Seafood Safety During Pregnancy

Seafood can be part of a healthy pregnancy diet, as long as you are careful about what type of seafood you consume. Certain types of fish, as well as undercooked or raw seafood may pose a risk to your baby, so use caution when selecting seafood options for your pregnancy diet.

Mercury in Fish

Fish is a very healthful food and provides pregnant women with the very important and hard to get Omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to baby’s eye and brain development among other benefits. Certain fish, however, contain dangerous levels of mercury, and should be eaten in small amounts or avoided altogether, as mercury can be damaging to an unborn baby’s nervous system.

Fish absorb mercury from their food, and the longer a fish lives, the more mercury it will accumulate. Therefore, fish with longer life spans will have a much higher mercury level than those who don’t live as long. Larger, predator fish that feed on small fish will absorb more mercury from their diet as well, causing their mercury levels to rise even more.

Fish that contain dangerously high levels of mercury are swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish. Pregnant women should avoid these fish entirely. The fish that are lowest in mercury are salmon, canned white tuna, shrimp and pollock. Albacore tuna is higher in mercury than the standard white tuna found in a can, and tuna steaks should be consumed only rarely. Pregnant women should consider avoiding tuna steaks altogether to be on the safe side. Other fish to be cautious with include halibut, bass, snapper and mackerel. If you aren’t sure about a fish, check with the FDA prior to eating it.

The safe amount of fish recommended by the FDA for pregnant women is about 12 ounces per week. Try to ensure that most, if not all of your fish consumption is from those listed as being lowest in mercury. Use caution when consuming fish caught in local waters by friends and family, as it may be difficult to tell what the mercury level is.

Undercooked or Raw Fish

Many people enjoy sushi, but unfortunately it isn’t safe to consume during pregnancy. Some types of sushi, such as California rolls, do not contain raw fish and are safe to eat, but all raw fish should be removed from the diet entirely. Raw fish can contain bacteria such as salmonella and parasites that are very harmful to the baby.

Undercooked shellfish such as clams and oysters are the number one cause of seafood-related illnesses, so be especially cautious when consuming these foods. Be absolutely certain that they are fully cooked to at least 140 degrees before you eat. If you can’t be sure of proper cooking, it’s best to avoid these foods altogether.

While all of the information surrounding fish consumption can be confusing and a bit frightening, keep in mind that fish provide a great deal of wonderful nutrition to you and your baby as well. Fish are low in the bad fats and full of the good fats that support your baby’s development. They also provide a number of essential vitamins and minerals. Enjoy your fish, but follow the FDA guidelines to be safe. Aim for two servings of low-mercury, fully cooked fish every week to get the benefits and avoid the risks.

Leave a Reply