Why Drinking Kombucha During Pregnancy Is Controversial

updated May 30, 2019
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If you want to get involved in an internet argument that doesn’t involve political parties or Constitutional amendments, ask for someone’s opinion about kombucha. There are passionate debates online about its benefits (or lack thereof), about the right and wrong ways to make it, and presumably about the most picturesque locations for drinking it.

But there also seems to be a lot of varied thoughts — and thought processes — about the safety of drinking it while you’re pregnant.

If you read the message boards on sites like The Bump or Babycenter, questions about whether moms-to-be should have kombucha are answered with either an enthusiastic yes or a cautious no. (And bless the heart of the woman who said she wasn’t sure, but she’d seen Bethenny Frankel drinking it “all the time” on Bethenny Getting Married).

The Good Stuff

1. It might help with constipation and heartburn.

Some pregnant moms like drinking kombucha because of its perceived ability to prevent (or alleviate) constipation, and because there is anecdotal evidence that it helps with heartburn.

2. It can provide probiotic benefits.

Others drink kombucha for its potential probiotic content. “I felt that the benefits of the fermentation, such as the probiotics, enzymes, and B vitamins, could be beneficial for my microbiome and the baby’s as well,” Katharine Emmerich said of her decision to drink kombucha during her second pregnancy.

Emmerich’s husband is a kombucha brewer, so she had a well of information to consider when making this the choice to drink kombucha during her pregnancy.

“We had so much new knowledge of the benefits of probiotics during pregnancy for my second pregnancy, which definitely impacted my decisions,” she explained.

It should be noted, however, that most probiotic benefits only extend to kombucha that is unpasteurized, which is something pregnant women will want to take into consideration.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

1. It contains alcohol.

Despite the potential benefits, kombucha also contains a slight amount of alcohol, which is produced during the fermentation process.

How much alcohol is in kombucha has been a point of contention for manufacturers — and for the U.S. government. In 2010, Whole Foods temporarily stopped selling the beverage after some bottles had an alcohol content of up to 2.5% by volume. The major manufacturers changed their formulas, regular testing procedures were put in place, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau continues to insist that the ABV percentage remains below 0.5%.

No, that’s not a lot of alcohol (it’s about the same as a non-alcoholic beer), but any alcohol consumed during pregnancy could be too much alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that “any level of alcohol use” can be harmful to a developing baby, and that includes “all types of alcohol.”

2. It can develop mold and bacteria.

If that doesn’t sound complicated enough, both unpasteurized kombucha and the home-brewed varieties can develop mold or less-than-friendly bacteria if the bottles are stored improperly, stored too long, or brewed in unsanitary conditions.

“Pregnant and breastfeeding women should probably avoid kombucha due to the risk of harmful bacteria, in particular from homemade kombucha,” registered dietitian Abby Langer told Kitchn. “It’s just not worth the risk.”

Emmerich was more concerned about the pasteurization process than the trace alcohol content. “I felt that the trace amount of alcohol (at the most 2%) was not a risk to my baby. I did wait until the second trimester to imbibe, though, and kept my intake under eight ounces a day,” she explained.

Emmerich also noted that she initially had her hesitation about the pasteurization process. “Kombucha in its purest form is unpasteurized, so should be approached similarly to unpasteurized cheeses.” She decided with her second pregnancy she was comfortable drinking kombucha because she “had confidence in the fermentation environment and so wasn’t worried about the lack of pasteurization.”

Did you drink kombucha when you were pregnant?

More on Kombucha (If You Do Drink It!)