When Can I Give My Baby Chocolate?

How to Introduce it and Spot Allergies

Young Girl Eating Brownie Mix In Kitchen
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You may have heard conflicting advice about when the time is right to give your baby chocolate for the first time. You may also wonder if consuming chocolate can cause an allergic reaction, and if so, what that reaction looks like. 

The truth is that while an allergy to cacao (the bean that's the main ingredient in chocolate) is possible, it's incredibly rare—so rare that this allergy does not even show up in recent medical literature.

In fact, chocolate itself is not on the big eight list of food allergies. That being said, ingredients sometimes found in chocolate are on this list, so it's wise to exercise caution with chocolate when it comes to your infant.

Common Allergens Found in Chocolate

Chocolates often contain foods known for causing allergies or food intolerance, including:

Since food labeling requirements were not strictly enforced until 2004 to 2006, many parents and health care providers assumed chocolate was the culprit if their child had an allergic reaction. Education about cross-contamination has now exonerated chocolate from its status as a highly allergenic offender.

Since chocolate may contain one or more the above ingredients, it's good to note that the timing of when to give your child highly allergenic foods (like eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish) has also changed.

While it used to be recommended that parents delay giving these foods to their children, research now suggests that introducing these foods earlier (between four and six months of age) may actually benefit an infant at high-risk for developing an allergic disease (for example, food allergy, asthma, allergic rhinitis, eczema).

A baby at high risk of developing an allergic disease is one who has at least one parent or sibling with an allergic disease.

Still, certain foods like cow's milk and honey should not be given to a child before 12 months of age (for non-allergy related reasons). Yogurt, baked goods, and cheese that contain cow's milk, though, are OK before 12 months of age.

How to Introduce Chocolate for the First Time

When it comes specifically to chocolate, there are no specific guidelines about when or how to give it for the first time. However, it's sensible to introduce chocolate at home and begin with a simple taste.  If tolerated, the food can then be slowly given in larger amounts—a graduated process.

Again, the big picture here is that it's not really chocolate that is the concern, but the other ingredients contained in that chocolate product. So reading labels and having a plan with your child's pediatrician about when and how to introduce certain foods is key, especially if your child is high-risk for developing an allergic condition.

How to Spot a Food Allergy

Whether or not you have a history of food allergies in your family, the first time you introduce chocolate, be sure to watch for the signs of an allergic reaction, including:

  • Hives
  • Wheezing, difficulty breathing, or asthma symptoms
  • A runny nose or sneezing
  • Red or watery eyes
  • Swelling of the tongue or throat
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

In event of difficulty breathing and/or swelling of the tongue or throat, seek medical attention right away.

Less severe reactions can take several days to appear and might include eczema, diarrhea, or constipation. 

Be sure to tell your child's doctor about any potential allergic reaction after eating. In some instances, your child's pediatrician may recommend an evaluation by a doctor who specializes in treating allergies.

Going Beyond Chocolate Allergies 

Beyond food allergies, you may want to hold off on giving your little one chocolate due to its caffeine and sugar content.

In addition, exposing your child to more nutritious foods can help him develop healthy eating habits to ensure a well-balanced diet. Of course, a bite or two of birthday cake before your child's first birthday won't cause cavities, a sugar rush or a sudden caffeine buzz—it's about moderation, being realistic, and indulging in life's pleasures once in awhile.

Lastly, be wary of choking when it comes to consuming chocolate. While a piece of chocolate birthday cake is likely soft, chocolate that contains nuts or is hard and/or small can be dangerous for your child.

A Word From Verywell

Chocolate on its own is rarely linked to allergies—it's more the ingredients in chocolate like nuts, dairy, or soy that you have to watch out for. Nevertheless, it is important to monitor your child's intake of chocolate and not make it a habit. There are so many nutritious foods for your little one to try, so it's best to save the sweet stuff for special occasions.

Sources:

Costa J, Melo VS, Santos CG, Oliveira MB, Mafra I. Tracing tree nut allergens in chocolate: A comparison of DNA extraction protocols. Food Chem. 2015 Nov 15;187:469-76.

Fleicher DM. (March 2017). Introducing highly allergenic foods to infants and children. In: UpToDate, Sicherer SH (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA.

Fleischer DM, Spergel JM, Assa'ad AH, Pongracic JA. Primary prevention of allergic disease through the nutritional interventions.J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2013 Jan;1(1):29-36.

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