Nursing mothers are often told that eating chocolate while breastfeeding makes babies irritable and fussy because it contains caffeine. Is that true?
Before jumping to this conclusion, ask yourself these 5 questions.
Is caffeine ever in chocolate?
Yes. Although only tiny amounts of caffeine are naturally present in chocolate, more can be added.
Chocolate contains theobromine. Because theobromine is a stimulant, it could, in theory, cause the breastfed infant to be wakeful and fussy. (But is there enough theobromine to cause adverse effects?)
If the chocolate contains a substantial amount of caffeine, there’s a double whammy. The effects of the combined naturally-present theobromine, and the added caffeine, means the baby is consuming two stimulants.
But let’s look at what we know about caffeine consumption. Many people take in about 300 milligrams (mg) of caffeine in a day, most of which comes from beverages. (One 4-ounce cup of coffee contains about 100 mg.) Of that, about 2.3 mg of caffeine is in food.
Is the amount of theobromine the same in all chocolate?
No, actually, it’s not! Theobromine is present in the cocoa solids. Here’s what you can plan on in each type of chocolate:
- Milk: smaller amounts
- Dark: larger amounts
- White: absent
So from that, we can see that there are variations, and you can pick the one you want if you’re going for candies, brownies, cookies, or whatever. And if you’re really worried about eating chocolate while breastfeeding, you can choose the white variety. However, read on, because I don’t think it’s all that big of a deal.
How much theobromine gets to the baby?
When doing a search of bonafide research studies over the past 40 years, I could locate only one that addressed the effects of theobromine on the breastfed infant. Resman and colleagues (1977) studied mothers who ate 113 gm (4 ounces) Hershey’s milk chocolate bars. Each contained 240 mg of theobromine.
The authors concluded that “if a mother ate a 4-ounce chocolate bar every 6 hours and the infant nursed when the theobromine concentration in milk was at its peak, the infant could ingest about 10 mg of theobromine per day.”
Certainly, it’s possible that the theobromine might bother the baby. But with such a small amount, is it highly unlikely.
Why eat it in the first place?
Friends, colleagues, and clients who eat chocolate on a regular basis consider it their “comfort food.” Is this stress eating? If so, might the baby appear stressed, wakeful and inconsolable – perhaps because the baby picks up the mother’s vibes? If you are feeling anxious, music can be a good alternative to chocolate.
So if it’s not stress, why else might you eat it? I knew a woman who said nursing burned so many calories that she felt she could pig out on chocolate and not gain weight. She swore that such “pigging out” on chocolate while breastfeeding never bothered her baby.
I don’t eat much chocolate. But if I’m having a piece of chocolate cake or a cupcake or a cookie, I want a cup of coffee to go with it. Notice, the cup of coffee has way more caffeine than the chocolate.
Why do other cultures consider chocolate to be a galactogogue?
I’ve meet many, many breastfeeding mothers who grew up in a non-US culture – particularly those from South America. They have told me that their elders urge nursing mothers to consume a drink that is rich in whole grains and chocolate. In Mexico, a notable concoction is called atole. It is commonly made with cornmeal or oatmeal, a special kind of chocolate, and a sweetener.
There is no research and no logic to forbid the use of chocolate while breastfeeding. I don’t suggest a chocolate binge, but if you want some, just have it. Ferrero chocolates are a favorite of our staff!
Have you eaten chocolate while breastfeeding? If you found this post helpful, forward it to a friend!
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It bothers my baby every single time. Sad face
I don’t doubt your word for a minute! It does bother some kids, but then, there are all sorts of foods that bother some kids….and some adults!
I believe you! I’ve harped on how it’s not all as bad as everyone says it is, and I stand by that. But truth is, yes, it can and does happen.
Thank you for the article, I’ve been breastfeeding my first baby for two weeks and I’ve been afraid to eat very much chocolate but I resonate with what your friend said about being able to binge on chocolate. I feel like my body is burning so many calories by nursing that I could eat cake for every meal and would be in the same shape. It doesn’t seem to bother my baby at all, garlic and onions are the only things that I have really seen cause any problems with fussiness. So chocolate it is and I’ll have to cut back on the Italian food 😉
Asia, congratulations to you, and believe me, for the most part, I think you’ll find that after the first two weeks, nursing gets to be more and more satisfying. Keep up the good work! I’d cheerfully admit that there are some foods that bother some babies (and some adults!) But over the last many decades, I’ve seen that food is often “blamed” for fussiness in the baby, and chocolate takes the biggest blame, but there’s just no science to back up that claim. Many mothers say it doesn’t matter; a few mothers say it does bother their baby. So, certainly, try not to overdo it. But if you want some chocolate, just have it. Or anything else! As for the garlic, studies have been done on that, and it seems to be a possible worry but not a big worry. (You may want to try some next month after your baby’s GI tract is a little more mature.) My mother, off the boat from Italy, ate more garlic than anyone else I know, and it didn’t bother her kids at all. I have an upcoming podcast (in early January, 2020!) that will discuss garlic and all sorts of food, so please, join the Marie’s Insider Club (if you haven’t already!) to get a reminder, and I think you’ll find it very interesting.
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As much as I wish your reasons could justify my chocolate consumption, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting (in which case I’ll have to pass on chocolate flavored). My babies writhe in discomfort and pain after I eat chocolate, especially in it’s more concentrated form. And i only have to eat a tiny amount for the negative effects to kick in. I wish you were right in my case for I dearly love chocolate. And I can’t wait to ask God in the next life why my babies are intolerant towards it while other moms report no effect. Thank you for your article nonetheless. I wish there were more content online regarding this topic!
I think you hit the nail on the head. Some babies are bothered, other babies have no issue at all. And by the way, that’s not just chocolate! Some babies are bothered by some foods, but not others. It’s for sure one of those “unsolved mysteries!