Giving (Chocolate) Candy to a Baby

When It's Safe and How to Do It

Young Girl Eating Brownie Mix In Kitchen
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You may have heard conflicting advice about when to give your baby chocolate for the first time. You also may wonder if eating 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 so rare that it doesn't show up in medical literature. But although chocolate itself is not on the list of the eight most common food allergies, certain ingredients that can be found in chocolate are on this list, so it's wise to be careful with chocolate when it comes to your little one.

Allergens Found in Chocolate

Chocolate often contains ingredients known for causing allergies or food intolerance, so it's important to read labels before giving your child chocolate for the first time. However, note that in recent years the thinking about timing of offering potentially allergenic foods has changed. 

While it used to be recommended that parents delay giving these foods to their children, research now suggests that introducing them between 4 and 6 months may actually benefit an infant at high-risk for developing an allergic disease such as a food allergy, asthma, allergic rhinitis, or 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.

The ingredients often found in chocolate that are common allergens include:

Baby, Meet Chocolate

There are no specific guidelines about when or how to give chocolate to a child for the first time, but it's sensible to introduce chocolate at home and begin with a small taste. If your little one is able to enjoy it (and chances are she'll really enjoy it) without a problem, you can gradually give her more.

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, watch for these signs of an allergic reaction:

  • 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 the 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 allergic reaction your child has after eating, even if it's mild. In some instances, your child's pediatrician may recommend an evaluation by a doctor who specializes in treating allergies.

Health Hazards of Too Much Chocolate

Beyond food allergies, you may want to hold off on giving your little one chocolate due to its caffeine and sugar content. In addition, offering your child more nutritious foods can help him develop the healthy eating habits that lead to 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 a while.

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 a very young child.

View Article 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. "Introducing Highly Allergenic Foods to Infants and Children." UpToDate, March, 2017.
  • 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.