Kefir During Pregnancy: Is it Safe? Are There Benefits?

Photo of author

Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

Published on

BabyFacts logo

Kefir has many benefits that can help the health of both you and your unborn baby.

You can enjoy many kinds of kefir, including coconut kefir and kefir water. There are important considerations for ingredients in kefir, and we’ll look at them here.

Drinking kefir is safe during pregnancy if the kefir is 100% natural and pasteurized (rather than raw). You should choose kefir that is free from other substances that are not recommended while pregnant such as alcohol or caffeine.

There are some aspects of pregnancy that kefir can be particularly beneficial for, and we’ll break those down for you, too.

Is Kefir Safe for Pregnant Women to Drink?

Kefir is a good source of probiotics which are healthy for everyone.

Kefir is a combination of kefir grains that have been fermented in regular milk, goat’s milk or other non-dairy milks.

There are also other types of kefir grains that can be fermented in water, and we’ll cover the safety aspects of both.

The main safety considerations are whether your chosen kefir contains alcohol or not, and if it has been pasteurized.

Does Kefir Contain Alcohol? Is This a Pregnancy Risk?

As with other fermented drinks such as kombucha, kefir does contain alcohol, although less than kombucha.

Kombucha can contain more than 1.15%, which is the equivalent to half a bottle of light beer, whereas dairy-based kefir is usually under 0.5% (Source: FoodStandards).

There is a fine line here, safety-wise. It is widely accepted that no amount of alcohol is safe when pregnant (sources: CDCAPAACOG). 

However, trace amounts (usually less than 0.5%) of alcohol are common in other food and drink, such as bananas, soy sauce, or orange juice – and these are still considered safe when pregnant.

It comes down to personal choice. If you want to be super safe, you may wish to avoid kefir unless you purchase a brand that is alcohol-free (see below).

If you do drink kefir that is not alcohol-free, then the amount of alcohol is unlikely to cause harm – much like food cooked with alcohol.

Water kefir, however, can sometimes contain more (ethanol) alcohol than can be considered safe – covered below.

Whether alcohol-free or not, you should still check that the kefir you’re about to drink is pasteurized and not raw.

milk kefir

Is Kefir Pasteurized? Can Pregnant Women Drink Raw Kefir?

As with many store-bought products, kefir you buy in a supermarket or other store has usually been pasteurized.

Pasteurized fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria without the risk associated with bacteria that can be found in raw milk products (Source: FoodSafety).

Store-bought, commercially-made kefir has to be pasteurized, because if the liquid is allowed to continue to ferment, it will continue to expand and bulge or even explode due to the pressure from fermentation.

However, the pasteurization process kills off many of the beneficial bacteria which is why you might want to drink kefir in the first place – though some benefits still remain (Source: NourishingPlot).

You might find unpasteurized raw kefir in local markets, which is not safe to drink during pregnancy. The same goes for some types of homemade kefir.

Is Homemade Kefir Safe During Pregnancy?

Homemade fermented kefir may not be safe during pregnancy, even if it is made using pasteurized milk.

This is because safety factors such as the sterilization process are important to avoid contaminating the kefir with bad bacteria during fermentation.

If you’re not used to the process, you can easily make contaminated kefir without realizing it.

For example, making water kefir at home should be done with a rubber sealing and in the absence of air. A water lock is often needed as well, since the fermentation process creates carbon dioxide gas which increases the pressure in the container (Source: ISA).

If you are experienced in fermenting foods at home, then you may be able to do this safely as long as you use pasteurized milk.

If, however, you are new to home fermenting, it may be best to wait till your child is born before experimenting!

homemade coconut kefir

Is Kefir Water Safe for Pregnant Women to Drink?

Water kefir is made by fermenting water kefir grains (distinct from milk kefir grains).

Once the kefir grains have eaten the sugar – within 24 hours – what remains is a type of alcohol called ethanol, as well as lactic acid.

The levels of ethanol in water kefir can vary by production method, but modern processes tend to use shorter fermentation periods and can result in much lower ethanol concentrations than even just a few years ago, of about 0.2 to 0.3% (Source: Wikipedia).

However, a recent Australian study showed that water-based kefir can contain between 0.5 to 1.15% alcohol (Source: FoodStandards).

The CDC, among others, maintain that no amount of alcohol is safe to use during pregnancy, as alcohol can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and a range of disabilities (Source: CDC).

For this reason, it might be best to avoid homemade water kefir (unless the ethanol concentration can be measured) and other types that don’t state an alcohol content.

You can check the label of your kefir when buying, as there are some brands that are alcohol-free.

A note on caffeine: whereas other fermented drinks like kombucha contain some caffeine since they are fermented using tea, water kefir has no caffeine and is also quicker to ferment.

If you are buying commercially-produced kefir, be aware, though, that some manufacturers add sugar after fermentation. Check the label to be sure there is no sugar added.

You may also come across coconut kefir, which is made in the same way except using coconut water rather than filtered water. As long as the coconut kefir has been pasteurized, it is safe to drink.

water kefir grains

Is Kefir yogurt or Kefir Cheese Safe While Pregnant?

Kefir yogurt and kefir cheeses are safe during pregnancy as long as they are store-bought and have been pasteurized.

