Is Kombucha Safe for Pregnant People? Here's What Experts Say
While kombucha is far from being this magical elixir it's often touted to be, we do love popping open a bottle to reap the probiotic and antioxidant benefits. Plus, it's absolutely delicious! But is it safe for pregnant women to drink? We chatted with Kiarra King, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., OB/Gyn who is also a lifestyle, motherhood and wellness influencer to tread the murky waters (or should we say, tea) of whether or not pregnant people should drink kombucha.
First, What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is made by fermenting sweet tea with a funky little ingredient called SCOBY, which is an acronym for "symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast,"and it's also known as "the mother." This is a slimy, living, plant-based culture that is the kombucha's probiotic source. In short, a SCOBY is to kombucha as a starter is to sourdough bread. (Learn how to make your own SCOBY—and kombucha—here.)
Besides the SCOBY, a sugar source and tea (which is almost always green or black), the ingredients and amount of sugar can vary between kombucha brands. Most kombucha brands use cane sugar or stevia for sweetness promoting fermentation but others, like GT's Living Foods, use fruit juice with no sugar added, for those looking for an all-natural sweetener. Some brands, like Brew Dr. Kombucha, add herbs and spices to the mix for flavor and nutrient density, while others, like Upstart and Wonder Drink, even add functional ingredients like CBD or ashwagandha. There are also several popular "hard kombuchas" that are higher in alcohol, like Flying Embers, which have about the same ABV (alcohol by volume) as a light beer. Kombucha ingredient lists can run the gamut, so be sure to inspect the labels to be aware of sugar, alcohol and any additional contents before picking up a bottle.
Is Kombucha Safe for Pregnant People to Drink?
Of course, pregnant people should not consume hard kombucha since it contains alcohol, but what about the regular stuff? King, who is a big kombucha fan herself, says while she would generally recommend it to non-pregnant patients for a gut-health boost and as a healthier alternative to soda or sugary Starbucks lattes, she says it's better to be safe than sorry. King advises avoiding kombucha when pregnant, especially since there is little regulation around kombucha and several companies have recently come under fire for dishonesty in labeling.
"The main thing I could really think of that would make me advise against drinking kombucha is potentially the alcohol content," King says. "From what I've seen on bottles and read, most have around 0.5%, and in the grand scheme of things, it's probably negligent for the average person and can easily be metabolized. However, I tell women to steer clear from alcohol completely during pregnancy."
King notes that there isn't a lot of clinical research behind the effect of consuming alcohol at any level during pregnancy—mainly because experimentation would lead to some serious ethics violations—but there have been enough case studies and retrospective research to link consumption of alcohol during pregnancy with fetal alcohol syndrome and neural tube defects. And even though the ABV in your typical bottle of kombucha is far from the amount in your favorite cocktail or glass of chardonnay, she says it's better to air on the side of caution.
"The other thing is that we also recommend women steer clear of unpasteurized foods during pregnancy," says King. "The big thing I generally tell patients about is unpasteurized dairy and deli meats because there is the potential for bacterial contamination that could be harmful to both mother and baby. There's also a risk of cross contamination with Listeria or E.coli, and kombucha is literally made of living cultures and bacteria."
However, King says not to sweat it too much if you poured a glass of kombucha one day out of habit or consumed a bottle before you knew you were pregnant. While this isn't an excuse to "forget" and have a glass every other day, it doesn't need to be an added stressor during this important time if you did drink some on accident or were unknowingly served a mocktail where kombucha was an ingredient.
Additionally, while your average glass of kombucha contains less caffeine than the recommended daily limit for pregnant people (200 mcg), it is made from high-caffeine teas and could easily set you over your limit if you're already drinking coffee or a few cups of tea daily. Some brands, like Kevita Master Brew, has nearly 80mcg of the stuff while a 12-ounce cup of coffee already gets you to that 200 mcg limit for the day.
At the end of the day, it's always wise to chat with your physician or a dietitian about any questions you may have surrounding diet and nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle habits during this period.
Safe and Healthy Kombucha Alternatives for Pregnant People
Between curbing your caffeine intake, ditching alcohol and eliminating several other favorite foods from your diet, it can be frustrating to add yet another thing to the "do not consume while pregnant" list. However, there's never been a better time to be a temporary teetotaler as there has been so much innovation in non-alcoholic cocktails, spirits and more. There has also been a surge of prebiotic sodas, like Poppi and Olipop, that are sweetened with stevia and potentially offer some gut-health benefits.
King suggests finding a sparkling water brand you like and stocking up when you get a craving for something effervescent and flavorful. And while she encourages limiting sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, finding 100% real fruit juices and soda alternatives that you love can be great options. Check out our crowd-pleasing non-alcoholic drink recipes for when you want to elevate an occasion or just jazz up your Tuesday afternoon.
Staying properly hydrated during pregnancy is extremely important and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends drinking 8 to 12 cups a day. It may actually be helpful to focus on keeping your beverage intake simple by having some seltzer on hand. Plus, jazzing up water with fruit and herbs like mint or basil will only help encourage intake—and make it more fun.