Pucker up, mama-to-be. Because we know you want to find out the sweet (and maybe slightly sour) things about whether lemon is OK during pregnancy — and how it could work to your advantage if so.
You might have heard lemon water can boost hydration or that lemon may be an effective nausea remedy, but should you jump in with zest? Let’s squeeze the truth out of the science to help you determine if this citrus favorite is for you.
In general, lemons — and other citrus fruits — can be safe and healthy to consume during pregnancy. In fact, lemons pack many essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that help support maternal health and baby’s development.
There’s little research on the safety of lemons specifically during pregnancy.
That said, having a lemon water or adding some lemon juice to your salad likely falls into the safe (and even beneficial) zone. But always talk to your OB-GYN or midwife about consuming large amounts of lemon, lemon-flavored additives, supplements, or other things that haven’t been heavily studied for safety among pregnant women.
But what about lemon essential oils? Are they safe? Although essential oils are on-trend, ingesting them always falls into the questionable category. But don’t pack them away quite yet — we’ll tell you how you may benefit from diffusing lemon essential oils in just a bit.
There aren’t studies to show that lemons themselves boost immunity and benefit fetal development, but some of the top-ranking nutrients in lemons do.
In fact, a half cup (106 grams) of lemon (without the peel) can deliver 56.2 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C — a critical nutrient for both mom and baby.
One 2012 animal study concluded that even a small deficiency in maternal vitamin C could hinder fetal brain development, specifically the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory. Safe ranges of vitamin C (no megadoses!) may also boost immunity and help prevent common infections, such as cold and flu, but this remains unproven in the pregnant population.
That immunity boost may be due to significant levels of flavanones in lemons — eriocitrin and hesperetin, to be exact. This 2013 article notes that lemons have powerful abilities to fight infections from bacteria, viruses, and fungi, as well as having antidiabetic and anticancer properties. They may also help eradicate free radicals in the body.
Another key nutrient in lemons is folate, a crucial one for pregnancy. This 2012 article confirms folate’s ability to reduce the risk of fetal neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. These serious defects affect the brain, spine, or spinal cord and can develop within the first month of pregnancy. In theory, consuming a little more lemon in the first several weeks of pregnancy may offer some added protection.
If morning (or all-day) sickness has you down, we know you’re searching for anything safe to find relief. This may have led you to the daunting remedy aisle at the drugstore, where you’ve come across some lozenge, gummy, tea, lollipop, oil, or other tincture that contains lemon as a natural nausea “cure.”
But be wary of consuming lemon as your antidote — there’s little to no research to prove that consuming lemon effectively reduces nausea during pregnancy. But there is data to suggest that diffusing lemon essential oils can bring relief.
A randomized controlled clinical study of pregnant women published in 2014 concluded that inhaling (not consuming) lemon essential oil was safe and effective in reducing pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting.
Water is essential (especially during pregnancy) because it serves many important functions, such as:
According to this 2002 article on hydration needs during pregnancy, it’s calculated that — based on a 2,300-calorie diet — a pregnant woman needs up to 3,300 milliliters of water a day. That’s equivalent to just shy of 14 cups!
Sometimes, drinking that much water gets, well, plain boring. So putting some lemon to your water can be a healthy way to change things up while also adding some gusto to your H2O.
There are a few cautions to peel away from that lemon. It might be beneficial in small doses, but lemons contain a lot of citric acid that could carry a warning.
Interestingly, freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice has more citric acid compared to orange and grapefruit juice in this 2008 quantitative assessment. And prepared lemonades had up to 6 times the amount of citric acid than lemon and lime juice.
So, what could this lead to?
In larger or more frequent quantities, citric acid found in lemons can cause the pH of your mouth to drop to an acidic range.
If you drink highly acidic beverages or foods frequently and over a long period of time — like throughout your entire pregnancy — the acidic environment can cause erosion of the minerals that strengthen the enamel of your teeth.
This can lead to weaker, more sensitive teeth that have you jumping through the roof when you bite into an ice cream cone or getting a bad cavity report at your next trip to the dentist.
One 2015 study found that lemon juice was more erosive to teeth than the common cola. Given that you’re already at higher risk for certain teeth and gum issues while pregnant, you may want to take note.
The high acid levels created by citric acid may also increase your risk for experiencing acid reflux (or heartburn), which is already fairly common during pregnancy. Drinking highly concentrated lemon-based beverages like lemonade may induce heartburn more than just a splash of lemon in your water.
But mixing 1 tablespoon of lemon juice with 8 ounces of water may have protective effects against heartburn. While not proven, it’s thought that the mixture actually helps to alkalize the stomach acid and therefore, reduce the burn.
The best advice? Listen to your body and talk to your OB-GYN or midwife about how much lemon is good for you based on your current health and medical history.
If you’re looking to add a little more lemon in your life, consider these pregnancy-friendly and delicious recipes.
Add lemon juice to yogurt and mix well. Sprinkle it with granola and add a honey drizzle. Then, indulge!
Add lemon slices and basil leaves to water. Refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours before enjoying this thirst-quenching treat.
Wash arugula and set aside to air dry. Mix olive oil, lemon juice, honey, Dijon mustard, and sea salt and refrigerate. Mix and toss it together with arugula when ready to serve. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, a touch of pepper, and as the Italians say — buon appetito!
There’s limited scientific proof showing that consuming lemon has specific benefits during pregnancy, but small quantities of fresh lemon juice may offer a vitamin, nutrition, and hydration boost with some protective health benefits.
Here’s some more great news: There’s no need to be shy about diffusing lemon essential oil to find relief during a case of queasiness. According to research, it just might work.
You should, however, be cautious about consuming too much lemon and lemon-containing products, foods, and beverages because the acid content could damage your teeth or exacerbate symptoms of acid reflux, such as heartburn.
As always, discuss your diet and concerns about lemon with your midwife or doctor, who can help you safely navigate the sometimes confusing waters of food choices during pregnancy.