Caffeine is a stimulant that helps people feel alert and awake. That's why sleep-deprived mums turn to a hot cup of tea or coffee in a morning. On average there is around 47 mg of caffeine in a cup of tea and green teas can contain between 20-45 mg per cup. However, expecting mums to be and new mothers are advised to significantly reduce their intake of caffeine when pregnant and while breastfeeding. This is due to the potential negative effects for both mothers and babies.
So, what do you need to know about caffeine and pregnancy?
Is it okay to drink caffeine during pregnancy?
According to the NHS website (1), expecting mums should consume no more than 200mg as a daily caffeine limit. This roughly equates to a maximum daily allowance of two cups of tea or instant coffee.
However, when you look closer into this, other guidelines such as in the British Medical Journal, suggest it is best to quit caffeine completely during pregnancy to be safe. It implies that there is a clear trend of high caffeine intake and increased negative outcomes during pregnancy as caffeine can reduce blood flow in the placenta (2). Unfortunately, they advise that high caffeine consumption may lead to a higher likelihood of birth defects, miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and childhood obesity (2). Also, the NHS provides recommended daily limits of caffeine during breastfeeding as the stimulant can reach your baby through breast milk (3).
This means that new mums and mums to be, who are hooked on mind-boosting tea, must be search for equally as delicious alternatives.
What is decaffeinated or decaf tea?
Most expecting mothers will immediately think about switching to decaffeinated tea as the decaffeination process removes the majority of caffeine from tea leaves. For the most part, decaf tea is a good alternative for pregnant women looking to reduce their intake. However, a cup of decaf tea can still contain around 1-4mg of caffeine.
How is tea decaffeinated and the caffeine removed?
1. Tea leaves are mixed with liquid carbon dioxide and under high pressure and temperatures, which in turn attracts caffeine out of the leaves
2. Tea leaves are soaked in ethyl acetate chemical solvent to remove caffeine however in the process this alters the flavour of the tea itself leaving a more bitter taste
3. Tea leaves are soaked in methylene chloride and then sifted to remove the caffeine content from the leaves. (4)
This process can affect the flavour of decaf tea. Also, it has been reported to cause the loss of around 70% of the polyphenols, which are beneficial antioxidants usually found in black tea (5). So, given the removal of antioxidants and low but still remaining level of caffeine, what are the health alternatives that contain no caffeine?
What tea can I drink during pregnancy?
There are popular alternatives to green and black teas that naturally contain no caffeine. Typically, these originate from herbal plants which contain zero caffeine and therefore do not need any harsh chemical processing to remove unwanted caffeine. Herbal teas are a popular choice for pregnant women, but it is recommended to limit herbal tea intake during pregnancy. The NHS website recommends no more than 4 cups of herbal tea a day but always consult your doctor to understand the best approach for you.
1. Rooibos tea
Rooibos tea, produced from the Aspalathus linearis plant, is a great option for expecting mums. Studies have shown it to be safe to drink during pregnancy and breastfeeding (6). Some of the key benefits of rooibos tea are that it is high in antioxidants, it contains calcium and magnesium. Additionally, it is low in tannins so unlike black it has little effect on the absorption of iron. Rooibos tea has also been linked to supporting digestion and easing reflux sometimes affected during pregnancy (7). Like traditional black teas, rooibos tea has a full-bodied taste and can be enjoyed with or without milk.
2. Honeybush tea
Honeybush tea comes from the Cyclopia intermedia plant and grows on the eastern and western cape regions of South Africa. Similar to rooibos, honeybush is naturally caffeine free and high in antioxidants. It has a naturally sweeter taste than rooibos providing another full-bodied option during pregnancy. Find out more about our Vanilla Orchid & Honeybush tea blend.
Herbal teas are a popular choice for pregnant women, but doctors do recommend limiting herbal tea intake during pregnancy so always consult your doctor on herbal tea consumption. The NHS website recommends no more than 4 cups of herbal tea a day.
3. Nettle leaves
Nettle leaves are an excellent source of vitamin A, C, K and potassium, plus they are thought to contain anti-inflammatory properties. Enjoying nettle leaves as a tea is suggested to be safe during the second and third trimesters, however it is important not to drink too much as it can have a stimulating effect on the uterus. (8)
4. Peppermint tea
Consuming peppermint tea can help with morning sickness, relieve flatulence and has antispasmodic properties helping with stomach cramps. Despite the potential benefits, during pregnancy it’s probably wise to drink no more than 1 to 2 cups of peppermint tea per day. (9)
Always remember to always consult your doctor before making any dietary changes.
(9) Terzioglu Bebitoglu B. Frequently Used Herbal Teas During Pregnancy - Short Update. Medeni Med J. 2020;35(1):55-61.