Can Pregnant Women Eat Fish? Your Guide to Eating Fish During Pregnancy
The Question Used to Be: “Can pregnant women eat fish?” Or “can pregnant women eat seafood?”
Now the question is: are pregnant women eating enough fish or seafood during pregnancy?
The USDA/HHS’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating a variety of cooked seafood 2-3 times each week during pregnancy. But the average pregnant woman in the U.S. eats less than half a serving. That’s a huge problem that we all need to do our part to help solve.
It’s critically important for moms-to-be to eat more seafood because the combination of nutrients found in fish are in especially demand by your body during pregnancy.
So, What Are the Benefits of Eating Fish During Pregnancy? What Kind of Nutrients Do Fish Contain That Are Important For Pregnant Women?
Fish contain the a variety of nutrients that are especially important for moms-to-be:
Omega-3 DHA (“Omega-3’s”)
The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a special kind of healthy fat that helps build your baby’s brain and eyes. During the last trimester, a fetus’s brain and nervous system rapidly develops, requiring about 65 mg/day of DHA. This heightened demand for DHA continues until your child reaches two years of age. Omega-3 DHA also nourishes moms’ brain health, and may even prevent depression during and after pregnancy.
It’s critical for women to eat fish during pregnancy because its he most widely available dietary source of omega-3 DHA there is. Fish like salmon, canned or pouch tuna, sardines, trout, and anchovies are rich in omega-3 DHA. There are other nutritional sources of DHA, including milk and eggs that have specifically had DHA added to them, also called DHA fortified milk or DHA fortified eggs.
Protein is needed to build a baby’s skin, muscle, hair, and bones. Moms-to-be need about 25 extra grams of protein every day to support their growing baby.
Fish and shellfish, eggs, beans, peanut butter, and dairy like cottage cheese are all good sources of protein. Fish has the added benefit of being lower in bad fats than some other animal sources of protein, like red meat.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb nutrients like calcium, which builds a baby’s bones, teeth, heart, nerves, and muscles, while also keeping mom’s bones and teeth strong. Vitamin D may also help lower your chance of getting high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Your body actually makes Vitamin D, in a process linked to the amount of sunlight you absorb each day. That’s why younger and older people, people with darker skin, and people with limited sun exposure are at greater risk of Vitamin D inadequacy or deficiency.
You can get Vitamin D from dietary sources to make up for any shortfall produced by your own body, but the dietary sources of Vitamin D are relatively limited. And at the top of the list are fish like salmon, shrimp, and canned or pouch tuna. Other options include milk or orange juice specifically fortified with added Vitamin D.
Iron helps carry oxygen from a mom’s bloodstream to her baby. Iron also helps keep moms’ immune system strong. Most moms-to-be begin their pregnancies without enough iron in their diets.
Many people think of meats like turkey, beef, and chicken as top sources of iron. However, seafood like clams, halibut, crab, shrimp, and cooked oysters are also iron-rich. Vegetarian sources include red and kidney beans.
So, What Are The Healthiest Fish To Eat During Pregnancy? Are There Any Fish To Avoid During Pregnancy?
A quick internet search reveals that confusing “top fish to eat” lists abound, but the truth is that the best advice on fish and seafood for moms-to-be is pretty simple. Pregnant women can and should be enjoying a lot of different kinds of fish and other seafood. Popular types like catfish, clams, cod, crab, pollock, salmon, scallops, shrimp, tilapia, trout, and canned tuna are all safe fish, healthy fish to eat during pregnancy. Just like it’s best to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, the recommendation is to eat a variety of seafoods to get the full range of nutrients found in different types of fish and shellfish. So moms-to-be should generally just eat a variety of the types of seafood they like most – they should just do it more often.
All types of seafood – frozen, fresh, and canned – count. It’s easy to forget that fish is found in three places in the grocery store. The seafood counter, of course, but also the canned goods aisle and the freezer section. It doesn’t matter which one women choose – all contain the nutrients, like omega-3s, that make seafood such a smart choice. So stock the kitchen with a variety of seafood options so there is a go-to no matter what sounds good. To give just two examples:
Canned tuna is one of the most affordable, available forms of omega-3s in the American diet. And canned tuna is a great choice for fish to eat while pregnant. There are two primary types of canned tuna, white (also known as albacore) and light. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can eat all types of tuna, including white (albacore) and light canned tuna as part of a variety of 2-3 servings of seafood each week.
Crab is a great choice for moms-to-be because it has a mild, sweet flavor and is rich in omega-3s. Consider adding crab or tuna to dishes you already love like macaroni and cheese.
Are There Any Fish to Avoid During Pregnancy?
There are only a handful of fish high in mercury to avoid, and the easy part is that most Americans rarely eat these fish anyway. They include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, marlin, orange roughy, and bigeye tuna (found in some sushi).
Essentially all seafood includes traces of mercury in addition to beneficial nutrients like omega-3s. Scientists have closely studied the health effects on children when their moms eat fish during pregnancy. They repeatedly conclude that eating seafood 2-3 times each week during pregnancy boosts babies’ brain development. The World Health Organization points out that avoiding seafood may actually mean missing out on the best possible brain development for babies.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Sushi?
To reduce the chance of getting sick from food, women shouldn’t eat any raw meats during pregnancy. Sushi is tasty, nutritious and fun; just make sure to stick with cooked types during pregnancy. There are many types of cooked sushi—just look for the “cooked” sticker when shopping in the grocery store, or ask the server when dining out.
Can Breastfeeding Women Eat Fish?
Pregnant women who are already in the groove of eating seafood should keep it up after the baby arrives. The omega-3s found in seafood make their way to breastmilk and help nourish babies’ rapidly growing brains. Cooking and preparing many kinds of fish is also fast, and so fits well into busy new moms’ lives. Fish-loving parents set a positive example for their little one, who will be eating solid foods in just 4-6 months.
What are some Healthy Fish Recipes?
Whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it may make sense to eat several mini-meals instead of a big meal. Consider thinking of seafood as an add-on to mini meals and snacks morning, noon, and night. Combine canned tuna, a hard-boiled egg, and cheddar cheese for a mid-morning meal. Top tilapia with mango salsa and wrap in a corn tortilla for lunch. Mix canned salmon with olive spread and eat with a couple slices of a French baguette for a snack. Toss pasta with sundried tomatoes and shrimp for a quick dinner. Visit Dish on Fish for more ways to get at least two seafood meals each week.
So, can pregnant women eat fish you ask? YES.
Author’s Note: We used the words “seafood” and “fish” interchangeably.