Fish Can Be Healthy during Pregnancy
Eating fish is healthy; it is especially
good during pregnancy. Women who eat fish during pregnancy often have
longer pregnancies and give birth to babies with higher birth weights.
Studies show the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may help protect you
from premature labor and other problems. Remember—the longer a baby
stays in the uterus, the better its chances are of being strong and
healthy at delivery.
Many fish are safe to eat, and you should
include them in your diet. Most fish is low in fat and high in vitamin
B, iron, zinc, selenium and copper. Many fish choices are excellent,
healthful additions to your diet (with certain limits, as discussed
Good Fish and Shellfish Choices
Below is a list of fish that are safe to eat if you cook them thoroughly. Don’t exceed a total of 12 ounces of all fish a week!
The following shellfish are safe to eat if they are thoroughly cooked.
In addition, fish sticks and fast-food fish sandwiches are OK to eat—they are commonly made from fish that is low in mercury.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are good for you during pregnancy. They help
protect your skin by keeping it lubricated and help to reduce skin
inflammation. Fish oil is important to fetal brain development.
Anchovies, herring, mullet, mackerel (not
King mackerel), salmon, sardines and trout are some fish with a lot of
omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in animal
foods, including grassfed beef and eggs from hens fed special diets. If
you’re a vegetarian or you don’t eat fish, add tofu, canola oil,
flaxseed, soybeans, walnuts and wheat germ to your food plan. These
foods contain linolenic oil, which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid.
Fish-oil capsules may be another option. If you buy fish-oil capsules, choose the filtered type because they don’t contain pollutants. Don’t take more than 2.4g of omega-3 fatty acids a day. Fish-oil capsules may upset your stomach. To solve the problem, freeze them or take them with meals or at bedtime.
Some fish are contaminated as the result of man-made pollution. People
who eat these fish are at risk of methyl-mercury poisoning.
Mercury is a naturally occurring
substance and a pollution by-product. Mercury becomes a problem when it
is released into the air. The worst methyl-mercury polluters are
coal-burning power plants; they account for more than 40% of the methyl
mercury released into the air. It settles into the oceans and from
there winds up in some types of fish, where it accumulates in their
muscles. Larger fish that live longer have the highest levels of
mercury because they’ve had the longest time to accumulate it in their
Eating 12 ounces of fish every week during pregnancy may help your child enjoy better development during his or her early years.
Methyl mercury above a certain level in
fish is dangerous for humans. We know methyl mercury can pass from
mother to fetus across the placenta. Research shows 60,000 children are
born each year who are at risk of developing problems linked to the
seafood their mothers ate during pregnancy.
A fetus may be more at risk of
methyl-mercury poisoning than an adult. Studies show one in five
American women of childbearing age has mercury levels that are too
high—about 8% of them have levels high enough to put a fetus at risk.
Pregnant women should limit their fish and shellfish intake to no more than 12 ounces a week. Twelve ounces is two to three average servings.
The amount of mercury in fish varies. Try
to choose fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. If you eat a
lot of fish, a hair-mercury analysis may be recommended. This testing
is often done at university medical centers.
There is debate about eating canned tuna.
Talk to your healthcare provider about it at a prenatal appointment if
this is a favorite of yours.
Some freshwater fish
may also be risky to eat, such as walleye and pike. Consult local or
state authorities for any advisories on eating freshwater fish. Other
fish to avoid include some found in warm tropical waters, especially
Florida, the Caribbean and Hawaii. Avoid the following “local” fish
from those areas: amberjack, barracuda, bluefish, grouper, mahimahi,
snapper and fresh tuna.
Fish to Avoid
There are fish to avoid during pregnancy
and breastfeeding. The FDA recommends avoiding swordfish, shark, king
mackerel and tilefish. Also avoid wall-eye, pike, amberjack, barracuda,
blue-fish, grouper, mahimahi and snapper.
There are different thoughts about
pregnant women eating tuna. Canned light tuna has less mercury than
alba-core tuna, so eat that. Don’t eat more than one 6-ounce can of
light tuna a week. If you want to eat a cooked tuna steak every once in
awhile, keep your total tuna intake (fresh and/or canned) to no more
than 6 ounces a week. If you have questions, talk to your healthcare
Some Additional Cautions about Fish.
Parasites, bacteria, viruses and toxins can contaminate fish. Eating
infected fish can make you sick. Sushi and ceviche are fish dishes that
could have viruses or parasites. Contaminated raw shellfish could cause
hepatitis-A, cholera or gastroenteritis. Avoid all raw fish during pregnancy!
Fish can contain other environmental
pollutants. Dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are found in
bluefish and lake trout; avoid them.
You may want to double check tilapia. Farm-raised tilapia
is one of the most highly consumed fish in America; however, it has low
levels of omega-3 fatty acids and high levels of unhealthy omega-6
We advise pregnant women not to eat
sushi. However, if you’re craving sushi, eat a California roll (no raw
fish) or shrimp tempura. Other dishes made with cooked eel and rolls with steamed crab and veggies are OK.
If you’re unsure about whether
you should eat a particular fish or if you want further information,
ask your healthcare provider for pamphlets about fish. Or contact the
Food and Drug Administration for information.