Is Cacao safe to consume during pregnancy? 

This information is a fusion of my own personal experience, research and understandings of spending 12 years and 3 pregnancies with Mamma Cacao by my side.

I first felt drawn to Cacao when I was pregnant with my first son, 12 years ago. Back then I was eating it as raw chocolate, made mostly out of organic cacao powder, and cacao butter and a little maple syrup. Sometimes I would just mix the powder with hot water, because for some reason, my body just needed that rich, muddy, earthy, bitter taste and experience!! I now believe this plant was helping me to learn how to grow my own roots and reconnect to Mother Earth. 

l noticed eating and drinking cacao would curb sugar cravings and anchor me when I was anxious or depressed. It was only many years later that I discovered cacao is a brilliant source of anandamide which is a cannabinoid that creates feelings of bliss. It also contains phenylethylamine, a neurotransmiiter that increases feelings of euphoria, and tryptophan that is a precursor to serotonin which is a natural antidepressant. I think that is part of the magic of ixCacao (the Spirit of Cacao) – she seems to find her way into our hearts and homes, just as we need her, nourishing and supporting us, even if we don’t consciously understand why or how just yet.

Physically, cacao raises our energy levels in a more gentle and sustainable way than coffee and sugar.  This is because cacao has a greater half life, which means it takes 5-7 hours to be metabolised in the body, so it provides a slower, steady and sustained energy release. Cacao also has high amount of theobromine only only a little caffeine, so in comparison to coffee, a cup of good quality hot chocolate during pregnancy is a perfect alternative for those mammas that want to reduce their caffeine intake, or wean off coffee all together.

Interestingly, in my second and third pregnancies I could not stomach cacao in the first trimester without severe nausea and vomiting. In hindsight, I believe that it was because my liver was already struggling with metabolising high surges of pregnancy hormones, and cacao may have been too strong for me in those early pregnancy months. Cacao is metabolised in the liver, and also has a high fat content, which in high doses can exacerbate an already nauseaus pregnant mamma. I believe that for me, at that time in my pregnancy, my liver was overtaxed and gentle fresh herbal tea like dandelion root and ginger (and hot chips hehe) were more therapeutic.  

But for those mammas who can stomach good quality dark chocolate and cacao, the good news is that it is packed with zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, flavonoids which are all beneficial nutrients for supporting the mothers adrenal and immune health during pregnancy. Magnesium is a fanatasic muscle relaxant and nervous system tonic and the flavonoids in cacao also have anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. For example, there are many studies that show that cacao can reduce pre-eclampsia in pregnancy (1) due to the flavonoids, antioxidants and the active constituent, theobromine, which acts as a vasolidater and smooth muscle relaxant.

However, it is important to note that there seems to be controversial information out there about the effects of cacao on the baby, and whilst theobromine does seem into improve cardiovascular health of the mother, one study showed that theobromine and caffeine consumption in mice resulted in inhibited embryonic growth (2). One of the reasons for this is because cacao, and coffee, are methylxanthines, which can cross the placenta and interfere with certain growth factors. However more studies really need to be done in humans. Contrastingly though, another study shows the intake of methylxanthines during birth can actually improve neonatal respiratory outcomes in pre-term babies, due to the stimulating nature of methylxanthines on the lungs. (3,4) Another study showed that methylxanthines also reduced the need for oxygen therapy and ventilator support and improved neurodevelopmental outcomes in infancy (5). It can therefore be concluded that cacao, as a methylxanthine, may not be ideal for the baby in high doses during the earlier trimesters, but may be beneficial to the baby during birth. Perhaps the ancient Maya and Aztecs knew this, which is why cacao was often encorporated into birthing ceremonies, especially during long labours when the Mother needed energy to keep going.

Another thing I believe is important for pregnant mammas to be aware of is that raw cacao, like raw leafy green vegetables, is high in oxalates, which can interfere with calcium absorption. Simmering your cacao will resolve this problem, and eliminate most of the oxalates. So if you are consuming cacao every day, make sure you eat it heated and you may want to consider taking a calcium supplement, away from when you consume your cacao. Both our Peruvian and Guatemalan Cacao has been gently roasted and so this problem has already been eliminated.

