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Dos and Don'ts of Eating Fish During Pregnancy

Alison Wood |22, January 2013


Ahh, yes! It's the nine month, super-healthy, power food plan! When a woman becomes pregnant, she begins to think about every morsel of food she puts in her mouth. Why? It's simple. Her food decisions not only affect her well-being, but also the little bambino that is growing inside her womb.

Most pregnant women know the healthy diet basics of avoiding alcoholic beverages, too much caffeine and myriads of medications. But what about that healthy source of protein, vitamins and iron called fish? Certainly women can eat loads of that during the nine month pregnancy diet...right?

Seafood has lots of good stuff in it for your baby's health. It is a great source fo omega-3 fatty acids that help the development of your baby's brain. However, certain seafood can be harmful to the growing baby.

Predatory fish like king mackerel, tile-fish, shark and swordfish contain high levels of mercury. This is a definite "no-no" during the baby bump days. If mercury is eaten regularly during pregnancy, it can enter your bloodstream and could have possible damaging effects on the baby's brain and nervous system.

So how much is too much?

The daily recommended allowance for pregnant women is no more than 12 oz. of seafood per week. This could be consumed in about two normal-sized meals. If you are concerned about your love for seafood, try these ocean creatures that are lower in mercury.

  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Tilapia
  • Canned light tuna -- but try to limit albacore tuna, chunk white tuna and tuna steak to no more than 6 oz.per week.

When the seafood craving comes keep these other precautions in mind!

Avoid raw fish and shellfish. These delicacies can contain harmful bacteria for your little bundle - especially oysters and clams. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as lox, is also off-limits during pregnancy.

Watch out for local fish advisories. Larger game fish that have become contaminated with chemical pollutants could potentially harm a developing baby. If information isn't available, limit fish from local waters to 6 ounces a week. Do not consume other fish during the same week you consume local fish.

Cook seafood properly. Cook fish and all seafood to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. Fish is done when it flakes and is white throughout the meat. Scallops, shrimp and lobster are all ready to eat when they are cooked to a white color.. Mussels, oysters and clams should be cooked until shells open. If the shells do not open, discard the fish.

Fish is such a densely nutricious food that doctors do not recommend avoiding it altogether during pregnancy. Just make sure you are eating the right kinds of fish.

Here are the best fish to invest your calories in. These fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury. Sounds too good to be true!

  • Anchovy
  • Herring
  • Mackerel (Atlantic, jack, chub)
  • Rainbow Trout (farm raised)
  • Salmon (wild or farm raised)
  • Sardines
  • Shad (American)
  • Whitefish

If you are still concerned about not consuming enough omega-fatty acids throughout pregnancy, there are some other venues to get those power nutrients in. Lots of foods found in your local grocery store are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs, milk, soy beverages, juice, yogurt, bread, cereal and margarine all contain that healthy ingredient for baby's development. Some of these foods are skimpy on the DHA, but every little bit helps!

So, what about after the baby is born? Should you still avoid fish high in mercury?

Absolutely. The mercury you consume during your breast-feeding days can pass from mom to baby through the mother's milk. Follow the same guidelines for consumption of fish during pregnancy for the months of lactation. Try out new recipes and restaurants until you learn to love low-mercury seafood. With enough garlic and butter, any type of fish is more pleasant to the taste buds!

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