Lemons During Pregnancy: Safety, Nausea and Cravings

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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You may have heard that lemons can help with nausea during pregnancy. Is this true? And are there any risks to consuming lemons while pregnant?

Lemons provide many nutrients, some of which are vital when you’re pregnant. Generally speaking, lemon is safe when you’re pregnant, but there are a few things you need to be aware of.

We’ll look in detail at how safe it is to drink lemon juice, use lemon essential oils, and other essential facts about lemons that will keep you safe during pregnancy.

Can Lemon Help With My Pregnancy Nausea?

50 to 80 percent of women suffer from nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (Source: BJOG).

If you are suffering from nausea during pregnancy, it is tempting to try all kinds of remedies in search of relief – including lemon.

There are many types of lozenges and syrups that contain lemon and are advertised as providing nausea relief, but there is actually no hard evidence to confirm that eating lemons helps with nausea.

The confusion may have come from the fact that lemon juice has been shown to disinfect against norovirus (a virus commonly caught in hospitals whose symptoms include vomiting and nausea) (Source: ScienceDaily).

The good news is that inhaling lemon essential oil (citrus lemon) can help reduce nausea and vomiting.

Women who used lemon oil in a diffuser did so over a period of four days in one study (Source: IRCMJ), and it seemed to help with pregnancy nausea.

If you want to try this yourself, put one or two drops of the oil in an oil burner or diffuser.

Alternatively, you can try cutting open a lemon and inhaling the smell, as both of these methods have been proven to help.

Some women find it helpful to carry a small cutting of lemon peel in their purse or pocket so there’s always some on hand in case nausea suddenly hits.

You can twist or scratch the lemon peel with your fingernail to release the natural oils – and their smell. Just make sure you wash the lemon (and your hands) thoroughly.

lemon peel zest

Are Lemon Drinks Safe for Pregnant Women?

Lemon drinks are generally safe to have when you’re pregnant.

Adding lemon juice to your water for flavoring is fine in the context of hydrating your body.

Given that pregnant women need up to 3300 ml (14 cups) of water a day, anything you can do to increase hydration will be beneficial (Source: JPN).

Tip: Whenever you use fresh lemons, be sure to wash them first as most bacteria are on the surface. Unwaxed lemons are better when using them in drinks. You can read more about this in our guide to washing produce when you’re pregnant.

If you suffer from heartburn because of low stomach acid, the acidity in lemon juice could be helpful for you since lemon juice can help alkalize the digestive juices in the stomach (Source: HHS).

However, for some people, the acidity in lemon juice can make acid reflux symptoms worse (Source: MedicalNewsToday).

The best lemon drink to consume – the healthiest – is water with a squeeze of pure lemon juice.

However, there are many other drinks on the market to consider in terms of their safety for pregnant women.

Lemon and Honey

Drinking warm water with a squeeze of lemon and some honey is usually fine, but be aware that if you tend to suffer from chronic heartburn or acid reflux, the acidity of the lemon could make heartburn worse.

Try sipping a small amount and see how you feel, as the effects depend upon the cause of your heartburn.

Honey on its own has been shown to reduce acid reflux (Source: IJMR), but it’s better to choose pasteurized honey when you’re pregnant.

a glass of water with lemon, ginger and honey

Lemon and Ginger

Ginger has been shown to be a powerful aid to fight nausea and vomiting, as well as help with arthritis and pain (Source: Phytochemistry).

Therefore, drinks with lemon and ginger together can be very beneficial.

As with all food and drink, however, moderation is best. Pregnant women should not consume more than 1-2 grams of dried ginger per day (Source: DOI).

If you want to add lemon juice to ginger root tea, know that ginger root tea is listed as ‘possibly safe’ (but not definitely, due to lack of data) so should be used with caution (Source: AmericanPregnancy).

There’s more about ginger in our comprehensive list of top nausea-fighting foods for pregnancy.

Lemon and Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus has been listed as ‘likely’ to be safe during pregnancy when consumed in foods, but not enough research has been done to know for sure.

Avoid eucalyptus oil which is highly concentrated (Source: MedlinePlus).

lemon water in a jug

Lemonade (Homemade and Store Bought)

While homemade lemonade isn’t pasteurized, it is safe to drink as long as you use sterile equipment and drink it soon after making it.

When making your own lemonade, any unused lemon juice must be kept in the refrigerator and used as soon as possible (ideally within 2 days).

Otherwise, you can make a large batch of lemon juice and freeze it, as it will keep for months.

If buying from a juice bar, farmers market, or somewhere else where you can’t be sure of freshness, it’s best to avoid unpasteurized lemonade or juice when you’re pregnant. Any sold in a store has to state on the label whether it’s pasteurized (source: FDA).

Be aware that commercial store-bought lemonade usually contains sugar or other sweeteners, so check the label before buying.

Ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup can mean your 8 oz glass of lemonade can have as many as 100 calories! (Source: Nutritionix).

Also know that some brands of lemonade such as Tropicana add white grapefruit pulp, which may not suit everyone.

Other brands such as Snapple are lower in sugar but have soy lecithin, which is best avoided if you’re allergic to soy (Source: thedailymeal).

Good brands of lemonade are Crystal Light, Market Pantry, Minute Maid Light, and Simply Lemonade Light.

Lemon Verbena or Lemon Myrtle

These are herbs, rather than anything directly related to lemon fruit, but we’re including them here in case you’re wondering about their pregnancy safety.

Lemon verbena is not recommended to drink during pregnancy, as studies have shown adverse developmental effects upon fetuses in rats (Source: Elsevier).

Lemon Myrtle is best avoided as there is very little information on its safety during pregnancy, and the essential oil may be toxic in high doses (source: Drugs.com)

Lemon tea such as lemon balm is listed as ‘likely safe’ to drink during pregnancy (Source: AmericanPregnancy).

