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, along with providing 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 when breastfeeding.
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 (1).
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 usually kept refrigerated in order to decelerate the fermentation and carbonation process.
You can find kombucha in grocery stores, but some people chose to brew their kombucha 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 even helping reduce systemic inflammation (, , ).
Summary Kombucha is a fermented tea, usually brewed from green or black tea. It has gained popularity in recent years due to its potential health benefits, specifically from its probiotic content.
Although kombucha offers many health benefits, there are some things to keep in mind before consuming it while pregnant or nursing.
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 (8).
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 home-brewers 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 ().
In general, 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 at a much slower rate than adults ().
Therefore, it may not be a bad idea to wait a while before breastfeeding after consuming kombucha.
The effects of alcohol consumption in minute amounts during pregnancy or while nursing are still undetermined. However, with uncertainty, there is always a risk.
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.
Exposure to harmful pathogens, such as listeria, could harm pregnant women and their unborn babies, including increasing the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth (, ).
Could Become Contaminated With Harmful Bacteria
Although more likely to happen in home-brewed kombucha than commercially prepared beverages, it is possible for kombucha to become contaminated with harmful pathogens.
This is why brewing kombucha under sanitary conditions and proper handling are of utmost importance.
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 effect on your fetus ().
However, some studies show that increased consumption of caffeine 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.
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 fully understand its benefits and safety.
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.