These products come under the same food laws as all yogurt and other milk products and must be made from pasteurized milk in the USA (Source: FDA).

The same applies to these products bought in the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Check the label, however, as some of these products have added sugar after pasteurization – and sugar-free is likely to be better for you.

Although rare, you may come across unpasteurized kefir yogurt or kefir cheese which are not safe to consume during pregnancy.

Farmer’s markets and other ‘barn door’ sales where produce is sold directly to the public might have these types of products, so check with the farmer or producer before buying.

Kefir yogurt, kefir cheese and other dairy products should be stored in the refrigerator at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a maximum of 5 to 7 days (check the label for the expiration date).

If frozen, they need to be kept for a maximum of 3 months at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is Goat Milk or Coconut Milk Kefir OK During Pregnancy?

The milk most commonly used for milk kefir is either cow’s milk or goat’s milk. Both are safe to drink during pregnancy as long as the milk has been pasteurized.

Goat’s milk has many nutritional benefits, one of which is its effectiveness in helping prevent iron deficiencies which could otherwise affect the mineralization process and bone health (Source: JDS).

Goat milk also helps the body metabolize not only iron, but calcium and phosphorus – and helps facilitate the delivery of these essential minerals to target organs (Source: ScienceDaily).

Not only that, but fermented goat’s milk in particular can help increase dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and other neurotransmitters that help improve brain function and can help people who are anemic recover (Source: PubMed).

Coconut milk is fermented in the same way as cow’s or goat’s milk, and comes with the added benefit of being dairy-free.

Coconut kefir has a much milder and less tangy taste than traditional milk kefir, which may suit some people better, as not everyone enjoys the tang of fermented foods.

There are many nutritional benefits of coconut, including good levels of potassium and calcium. You can read more about the benefits of coconut water during pregnancy here, or the benefits of eating coconut.

kefir milk and grains

The Benefits of Kefir During Pregnancy: Is It Good for You?

The nutrients in kefir and other probiotic milk products have a significant impact on your health as well as that of your unborn child.

Milk kefir is an excellent source of calcium, protein and B vitamins. One bottle of kefir (240ml) contains 161 calories, 11 grams of protein, 300 mg of calcium, and significant amounts of vitamins A and D as well as 12% of the daily value of fiber (Source: USDA).

In pregnancy, calcium is key for helping reduce the risk of preeclampsia by as much as 65% if women consuming low amounts (less than 900 mg per day) would just consume 1000 mg more each day (Source: NCBI).

If you are lactose-intolerant, kefir can help you tolerate lactose better. Kefir is also known for being anti-hypertensive, anti-allergenic, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and having a high antioxidant content (Source: USDA).

That’s quite a package in one food!

One study showed that when probiotic milk was consumed during early pregnancy – in the first trimester – there was a lower risk of preterm delivery.

Probiotic milk consumed in late pregnancy was associated with a significantly lower risk of preeclampsia.

The specific bacteria that were seen as effective in this study were acidophilus, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) (Source: BMJ).

Kefir Brands and Pregnancy-Safety

Here are some popular brands of kefir. All of these brands are safe to consume during pregnancy, so it depends on your tastes and whether you want to avoid added sugars or not.

Lifeway Kefir – Lifeway Kefir is available in various flavors such as strawberry, blueberry, vanilla, and Greek style. All of these are safe to consume while pregnant, but they do have added sugar. Lifeway does a plain, unsweetened milk kefir which is the healthiest choice.

Biotiful Dairy – Biotiful Dairy has a wide range of kefir products with no added sugar. Enjoy a Kefir Shot, or kefir yogurt in honey & ginger, raspberry & pomegranate, yogurt/mango/lime and more. They even have kefir chocolate or vanilla ice cream.

Liberté -Liberté has both organic and nonorganic kefir, in plain, strawberry, raspberry, and mango flavors. There is a bit of organic sugar added along with organic fruit purees and flavorings.

Aqua – Aqua kefir is water-based and comes in various flavors such as peach-pineapple, pear-ginger, pomegranate and pink grapefruit. A bit of sugar is added along with fruit juice to make a slightly carbonated and light drink.

Chuckling Goat – Chuckling Goat is a popular UK brand of goat’s milk-based kefir that has nothing added apart from goat’s milk and live kefir grains. They also have an online chat service for advice. Their products are suitable for those with eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, rosacea, acne and allergies.

Can Kefir Help With Pregnancy Nausea or Constipation?

Regular consumption of kefir has been associated with improved digestion. Kefir can improve and accelerate the movement of waste through the colon, which can therefore help with pregnancy constipation (Source: PMID).

Although some people say that lemon and ginger kefir water can help with pregnancy nausea, this is anecdotal as there have been no studies to back this up.

If you’re suffering from pregnancy-related constipation and want to try alleviating your symptoms with the food you eat, you can check our list of high-fiber foods for pregnancy constipation.

For nausea or morning sickness, we have a list of foods to help combat morning sickness or other pregnancy-related episodes of nausea.

Overall, kefir can be enjoyed while you are pregnant, provided it has been pasteurized and the alcohol content is checked.

You can enjoy many nutritional benefits at the same time, both for you and for your unborn child.