Turns out, chocolate and pregnancy do mix, and the combo can be beneficial, in more ways than one.
Let’s face it, pregnancy is filled with a great deal of overwhelming emotion and worry that everything you’re doing could potentially be harmful to your baby. It doesn’t help that so many people offer unsolicited advice including phrases such as, “Don’t eat this,” or “You must eat that.” It’s high time someone focused on the good parts of pregnancy — like the permission to eat more, enjoy more and, in particular, indulge those chocolate cravings.
Jena Pincott, science writer and author of Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy addresses the question that inspired the title of her book. And the answer is a resounding “Yes!” There is a significant link between a mother’s chocolate consumption and infant temperament — in a good way.
A Finnish study tracked over 300 mothers in a particular maternity ward and, when comparing the mamas who ate chocolate daily versus those who avoided the sweetness completely, “The chocolate lovers’ babies were less frustrated, more easily soothed and less fearful,” says Pincott.
“What fascinates me is that among women who were really stressed during pregnancy, chocolate-eating seemed protective. Frazzled women who didn’t eat chocolate were likelier to have irritable babies than women who ate it daily — or at least several times a week.”
So is prenatal chocolate consumption really affecting babies’ temperament? It has more to do with Mom than Baby.
“The strongest theories have to do with offsetting mom’s stress,” Pincott explains, commenting that too much prenatal stress is definitively associated with infant irritability.
She explains that chocolate short-circuits the stress response; eating it releases feel-good endorphins; chocolate contains small amounts of stimulants; and chocolate also contains a cannibinoid (yes, as in cannabis, as in marijuana) that may cross the placenta for a feel-good effect. Don’t worry that chocolate is getting you (or your fetus) high, however. An adult would need to eat more than 25 pounds of chocolate to experience a marijuana-like effect.
If you prefer hard candy over chocolate, or are not a sweets-lover at all, you aren’t destined to have an unhappy baby if you don’t eat chocolate. You’re not obligated to eat yet one more “necessary” foodstuff to produce a merry and healthy child. “Definitely don’t eat chocolate unless it gives you pleasure,” says Pincott. “Hating it might eliminate any of those potential ‘feel-good’ effects anyway.”
If stress-relief is indeed a key to infant sweetness, Pincott reminds that there are plenty of other ways to reduce stress. Exercise, meditation and generous pampering are just a few. And eating choline — found in egg yolk, salmon and meat — is proving to be an essential nutrient for cognitive development, says Pincott.
If you do choose to satisfy your chocolate cravings, darker is always better — recommendations are typically to choose chocolate with a cocoa content of 65 percent or higher, and that’s just in general, not for pregnancy specifically.
“There have been more studies on dark chocolate consumption and prenatal anemia,” says Pincott. “Eating 30 grams of iron-rich dark chocolate daily equals a reduced risk of iron deficiency. Maybe there's an interesting, unexplored link here. Could sufficient iron also help explain the sweeter baby effect? We need more research!”
Ultimately, chocolate can make you happy and might just create a chill baby too. But Pincott’s book goes far beyond the foodie findings of pregnancy, offering novel ways to look at pregnancy, what it does to your body and how you might be influencing your baby as it grows.
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