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Chocolate is the Caffeine of Choice for Moms to Be

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

When you get pregnant, you want to do everything you can to ensure the safety of your developing baby.  For this reason, most moms cut out foods, drinks, and chemicals that might have adverse effects on their baby.  Caffeine is just one thing they often give up, which means no more tall daily lattes or espressos.  Although high levels of caffeine can be dangerous, small amounts are fine, and one study found that the levels of caffeine found in chocolate are safe for moms and their unborn babies.

Many experts agree that moms should avoid taking in any more than 200 mg of caffeine per day.  This allows for a small cup of coffee, but most women still choose to avoid it altogether, which is probably a good idea, unless you need it as a stimulant for bowel regularity.  You never know how much caffeine a particular brew of coffee might hold, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. When pregnancy has you craving something sweet though, you might forget that chocolate too contains caffeine.

Fetal heart rate reactivity is a medical term that describes how reactive the baby’s heart rate is when it is moving around in utero.  With fetal movement, the fetal heart rate accelerates about 15 beats per minute and is a sign of fetal well-being.  Fetal reactivity assessment is used as a surveillance tool when we are worried about the baby in a Mom who may have hypertension or diabetes (known as a nonstress test or NST).  The more “reactive” the fetal heart rate is, the better.   A study published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine determined that eating chocolate can make the fetal heart rate more reactive .  This increased heart rate did not appear to be from the caffeine in chocolate, but rather from the theobromine, which dilates blood vessels and decreases blood pressure.  In order to make up for this physiologic change, your heart and also your baby’s heart have to pick up the pace in order to maintain adequate blood circulation, resulting in a more reactive fetal heart rate pattern, which is a good thing.

However, as with any chemical, food or supplement that alters your body function, it should be taken in moderation.  In other words, don’t go overboard, but don’t feel the need to pass up on a “chocolate moment” to satisfy those cravings once in a while either.


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.