Over the past week I have had numerous mothers ask me whether or not kombucha tea is safe to drink while breastfeeding. What is kombucha tea you ask? It is an ever growing popular health drink, that the ancient Chinese called the “Immortal Health Elixir” .It is made by incubating the Kombucha mushroom in sweet black tea. It has been around for more than 2,000 years and has a rich anecdotal history of potential health benefits like preventing and fighting cancer, arthritis, joint pain, boosting the immune system and T-cell count, detoxification as well as other degenerative and digestive diseases. It is a natural probiotic as it stems from a natural yeast component. Sounds like a dream drink in a bottle right? One would think, however there has been no scientific evidence or studies to prove if in fact Kombucha provides all the health benefits it promises. Many healthy individuals have personally claimed that the health benefits are lengthy, as it can detox unwanted toxins, and promote energy along with improving your gut health. However if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a complicated health history the effects or hazards of drinking this tea can be quite dangerous, even fatal.
According to Dr. Thomas W. Hale’s “Medications and Mother’s Milk: 14th edition” Kombucha tea is classified as an L5. For those of us in the lactation field that is a HUGE red siren. When it comes to classifying the safety of medications and herbs taken while breastfeeding, we go based on 5 classifications of lactation risk:
L1-SAFEST ( no reported risk to the infant if ingested through breastmilk),
L2-SAFER(research has shown no increase in adverse effects in the infant, remote chance of risk)
L3-MODERATELY SAFE (There are no controlled studies to show the safety of the drug in breastfeeding women and their baby however the risk of effects to a breastfed baby are possible, controlled studies have only shown minimal non-threatening adverse effects.)
L4- POSSIBLY HAZARDOUS (there is positive evidence of risk to a breastfed infant or milk production and should only be taken if the health of the mother is at stake, if the benefits out way the risk such as for a life threatening situation)
L5- CONTRAINDICATED (studies have indicated that there is significant and documented risk of causing severe damage to the infant) Basically RUN FOR THE HILLS!!
There are very few medications and herbs that you CAN NOT breastfeed with, that are classified as an L5, and unfortunately Kombucha tea is one of them. Here is why:
To start kombucha tea is a detoxing agent. So all the toxins and hazardous waste from your body will get excreted into your bodily fluids such as sweat, urine, poop and you guessed it your breast milk. Staying well hydrated (which is always advised for breastfeeding mothers) does help in localizing the toxins to the urine and stool, however it would be very toxic for your baby to have a full meal chalked full of your own body’s poisons. Kombucha tea is very strong and can effect the development of the infant’s immune system. http://www.organic-kombucha.com/kombucha_should_not_use.html If you are going to risk drinking the tea, make sure you HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE!! This will help is passing the toxins through the urine vs. your milk.
Another concern is that the tea can be over acidic which can then lead to metabolic acidosis. Metabolic acidosis occurs when the body produces too much acid, or when the kidneys are not capable of removing enough acid from the body. This can lead to a rapid build up of toxins in your baby. Some of the symptoms include: rapid breathing, confusion and lethargy. Severe metabolic acidosis can lead to shock or death. Definitely not something we want to happen to a baby, who has a fragile adrenal system and kidney function.
Thirdly, kombucha can make you more “regular”, basically causing you to have more frequent loose poop. Although for some new mothers the idea of finally being able to poop after birth seems like a match made in heaven, for your baby, pooping too much resulting in induced diarrhea can lead to poor weight gain, decrease in nutritional absorption, but more importantly dehydration which in an infant can be life threatening. Normal breastfed babies will poop 3-6 times a day, and the poop should look yellow and seedy. If the poops become watery and explosive, and the baby is producing more then 10 poops a day this is a problem. Babies get dehydrated extremely fast, and often result in being hospitalized. Not a good combo.
There are some hazards for mom as well, especially if you are new to drinking Kombucha tea. Some of the adult concerns stated in Dr. Hale’s book are: shortness of breath, respiratory distress, fatigue, acidosis, and intravascular coagulopathy. So basically all that to say…caution is recommended.
In April 1995, the CDC reported two women, who had been drinking the tea daily for 2 months, were hospitalized with severe acidosis, resulting in one death. Both had high levels of lactic acid upon hospitalization. One woman died of cardiac arrest 2 days after admission. The second woman’s heart also stopped, but she was stabilized and recovered. The mushrooms used by both women came from the same “parent” mushroom. While no direct link to Kombucha tea was proven in this case, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned consumers to use caution when making and drinking the tea.
In 2009, a 22-year-old individueal was hospitalized with trouble breathing, fever, confusion, and high lactic acid levels within 12 hours after drinking Kombucha tea. Althought he survived, the hospital staff believed that the tea was the direct cause of his lactic acidosis. Lactic and metabolic acidosis is a rare but serious and often fatal condition.
Because deaths have been linked with the tea, drinking excessive amounts is not recommended for any individual, let alone a mother and her newborn. A baby’s immune system is simply too fragile.
We as mother’s all want to do what is best for our bodies and especially stay healthy for our new little ones. My recommendation before drinking or trying any new herb or medication while breastfeeding, is to check first with the baby’s pediatrician and secondly with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. You and your baby deserve the best start in this new journey together. When in doubt, check it out!
For further study, I have included links to various articles from reliable sources, with ongoing research on Kombucha tea.
Copyright© 2014 Danielle Gauss,IBCLC – JustBreastFeeding.com. All Rights Reserved
“Medications and Mothers’ Milk” 14th edition” by Dr. Thomas W. Hale, Ph.D. (page 569)
Boik J. Cancer & Natural Medicine: A Textbook of Basic Science and Clinical Research. Princeton, Minn: Oregon Medical Press; 1996.
Cassileth B. The Alternative Medicine Handbook. New York: W. W. Norton & Co;1998.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unexplained severe illness possibly associated with consumption of Kombucha tea-Iowa, 1995. JAMA. 1996;275:96-98. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00039742.htm
Derk CT, Sandorfi N, Curtis MT. A case of anti-Jo1 myositis with pleural effusions and pericardial tamponade developing after exposure to a fermented Kombucha beverage. Clin Rheumatol. 2004;23:355-357.
Mayser P, Promme S, Leitzmann C, Grunder K. The yeast spectrum of the ‘tea fungus Kombucha.’ Mycoses. 1995;38:289-295.
Phan TG, Estell J, Duggan G, Beer I, Smith D, Ferson MJ. Lead poisoning from drinking Kombucha tea brewed in a ceramic pot. Med J Aust. 1999; 170:454.
Sloan-Kettering. Kombucha, Clinical Summary. Accessed at http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69274.cfm on April 8, 2010.
Spaulding-Albright N. A review of some herbal and related products commonly used in cancer patients. J Am Diet Assoc. 1997;97:S208-215.
SungHee Kole A, Jones HD, Christensen R, Gladstein J. A case of Kombucha tea toxicity. J Intensive Care Med. 2009;24:205-207.
Teo AL, Heard G, Cox J. Yeast ecology of Kombucha fermentation. Int J Food Microbiol. 2004;95:119-126.
US Food and Drug Administration. FDA Talk Paper: FDA cautions consumers on “Kombucha mushroom tea.” Rockville, Md: National Press Office; March 23, 1995. Talk Paper T95-15.
Note: This article doesn not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.