So Long, Seafood? Debunking Myths About Eating Fish During Pregnancy

With pregnancy comes many changes, often including a renewed focus on eating healthfully. In a recent article from The Bump, IFIC’s associate director of nutrition communications Ali Webster, PhD, RD, shares that fish can be part of a healthy diet during pregnancy.

So Long, Seafood?

 “Can I eat fish while I’m pregnant?” is a common question that expecting mothers ask—and for good reason. It’s important to consider the type of fish one is consuming for an important reason: its mercury content. All seafood contains a small amount of mercury because it’s often present in bodies of water.

But many popular types of fish, including salmon, canned tuna, cod and tilapia, are very low in mercury. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are seven types of fish that should be avoided during pregnancy because they have a higher mercury content: bigeye tuna, tilefish, shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy and king mackerel.

Not-So-Fishy Facts

Fish provides many key nutrients for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as growing babies. Fish contributes to protein intake, which is crucial for a baby’s growth, especially during the second and third trimesters. Pregnant women should aim to consume 70 grams of protein per day.

Fish is also a source of essential fatty acids, which are important for a baby’s growth and development. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an important unsaturated omega-3 fatty acid found in oily fish like salmon and tuna that aids in a baby’s eye and brain development. Pregnant women should consume 200 mg of DHA each day.

Seafood is also rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron and vitamin D. Because pregnant women have an increased amount of blood in their bodies, they need more iron than non-pregnant women. Therefore, expecting mothers should aim to consume 45 mg of iron per day. Vitamin D, which aids in calcium absorption, immune function and brain health, is also found in oily fish like salmon and trout.

Wait... What About Sushi?

If you can’t imagine nine months without sushi, it is best to choose veggie options or rolls with cooked seafood, for now. Raw fish should be avoided during pregnancy because expecting mothers have a slightly weakened immune system, which increases the risk for foodborne illness.

There is nothing fishy about consuming (fully cooked!) fish during pregnancy. Fish contributes to a healthy eating style and provides many important nutrients for both Mom and baby during pregnancy. As encouraged by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat up to two to three meals of seafood each week. As long as you avoid the types of fish that are higher in mercury, it’s okay to dive into some nutritious fish meals during pregnancy.

For more information on nutrition during pregnancy, check out our Healthy Eating During Pregnancy resource.