Now, it is around the birth gateway, where I really believe Mamma Cacao shines. It is believed that the Mayan birthing mother would eat the flesh of the cacao pods to facilitate the birth process, and that the hands, head and feet of new born babes were anointed with ground cacao seeds and flowers infused in pure water. Today, I believe cacao makes a wonderful tonic for nourishing the birthing mother and increasing her energy levels in during labour. She teaches us to grow our roots deeply and to connect to the earth and our own ancestors. Yet simultaneously cacao encourages us to open our hearts and raise our vibration, allowing our branches full of potential to aim for the stars and produce wholesome healthy fruit. She helps us to truly embrace the Mother archetype within, releasing our old life before birth, and, as the gateway of birth is opened, and the veil between worlds is lifted, we become initiated into the next phase of our lives.

Birth is a powerful time for creating conscious ritual and setting intentions. Never are our bodies closer to God and the Goddess, and Cacao is the perfect guardian to oversee the protection of both mother and child. For the birth of my second baby, I decided to set the intention of ‘celebration’, which was a massive contrast to the naivety and fear I had in my first birth. I baked a chocolate cake while I was in labour and really envisioned this second birth being like a party!! I believe the intention and the vibration I was holding contributed to most liberating, swift, unassisted free-birth of my son in the lounge room, straight into his daddy’s hands! The chocolate cake was then enjoyed the next day by our whole family and guests! It was truly the best birth ever and I often wonder if the Spirit of Cacao lent a helping hand in that! 

In summary –

  • I believe an appropriate dose of ceremonial grade cacao during pregnancy is 15g 3x week, ideally with a break every few days so the body can metabolise it all out of your system properly and prevent any inhibitory effects on the growing baby. It is important to remember that Cacao is a gentle, but potent plant medicine, and like all medicines, she should be consumed consciously and with awareness, esp when pregnant, so please listen to you your instincts or chat with your naturopath or health practitioner if you are concerned. 
  • Minimise consumption in the first trimester, and then gradually have more as the trimesters go on.
  • Cacao is a safer more gentle alternative to coffee.
  • If you are using raw cacao, briefly bring to the boil and simmer your cacao so that it is cooked, to eliminate the oxalates which can compete for calcium absorption.
  • Consider higher doses at birth, around 20-30 grams, perhaps even more if intuitively guided to do so.

For those sensitive souls out there who really wish to connect with cacao, but cannot physically consume it without feeling unwell, I recommend this meditation that will allow you to connect with her essence, without having to take the plant internally.

 

Sacred Cacao Recipe for Pregnancy 

Place the plant milk, cacao and grated ginger into a saucepan and gently bring to the boil. Once it has reached peak temperature and starts to bubble, turn off the heat and stir gently to dissolve all the cacao.

Transfer cacao milk into a vessel where you can now blend it with the fresh date, until smooth creamy and frothy.

Sit with Mamma Cacao, allowing her nourishing medicine to hold you as you hold babe inside. Take this moment to allow your heart to open, bringing forth feelings of gratitude for the little miracle blossoming within. From this open hearted place you might like to commune with your babe, asking any questions, sharing any worries or concerns and collaborating how you can both support each other during the pregnancy and birth.

When I was 23 weeks along in my 3rd pregnancy, my baby was positioned breech. I was hoping for a home birth, but not many doctors are supportive of that, especially when the baby is breech. I was full of fear and worry as to what may lay ahead, when I realised I just needed to connect with Bub and let go, trusting that whatever happens is the perfect experience for both of our souls. So I sat down and I tuned into my belly and and the little soul within and I told her, if she wants to be born breech that we would do it and find a way to birth her easily and gently in that position. I then felt prompted to go for a walk, and within the next hour, during that walk I could feel the baby changing position. That afternoon I had my appointment with my obstetrician who told me the baby is no longer breech and happily head down!!! I really believe the letting go of the attachment to outcome had an influence in that! I went on to have another beautiful free-birth at home, with hubby and siblings by my side! Don’t underestimate the power of chatting to your baby within.

HAPPY CACAO DRINKING, BLOSSOMING AND BIRTHING!

 

Love Jane xxx

 

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2782959/ 

(2)  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15573693/ 

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6388001/

(4) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226147362_Methylxanthines_During_Pregnancy_and_Early_Postnatal_Life

(5) https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000139.pub2/