Wellness and Healthy Living: BJC Medical Group


Published on Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Eating Fish During Pregnancy? The Story Is a Little Fishy

During pregnancy, you have long lists of what foods are beneficial for baby and what foods you should avoid. But what about seafood? Confused? You’re not alone.
Can I eat seafood if I’m pregnant or nursing?
In 2004, the FDA warned pregnant and nursing women to avoid eating seafood high in mercury content. Rather than risk it, many women began avoiding seafood altogether. The latest recommendations, issued in June 2014, were drafted to remind women that by avoiding seafood altogether, they are missing out on significant nutritional benefits of dietary seafood consumption.  The intention of the new guidelines is to remind women that it is indeed important to eat safe seafood in pregnancy.

The 2014 guidelines focus on the importance of consuming a diet rich in seafood that is high in the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids (DHA/EPA) and low in mercury. Emerging science has shown the overwhelming benefit of diets high in omega-3 fatty acids to fetal and childhood development, as well as overall health.  While the consumer market is saturated in supplements with DHA/EPA, it appears that taking these supplements does not mimic the benefit of DHA/EPA ingested naturally in a diet. The exact dose of DHA/EPA that is maximally beneficial has not yet been established.

What is the recommended amount of fish for pregnant and nursing women?
To promote a diet with maximally beneficial DHA/EPA, the 2014 guidelines recommend that pregnant and nursing women consume between 8 and 12 ounces of fish a week and that they select seafood that is low in mercury content.  This is about 2-3 servings of seafood a week.

So exactly what seafood should I be eating while pregnant or nursing?  
Good choices are salmon, tilapia, shrimp, catfish, light canned tuna, sardines, pollack, flounder and scallops because these have higher DHA/EPA content while being relative low in mercury content. You should avoid tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, king mackerel, shark and swordfish as well as limiting albacore (white) tuna to 6 oz. a week because of the high mercury content in these fish.  

Are there special cooking recommendations? 
Just like all poultry, meats, and eggs, any seafood consumed needs to be cooked to appropriate temperatures to kill germs. Consumption of raw seafood can increase the risk of serious foodborne infections, especially in pregnant women and infants.  Patients often ask, “So I can’t eat sushi?” Sushi that contains raw seafood should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation; however, there are plenty of sushi options that contain only cooked seafood and your server should be easily able to direct you to those items so you can continue to enjoy your sushi nights and meet your dietary recommendations while pregnant or nursing.

Talk to your doctor or visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 
for more details. 

Rosanna Gray-Swain, MD, is a board-certified physician at West End Ob/Gyn. She can be reached at 314.286.2620. 

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Categories: Ask the Doctor, Pediatrics, General Wellness, Women's Health


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