Every woman wants the best for her baby, and tries to give it the best start it can possibly have. Now that we know more than ever about nutrition and prenatal health, taking care of our babies starts long before they're born.
A lot of what we learn about having a healthy pregnancy is simple and basic. Smoking during pregnancy is unhealthy for two people instead of just one. You don't give your baby an alcoholic drink when he's in the womb any more than you'd offer him one once he's out.
But sometimes we get information that isn't as straightforward as this. For instance: chocolate during pregnancy. Yes or no?
Caffeine during pregnancy is something to steer clear of. The American Pregnancy Association web site lists caffeine on its page of foods to avoid during pregnancy, and has another page entirely devoted to caffeine and pregnancy. Babycenter quotes the March of Dimes in cautioning women against "high caffeine consumption." And WebMD cites a study suggesting a link between "very high coffee consumption" and a higher risk of stillbirth.
Chocolate certainly contains caffeine. How much can vary like crazy from bar to bar, depending on the brand and whether it's milk or dark. An ounce of dark chocolate can have anywhere between five and 35 milligrams of caffeine; milk has much less, running between one and fifteen milligrams of caffeine per ounce.
So -- cut chocolate out altogether during pregnancy?
Well, not necessarily. All the sites mentioned above cautioned women against excessive caffeine intake. They also said that "moderate" amounts of caffeine seem to be all right.
The problem, of course, is figuring out what "moderate" means. Babycenter puts that at less than 300 milligrams a day; American Pregnancy Association puts it at between 150 and 300. The latter adds that women should avoid caffeine altogether during the first trimester, to lower the risk of miscarriage.
WebMD seems to agree with that. They cite a Danish study that supports the idea that moderate caffeine intake during the last two trimesters is not linked to miscarriage, early birth, or low birth weight.
Still, the evidence is leaning toward goodbye caffeine, farewell chocolate until the end of pregnancy?
Again, it's not as easy as that. One study cited by NewScientist.com (and other sites) from the University of Helsinki, Finland, found a link between women who consumed chocolate during pregnancy and those who eschewed it altogether. Those who had chocolate also had babies who laughed more and were more active. Those who went without it had babies who showed more fear of new situations.
And just to muddy the waters a little more, the BBC News summed up a study of pregnant women at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. A team of scientists there found that daily consumption of chocolate helped reduce the risk of miscarriage.
What to do?
Well, the word "moderation" does seem to crop up a lot in all these studies. Bingeing on chocolate, or anything else, can't be healthy whether you're pregnant or not. But going without it altogether might not be a necessary sacrifice, either. Stress isn't good for pregnant women, and giving up something you love is stressful.
Obviously, you should talk to your healthcare practitioner. Talk to more than one, if you can. Your insurance company may have a number to call that allows you to talk to a registered nurse and get advice on your current health situation. Take advantage of that service if you have it available.
Do all the reading and researching you can stand. Pregnancy doesn't last all that long, after all, and you're making a whole new person here. You want to do it right and do the best you can.
I wish this were one of those times when I could just say yes or no and be done with it. But the fact is, everyone's different, and what's right for one person is just what's not needed for someone else. You need to figure out what works for you.
All my best wishes with that.