The Do’s and Don’ts of Eating Fish During Pregnancy

Fish During Pregnancy

Can I eat fish now that I’m pregnant?
Is all fish off limits or are there certain types of fish I can eat?

What’s safe and what’s not are questions that most pregnant women ask themselves after finding out that they are pregnant. When it comes to eating fish, the do’s and don’ts can sometimes be confusing.

What’s the problem with fish?

One the one hand, seafood is nutritious, providing a healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, iron and zinc. On the other hand there are some types of seafood that should be avoided prior to becoming pregnant and while pregnant, due to mercury and pollutant contamination.1 Mercury is a naturally occurring metal, however, in water it is converted by bacteria into toxic methylmercury that contaminates the fishes’ food sources.2 High levels of mercury circulating in the maternal blood stream have been shown to cause fetal brain and nervous system abnormalities.1,2 It can take upwards of one year for the body to naturally eliminate circulating levels of mercury to levels that are considered safe.2

Which fish should I avoid during pregnancy?

Almost all fish have trace levels of methylmercury, but larger, older fish tend to have the highest levels.2 Examples of fish to avoid while trying to conceive, pregnant, or nursing include:1
• Shark
• Swordfish
• King mackerel
• Tilefish

What fish and shellfish can I eat during pregnancy?

Women can generally safely consume 8 to 12 oz. of seafood weekly, equating to approximately two average weekly servings.1,2
Low mercury fish, many high in omega-3 fatty acid, include:1,2
• Salmon
• Anchovies
• Sardines
• Herring
• Trout
• Atlantic and Pacific mackerel
• Shrimp
• Pollock
• Catfish
Consume tuna (albacore and tuna steak) with caution and limit servings to 6 oz. or 170 grams per week.1,2

Important safety tips about eating seafood for women of childbearing age:1

• Avoid consuming large predatory fish due to high levels of mercury.
• Avoid uncooked fish and shellfish due to the risk of exposing your growing baby to bacteria and viruses. This includes avoiding sushi, sashimi and uncooked refrigerated fish labeled as nova style, lox, kippered, smoked or jerky.
• Take note of local fish advisories. If there is no available information or advisory, limit local fish to 6 oz. per week. During that week no other fish should be consumed. If you have a concern, contact your local health department or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/fishadvisories/) for additional information.
• Make sure all fish is cooked to an internal temperature of 145○ F. Shellfish such as shrimp, lobster and scallops should be cooked until they turn milky white; clams, mussels and oysters should be cooked until their sells separate and open. Again, contact the health department or EPA if you are not sure.

Speak with your healthcare provider if you have any additional questions regarding the safety of consuming seafood prior to becoming pregnant and during pregnancy and lactation.

References:
1. Pregnancy and fish: What’s safe to eat?
2. Food Safety for Moms-To-Be: While You’re Pregnant – Methylmercury.

Lori Smith
Lori Smith, BSN, MSN, CRNP received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Wilkes University and her Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania. She practiced as a Gynecologic Oncology Nurse Practitioner for 7 years after completion of her master’s degree, providing care to women with both benign and malignant female reproductive diseases. Lori is now an accomplished freelance writer specializing in health and wellness; she has been published in both print and online media.

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