The Safety of Giving Tea to Infants: Anise, Chamomile, Peppermint, Black Tea Warnings
ACCORDING TO THE FDA
The FDA has discovered a trend that until recently remained largely unrealized. This trend, backed by data from an innovative new study, is the substantial number of mothers who supply their newborn infants with herbal teas and/or various supplements (1). The FDA concluded that up to 9% of infants receive botanical supplementation and herbal based beverages while only a few months old (1). In 2010 there were slightly more than 4 million babies born in the United States; this means that around 360,000 of them were given more than just milk in their bottles.
The study surveyed over 2,600 women soon after they gave birth (1). Of these women, 5.7% provided their babies with tea or supplements once within a two week period and 3.6% provided their babies with tea or supplements twice or more during the same time frame (1).
There were several reasons given why mothers provided these substances to their babies, including the following: to improve fussy, colicky, or finicky infants and to promote healthy digestion (1). For these purposes babies were given gripe water in addition to chamomile, mint, and tea products of various types (1).
FULL DISCLOSURE REQUIRED
A warning has been issued to physicians treating infants to look for possible drug interactions with any substances provided to a baby by its mother.
It is important for mothers to provide doctors with that information.
Any tea or supplement given to a baby must be made known to medical professionals. Failure to do so may inadvertently jeopardize an infant's health.
TEAS FOR INFANTS
Avoid teas containing star anise. Although traditionally used for colic treatment, a WebMD Health News Bulletin from 2004 cites possible contamination of the herb. Mixtures of Chinese star anise with the related Japanese version have resulted in neurological complications, as the latter is highly toxic (2).
Babies aged 2 to 12 months presenting signs of anise toxicity were given as little as one star to as many as six, as infrequently as once daily or as often as four times a day (2).
Unfortunately toxicity can also result from high levels of the Chinese version of the herb as well (2). In September of 2003 the FDA warned consumers to avoid star anise containing teas in general, citing evidence that 15 infants and 25 others were harmed by drinking such beverages (2).
Be cautious with peppermint. According to the Sutter Medical Foundation, peppermint beverages containing high levels of methanol may cause infants to react strongly and choke (4).
Chamomile tea effects limited at best, harmful at worst. In a clinical study, tea including chamomile and balm-mint was found useful in treating colic (5). The catch is that in order to be ultimately effective large quantities of the tea are required (5). The authors of the study, instead of recommending the repeated and frequent administration of chamomile-infused fluids to infants, found it much safer for parents to wait the colic out and let problems resolve themselves naturally, which normally occurs by 6 months of age (5).
Although rare, allergies to chamomile and other herbs such as daisies, marigold, or ragweed are possible (6). Further, chamomile teas may be contaminated as they are currently unregulated by the FDA; in fact, there is evidence of some chamomile mixtures containing toxic metals and other drugs (7). For this reason, individuals should always make sure to purchase teas from reliable and well-known brands.
It is not recommended to drink chamomile tea while nursing due to potential harm to a nursing infant and insufficient data exists to determine its overall effects on either infants or children (7). In conclusion, chamomile tea is not a recommended treatment option for colic as its effects are largely unknown (7).
IMPAIRED NUTRIENT ABSORPTION WITH TEAS
A study of 122 infants between 6 to 12 months of age showed that those who drank tea were significantly more likely to develop microcytic anemia, or anemia accompanied by small blood cells (3). Because tea interferes with the absorption of iron, 32.6% of tea drinkers developed this condition versus only 3.5% of non-tea drinkers (3). It is recommended that if tea is given to infants that it is done so hours before and after meals so as not to negatively impact the absorption of nutrients (3).
A beverage comparison study found that although inhibition of iron absorption was the highest in black tea (79-94%), it was second highest in peppermint tea (84%) and significant in chamomile tea as well (47%) (8).
1. FDA: Infants Often Get Herbal Teas, Supplements by Michael Smith accessed at http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pediatrics/GeneralPediatrics/26215
2. WedMD accessed at http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/news/20041112/herbal-tea-for-infant-colic-unsafe
3. Tea Drinking and Microcytic Anemia in Infants by Merhav, Amitai, Palti and Godfrey accessed at http://www.ajcn.org/content/41/6/1210.abstract
4. Sutter Medical Foundation accessed at http://www.suttermedicalfoundation.org/health/healthinfo/index.cfm?A=C&hwid=hn-1191006
5. Clinical Inquiries. What is the best treatment for infants with colic? by Crotteau, Wright and Eglash accessed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16822454
6. MedLine Plus accessed at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/752.html
7. Drugs.com accessed at http://www.drugs.com/mtm/chamomile.html
8. Inhibition of non-haem iron absorption in man by polyphenolic-containing beverages by Hurrell, Reddy, and Cook accessed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Inhibition%20of%20non-haem%20iron%20absorption%20in%20man%20by%20polyphenolic-containing%20beverages