An Unexpected Treat If You’re Expecting On This Valentine’s Day

By Nadia Mohamedi, OTIS Teratogen Information Specialist

Whether you think Valentine’s day is a great opportunity to cherish the love in your life, a nauseating marketing ploy, or a form of torture for single people, there’s one thing we all can agree on: chocolate will be eaten…lots of it! Pregnant women, on the other hand, are sometimes told that chocolate is yet another treat they should not eat in pregnancy. Although a low amount, chocolate does contain caffeine. Many studies have been conducted on the effect of caffeine on a pregnancy and the developing baby, however, some pregnant women hear varied and unclear advice about caffeine consumption. Do pregnant women really have to spend their Valentine’s Day watching their kids enjoy their fancy chocolate-dipped strawberries?

Caffeine has been studied extensively in pregnancy and to date no studies have suggested that caffeine intake in pregnancy is associated with an increased risk for birth defects. However, there have been conflicting results regarding the contribution of caffeine intake to an increased risk for miscarriage and preterm birth (delivering before 37 weeks).

In 2008, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) reviewed the literature to date on the effect of caffeine intake on pregnancy outcome. To determine if caffeine increases one’s risk for a miscarriage, they reviewed two large studies of more than 3,000 pregnant women. They concluded that this data showed caffeine intake of less than 200mg per day, or “moderate” caffeine intake, was not associated with an increased risk for miscarriage. Similarly, they reviewed two large studies of about 2,000 babies and found that moderate caffeine intake did not contribute to preterm birth. Thus, ACOG concluded that moderate caffeine intake, no more than 200mg of caffeine per day, during pregnancy does not seem to be a factor in increasing a women’s risk for having a miscarriage or a preterm delivery.

So, a pregnant woman can have some chocolate. But wait, how much is 200 mg of caffeine? Here is a list of some common caffeinated treats with their average milligrams of caffeine defined by the US Department of Agriculture:

Dark Chocolate 1.45 oz = 30mg
Milk Chocolate 1.55 oz = 11mg
Coffee 8oz = 137mg
Tea 8oz = 48mg
Soda 12oz= 37mg
Hot Cocoa 12oz= 8-12mg

Given these recommendations, pregnant women should feel reassured that they can share a latte with their valentine or indulge in a few pieces of dark chocolate this Valentine’s Day without the worry of adversely affecting their developing baby. Sweet!

* Committee Opinion #462, “Moderate Caffeine Consumption During Pregnancy,” published in the August 2010 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

About the Author

Nadia Mohamedi is a teratogen information specialist and also serves as a research assistant/interviewer for OTIS studies in San Diego, CA. She holds a BA in neurobiology and a minor in psychology from Harvard College. In addition to her work with OTIS, Nadia has worked for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program at McLean Hospital as well as served as a teacher’s assistant at a school for children with disabilities in Lima, Peru.

OTIS is a North American non-profit dedicated to providing accurate evidence-based information about exposures during pregnancy and lactation. Questions or concerns about alcohol during pregnancy or breastfeeding can be directed to OTIS counselors at (866) 626-OTIS (6847) or online at OTISPregnancy.org.