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Lots of wonderful experiences come with being pregnant, but trying to figure out what’s safe to eat isn’t one of them.

Most people know they should avoid alcohol and raw tuna, among other popular items. But if you’re trying to avoid coffee — since you need to limit your caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams per day — simply grabbing any herbal tea as a substitute isn’t the greatest idea, either.

For the sake of this deeper dive, let’s take on hibiscus tea and see what the research says about its safety for you and baby.

Hibiscus is a flowering plant that’s often consumed as a hot or cold tea when the flower’s dried petals are brewed.

Commonly found in areas with a tropical climate, the hibiscus plant has a wide range of uses beyond teas and floral landscapes. Various parts of the plant are used to create paper, rope, and even folk medicines.

In particular, hibiscus tea is rich in antioxidants, and it’s even been suggested that it can help:

  • reduce blood pressure
  • support weight loss
  • fight bacteria

Additionally, the plant may help improve liver health. Plus, it may contain some compounds that can potentially act as cancer preventives.

While hibiscus tea offers plenty of health benefits, it’s usually not recommended if you’re pregnant or lactating.

Although studies pointing to potential risks during pregnancy were conducted in animals, according to a 2013 review, the findings are concerning enough to strongly discourage its consumption in human pregnancy as well.

Specifically, two risks that often come up — based on animal studies, mind you — are delayed puberty and miscarriage.

Delayed puberty

In 2016, a paper released a study on the impact of consuming hibiscus extract in pregnant rats. Through the study, researchers found that the extract had the potential to delay puberty in offspring and also increased the risk of obesity and an elevated body mass index (BMI).

Additional studies, such as one conducted in 2008 on pregnant rats, also support these findings. In this study, researchers noted that regularly consuming hibiscus not only delayed puberty in offspring, but also caused maternal malnutrition.

Menstruation and miscarriage

Along with the risk of delayed puberty in your baby, hibiscus tea has also been associated with encouraging the onset of menstruation, according to 2019 research.

Specifically, hibiscus helps to regulate hormones that impact your period. For those with irregular or asymmetrical periods, hibiscus supplements can help balance them out.

But if you’re pregnant, you don’t necessarily want your hormones messed with.

Known as the emmenagogue effect, hibiscus tea and extracts can encourage blood flow to the uterus to help stimulate menstruation. Side effects, in theory, can include cramping, bleeding, early labor, and even miscarriage.

Further research is needed in this area.

Knowing that hibiscus tea can encourage labor may have you — especially if you’re exhausted and full term — wondering if sipping a bit of tea can help your little one make their debut into the world.

As tempting as it might be to down a cup of hibiscus tea to help speed up the onset of labor, it’s safest to completely avoid hibiscus throughout your pregnancy — including the third trimester and once you’ve reached full term.

Full disclosure: Most studies that focus on the use of hibiscus in pregnant animals are targeted toward hibiscus supplements and herbal blends that also contain the plant.

Meanwhile, most commercially sold hibiscus teas contain far less of the plant extract than you would find in supplements or homemade blends.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that hibiscus can be found in a variety of products — even when it’s not listed on the packaging. This is especially true in herbal tea blends that might also contain rosehip and raspberry, two ingredients commonly blended with hibiscus.

So, for peace of mind, it might be best to avoid herbal tea blends that don’t clearly list all of the included ingredients.

Whereas hibiscus tea is strongly discouraged during pregnancy, the herbal ingredient is known as a galactagogue. A galactagogue is a natural supplement that can aid in improving milk supply.

Still, just as with pregnancy, scientific research into the efficacy of various galactagogues — including hibiscus — is thin to nonexistent, with most people relying on anecdotal evidence. In other cases, the results from the few studies that do exist (like this small 2010 controlled trial) have been inconclusive.

And according to experts from organizations such as La Leche League International (LLLI), prioritizing galactagogues like hibiscus is unnecessary if you’re following a diet that’s rich in fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains, protein, and high-quality fats.

Unfortunately, hibiscus tea isn’t the only tea that you should avoid during pregnancy.

Though not all of these are strictly forbidden during all three trimesters, keep an eye out for these common herbal ingredients and speak with a doctor before you take a sip while pregnant:

  • peppermint (avoid during first trimester)
  • chamomile (avoid during first trimester)
  • red raspberry leaf (get a doctor’s OK to use during third trimester to ease labor)
  • licorice
  • ginseng
  • dong quai
  • Angelica
  • wormwood
  • shepherd’s purse
  • cinnamon
  • fennel
  • St. John’s wort
  • basil and oregano (as a condiment or flavoring agent these are fine)
  • rhubarb
  • rosemary
  • fenugreek

Herbal teas can seem like a great alternative to caffeinated drinks like coffee and soda. But not all herbal teas are created equal.

It’s important to be aware of which teas are safe to drink, as well as when you can drink them.

Hibiscus tea is one of many teas that hasn’t been well studied for use in pregnancy.

So, in the absence of conclusive evidence showing whether or not it’s safe to consume it, it’s best to skip the hibiscus tea until you deliver your little bundle of joy.