body takes longer to process caffeine during pregnancy.
Additionally, for breastfeeding mothers, a small percentage of caffeine ends up in breast milk.
If you are a breastfeeding mom and consuming high amounts of caffeine, it could cause your baby to become irritable and promote wakefulness.
Because of this, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to limit caffeine consumption to no more than 200 mg per day.
Most studies show that drinking caffeine during pregnancy in moderation is safe and has no harmful effects on your fetus.
However, some studies show that increased caffeine consumption may be related to detrimental effects, including miscarriage, low birth weight, and premature birth.
Summary: Kombucha may not be the safest choice of beverage during pregnancy or nursing due to its alcohol and caffeine content and lack of pasteurization. Also, kombucha, especially when home-brewed, could become contaminated.
Kombucha is a fermented beverage rich in probiotics that offers some health benefits.
Suggested read: Is wine gluten-free?
However, when it comes to drinking kombucha during pregnancy or while nursing, there are some important risks to consider.
Although there are no large-scale studies on the effects of drinking kombucha during pregnancy, it may be best to avoid kombucha during pregnancy and breastfeeding because of its small alcohol content, caffeine content, and lack of pasteurization.
Ultimately, the microbiological makeup of this fermented tea is rather complex, and further research is warranted to understand its benefits and safety fully.
If you want to add probiotic foods to your diet during pregnancy or nursing, try yogurt with active live cultures, kefir made from pasteurized milk, or fermented foods like sauerkraut.