We’ve put together a separate guide on the safety of lemon balm tea during pregnancy here.

Why Am I Craving Lemon During Pregnancy?

It isn’t really known why many women crave lemon during pregnancy.

There are many hypotheses around nutritional needs, hormone changes, cultural factors, and active ingredients in the foods that you crave (Source: FiP), but the fact is that we just don’t know why cravings occur.

Just know that it is perfectly normal to crave lemon, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re lacking in vitamin C!

You can find out more about citrus fruit cravings, along with some excellent citrus drink recommendations while you’re pregnant in our craving citrus article here.

Is It OK To Eat Lemons During Pregnancy?

Lemons are most queried as a drink, but they’re also eaten as part of cooking and marinades (or as they are if you’re the type who picks the slice out of your drink and eats it!)

You can eat lemons during pregnancy, and lemons have many benefits.

The Benefits of Lemons During Pregnancy

One lemon has 24 calories and provides 116mg of potassium, and 0.9g of protein, surprisingly! A single lemon will also give you vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron (Source: Nutritionix).

When pregnant, you are recommended to have 85mg of vitamin C per day (Source: ODS).

The vitamin C content of one lemon provides you with 74% of your recommended daily allowance, so you want to consume lemons in moderation, as too much vitamin C isn’t safe (Source: AmericanPregnancy).

Vitamin C deficiencies are rare in the US. However, making sure you get enough vitamin C can help reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia or anemia (Source: CSR).

The folates in lemons are very important during pregnancy, because folates can help reduce the risk of fetal defects in the brain, spine, or spinal cord. Folates are particularly important in the first month of pregnancy (Source: JPN).

The calcium in lemons is essential for bone development, as well as enzyme and hormone functioning (Source: PMCID).

lemons when pregnant

Tips on Selecting and Eating Lemons When Pregnant

When buying lemons, it’s best to buy whole lemons (rather than pre-cut) and wash them first.

Even though you don’t eat the lemon rind, you want to get rid of any bacteria so that it doesn’t get into the lemon when you cut it open.

When you’re pregnant, your immune system is working overtime, so you are more susceptible to infections (Source: FoodSafety).

There’s more on this in our guide to washing fruit and veg during pregnancy.

Rather than bite into the lemon itself, use the juice in drinks and squeezed over fish, salads, and other foods. Lemon juice is safe when you’re pregnant if you use it like this, and if you’re eating the food straight away.

The reason you should avoid biting into lemons is to protect your teeth. The acidity in lemons can wreak havoc with the protective layer of enamel on your teeth, which can weaken your teeth over time and make them more susceptible to cavities.

The effects of lemon juice on teeth have been shown to be even more erosive than Coca-Cola! (Source: PlosOne).

There are many ways to get lemons into your diet without having to bite into a lemon.

Here are some common foods that contain lemon:

  • Lemon pies and tarts, made with lemon curd. Be aware, though, that lemon curd is high in sugar.
  • Aioli sauce. This traditional French garlic mayonnaise contains lemon, egg, and garlic (make sure the sauce has been heated thoroughly or is pasteurized). You can get full info on mayonnaise here.
  • Salad dressings. These are fine to eat, provided they have been pasteurized.
  • Commercial marinades. Again, if buying commercially-prepared marinades, check the label to make sure they are pasteurized and that they don’t contain too much added sugar (common in marinades).
  • Preserved lemons. These are often used in chicken dishes and are slices of lemons that have been preserved in a brine. They’re safe during pregnancy as they’re sterilized during the preservation process if they’re in a can or jar.

Are Sweet Lemons (Citrus Limetta) Safe During Pregnancy?

There is nothing to say that sweet lemons are unsafe during pregnancy. Just be sure to practice good food safety but only consume clean, fresh fruit.

Sweet lemons are also known as citrus limetta, sweet lime, Persian Sweet lemons or Limu Shirin. 

Sweet lemons do have slight nutritional differences when compared to regular lemons. One large standard lemon contains 24 calories (source: MyFitnessPal). While one large sweet lemon contains 43 calories (source: MyFitnessPal). Despite their name, a sweet lemon of this size will contain 1 gram of sugar while a regular lemon will contain 2 grams. 

Sweet lemons are much higher in calcium. This mineral is good for protecting bone mass and rescuing the risk of osteoporosis as mothers often lose calcium during pregnancy (source: Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology India). However, regular lemons are a better source of vitamin C, which is important as pregnant women’s immune systems tend to be weaker than usual. Regular lemons also have more iron, but not a lot to begin with.
Sweet lemons do not seem to be in many grocery stores, but you might come across them at farmer’s markets. Especially if you live somewhere where they may be grown, like California (source: Speciality Produce).

freshly squeezed lemon juice in small bowl

Is Lemon Juice Safe When Pregnant?

Lemon juice is safe to drink when pregnant, as long as you are taking precautions to wash your lemons before juicing them at home, and you are using pasteurized lemon juice if drinking store-bought juice.

You can safely fresh-squeeze lemon juice over food if you’re going to eat it straight away.

There is a concern among some that lemon juice might cause miscarriage, but there is no scientific data to support this.

The misunderstanding may have come from one of the early signs of spinal Bifida which can be seen in ultrasounds and is called ‘the lemon sign’ as it is an indentation in the cranium that is shaped like a lemon (Source: RSNA).

This is a bit ironic as the folates in lemons, as explained earlier, can actually help prevent spinal Bifida.

Overall, you now know that lemons and lemon juice are safe to consume during pregnancy, as long as you wash the whole fruits, and use both sparingly. You even have a good natural remedy for pregnancy nausea!

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