Eating healthy during pregnancy is an important step in helping your baby develop and reach his or her maximum potential. However, some pregnancy meal plans can leave expecting moms craving sweets. Nine months may seem like an eternity if you are a chocolate lover and are trying to avoid some of your favorite foods and desserts while pregnant. Somewhere along the way, you may wonder if it is safe to indulge in chocolate. Ask your doctor if you like chocolate and plan on consuming it regularly. Having chocolate in moderation is probably fine for most expecting moms, but in some cases, your doctor may recommend avoiding it.
One of the concerns with chocolate is that it contains caffeine. Caffeine crosses the placenta, and your baby will be exposed to the amount that you consume. There is controversy as to whether caffeine can cause health problems in your baby. Most experts recommend consuming less than 200 mg of caffeine per day. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) found that consuming less than 200 mg daily does not seem to increase the risk for miscarriage or premature birth, but it is unclear as to whether it can still increase the likelihood of intrauterine growth restriction (when the baby is born smaller than normal for his or her age at birth). Despite the ACOG committee opinion, some studies have found that expecting moms who consumed caffeine had a small increased chance of miscarriage, stillbirth (death of the baby after 28 weeks of pregnancy), low birth weight, and intrauterine growth restriction. Another study found that expecting moms who consumed more than 150 mg of caffeine daily had an increased risk of having a miscarriage or delivering a low birth weight baby. You can learn more about the risks of caffeine during pregnancy here.
The amount of caffeine in chocolate depends on the type of chocolate you consume. Dark chocolate contains higher amounts of caffeine. A 2-ounce 70% dark chocolate bar containing 10% cocoa butter can contain 79 mg of caffeine. Milk chocolate contains much less caffeine, with only about 7 to 12 mg per 2-ounce bar. Comparatively, one 8‑ounce cup of coffee contains about 145 mg of caffeine. These numbers vary greatly depending on the type of chocolate or coffee. For chocolate lovers, the amount of caffeine consumed from chocolate alone can add up quickly, especially if expecting moms also consume caffeine-containing drinks. Caffeine can also be found in hot chocolate, cocoa powder, and any other chocolate desserts. It is important to keep track of how much caffeine you consume daily.
In addition to the risks of caffeine during pregnancy, chocolate contains a lot of sugar and calories that may not be healthy for your baby. It is important to consume a variety of healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables, during pregnancy. Consuming excessive amounts of sweets can cause expecting moms to gain more weight than normal. Expecting moms with pre-gestational or gestational diabetes should avoid chocolate consumption altogether because it can raise blood sugar and make it difficult to manage diabetes.
Although chocolate may pose risks to your baby, research has shown that it may benefit some expecting moms by reducing the risk of preeclampsia. A study showed that expecting moms who consumed 5 or more servings of chocolate per week in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy had a lower risk of preeclampsia than moms who consumed less than one serving per week. There are several compounds in chocolate that can be beneficial to heart health and blood pressure, including flavonoids (types of antioxidants) and theobromine. Dark chocolate contains higher amounts of these compounds than milk chocolate. You can read about some of the benefits of consuming dark chocolate during pregnancy here.
While some chocolate may be beneficial for preventing preeclampsia, consuming excessive amounts of chocolate during pregnancy can be harmful to you and your baby and should be avoided. If you are an expecting mom who loves chocolate, ask your doctor if it can be included in your meal plan during pregnancy.