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Seafood During Pregnancy

 

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Is it Okay for Pregnant Women to Eat Seafood?

Dale Mayo, May 12, 2022

While seafood is a healthy source of lean protein and other vitamins, some women worry that it might not be healthy during pregnancy. Current research indicates that the benefits of eating seafood during pregnancy far outweigh the risks. In fact, fish provides protein, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and minerals like iodine, zinc, and selenium. It's also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promotes fetal brain and nervous system development and lowers the risk of preeclampsia, low birth weight, and preterm birth.[1]  

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists encourages pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, and breastfeeding mothers to follow the FDA and EPA’s advice regarding the consumption of seafood during pregnancy.[2]  Women who follow this advice may experience the benefits of seafood consumption without experiencing an increase in related risk from mercury to themselves or their babies. Advice regarding eating fish and shellfish from the FDA and EPA[3]:

  • Eat 2-3 servings a week (8 to 12 ounces in total) of a variety of fish (Best Choices in graphic below)
  • Eat only 1 serving a week (no more than 6 ounces) of some fish, such as albacore (white) tuna and fish with similar mercury concentrations to albacore (white) tuna (Good Choices in graphic below)
  • Avoid certain fish with the highest mercury concentrations (and pregnant women should also avoid all raw and undercooked seafood, eggs, and meat) (Choices to Avoid in graphic below)
  • Check for advisories for fish caught by family and friends and where no advisories exist, limit eating those fish to one serving a week and do not eat other fish that week (avoid fish from polluted lakes and rivers)
Types of Seafood to eat and avoid while pregnant

Benefits of seafood during pregnancy

A healthy diet (including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats) is important throughout your life and is especially important when you’re pregnant, as it will promote your baby’s growth and development.  

Baby’s brain development

Eating seafood by moms before, during and after pregnancy is beneficial for neurocognitive development for the baby. Consistent and strong studies demonstrate benefits and lack of harm at consumption levels well above 12 ounces per week. [4]  According to the EPA-FDA Advice about Eating Fish and Shellfish, fish provide key nutrients during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and/or early childhood to support a child’s brain development:  omega-3 fatty acids, iron, iodine, and choline (which also supports development of the baby’s spinal cord)

 

Development of healthy bones and teeth

Among the most important nutrients in a pregnancy diet are vitamin D, calcium, and protein.  In addition to promoting strong bones and teeth, calcium is important for the circulatory, muscular, and nervous systems. Vitamin D promotes bone strength and works with calcium to help build your baby’s bones and teeth. Protein helps create all cells in a baby.  Fish is a good source of calcium, a prime source of lean protein, and you can get almost all the RDA of vitamin D in a serving of sockeye salmon.[5]

Baby’s growth

Protein is important for fetal growth throughout the pregnancy.[6]  Fish and shellfish high in protein include tuna (but tuna eat tuna only once a week when pregnant), salmon, halibut, cod, lobster, shrimp, and crab.[7]


Immune system

Fish also provide zinc to support children’s immune systems and are a source of other nutrients like vitamin B12, and selenium.
Mom’s health. Seafood is good for cardiovascular health – pregnant or not.  Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease your risk of depression during pregnancy as well as postpartum depression and may help with memory. Finally, adequate intake of certain omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon) has been shown to reduce preterm labor. [8]   

Specific seafood to avoid during pregnancy

Some fish contain higher levels of mercury than others and too much mercury could harm a developing nervous system. Larger fish tend to have higher concentrations of mercury and other pollutants from the smaller fish that they eat.  Such large fish, identified by the FDA as fish to avoid during pregnancy include shark, swordfish, tilefish, bigeye tuna, marlin, orange roughy, and king mackerel. As long as you avoid these higher sources of mercury, the benefits of eating fish far outweigh the risks of mercury in fish.[9]

It is also important to cook your seafood thoroughly:  fish should reach an internal temperature of 145°F and be flaky, shellfish should open their shells. Being vigilant about keeping utensils and preparation areas clean when cooking meat or seafood is even more important if you’re pregnant. Do not re-use preparation dishes to serve meat or seafood and do not keep leftover marinades. Do not eat seared fish, sushi, nor raw oysters if you’re pregnant. 

Grilled Fish

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Getting it right

If you order your seafood from Sizzlefish, you can be certain that the seafood you’re eating is responsibly sourced. Sizzlefish provides sourcing information for each type of seafood on the website (e.g., informative logos - including our guarantee that it comes from sustainable fisheries - and sourcing information).  Eating high-quality seafood is good for you, your baby, and the environment.

 

Please note: The information in this article is not intended to substitute nor conflict with medical advice from your doctor and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

 

 

[1]  Slater, D. and Harris, N. (2021). Can pregnant women eat seafood? Here's what fish is safe during pregnancy and how much to eat. Parents, updated 2021. https://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/nutrition/should-you-eat-fish-during-pregnancy/

[2]  https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/practice-advisory/articles/2017/01/update-on-seafood-consumption-during-pregnancy

[3]  https://www.epa.gov/fish-tech/epa-fda-advice-about-eating-fish-and-shellfish

[4]  https://www.seafoodnutrition.org/seafood-101/research/eat-seafood-while-pregnant/

[5]  FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov

[6]  de Bellefonds, C. (2020). Eating fish during pregnancy:  What varieties are safe? WhatToExpect, medically reviewed by Wu, J. on June 1, 2020.  https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/diet/eating-fish-during-pregnancy/

[7]  George, S. (2019). Fish with the highest protein content. Livestrong, (reviewed by Renee, J., MS, RD). https://www.livestrong.com/article/520361-fish-with-the-highest-protein-content/

[8]  de Bellefonds, C. (2020). Eating fish during pregnancy:  What varieties are safe? WhatToExpect, medically reviewed by Wu, J. on June 1, 2020.  https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/diet/eating-fish-during-pregnancy/

[9]  https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/what-to-do-about-mercury-in-fish