Mother's Tea: Ideas for Mom
As a tea guru and local celebrity, I'm always solicited for advice. Among these questions, one of the most frequent is, "is it okay to drink tea when I'm pregnant?" (I then remind my brother that he cannot get pregnant).
In honor of Mother's Day (and in all seriousness), I'll tackle this question and more. This month's TeaMuse will discuss which teas to stay away from and which to enjoy when you've got a "bun in the oven."
First and foremost: kick the caffeine. While small quantities of caffeine are considered acceptable by most doctors, it is advantageous to cut out as much caffeine as possible. Pregnant women metabolize caffeine slower than other adults. The caffeine can also enter the bloodstream of the baby, quickening the heartbeat and possibly also impairing development. Remember, there are many sources of caffeine besides coffee and tea, including chocolate, soda and some over-the-counter medications, so any chance to not ingest caffeine should be taken.
Unfortunately, this means that "real" teas (those from the Camellia Sinensis plant) are not recommended. Even "real" teas that have been decaffeinated contain trace amounts of caffeine, so therefore should be dismissed. Have no fear, though, there are delicious and healthy alternatives found in tisanes, or herbal teas.
Practically all herbal teas on the market are completely and naturally caffeine free, and many are considered beneficial for pregnant women. Although no U.S. regulations specifically address herbal teas, any herb considered fine for food use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is presumed to be safe for teas as well. It is suggested to steer clear of unfamiliar ingredients and look on packaging labels for contents that may normally be part of your diet (such as mint or orange extracts); choose them over unfamiliar substances (such as cohosh, pennyroyal, and mugwort, all best avoided during pregnancy). Avoid herbal teas that contain ingredients such as "Ma Huang" or "ephedra" as well.
In South Africa, the drink of choice of expectant mothers is Rooibos "Red" tea. This caffeine-free herbal infusion has been shown to soothe the body's reaction to allergy and rashes (At an herbal store, you'll probably find Rooibos under the name "Herbal Allergy tea" due to this natural allergy-fighting quality). Recent studies have shown that Rooibos tea may also have a significant amount of antioxidants (health-inducing compounds), comparable to those found in green tea.
Relief of the aches and pains associated with pregnancy is another way in which herbal teas may aid expecting mothers. The first instinct may be for Chamomile, since it is famous for its relaxing effects. However, this is a member of the Ragweed family, so may potentially cause the child to have an allergic reaction. Instead, I'd recommend Peppermint. This has been used for millennia, dating back to the Greeks, as a caffeine-free home remedy that also promotes relaxation for moms-to-be. In addition, it has been shown to sooth the stomach, especially useful for those that are prone to morning sickness.
Possibly the most useful herb I've found for pregnant women is called Raspberry Leaf. Women of the Cherokee nation traditionally drank Raspberry Leaf tea, now used all over the world. It helps prepare the womb for birth by relaxing and strengthening the uterus, and also helps nausea, and supports general gastrointestinal health. Besides being consumed regularly during pregnancy, proponents of this herb claim that women should drink raspberry tea during labor to help ease the process. The flavor Raspberry Leaf is more reminiscent to black tea than berries, infusing to a deep amber color and full-bodied taste.
Some cautions apply to teas touted for pregnant women. While the makers of "pregnancy teas" promote their products as an all-around aid and tonic for expectant moms, very few of them have actual clinical studies to support these claims. Pregnancy teas sold in health food stores and in the natural products sections of markets usually include ingredients such as strawberry leaf, lemon grass leaf, nettle leaf, alfalfa, fennel seed, rosehips, and lemon verbena - all safe. But to be sure, check the ingredients... and always check with your doctor.
As an endnote, I wanted to share one of the weirdest pieces of advice I picked up when compiling the research for this article. This seems to be a custom in many cultures worldwide: pregnant women should stay out of the wind. Some folks even take this as far as to not let the pregnant woman (or the child) leave the house for 30 days before and after the expected date of birth.
Many healthy, happy cups and a Happy Mother's Day to all mothers and moms-to-be!