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What Fish to Avoid and What Fish to Eat during Pregnancy

Congratulations! You are embarking on the wonderful journey of motherhood, or about ready to welcome your little baby into this world. While pregnant, breastfeeding, or attempting to become pregnant, consuming more fish is just a healthier step overall. Fish contain vital nutrients, such as the omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals such as iron, all of which are essential to pregnant moms as they foster healthy fetal, infant and childhood development.

But no doubt—there are a lot of opinions, tales, and pieces of advice that may be coming to you from all sides and it can be relatively tough for first-time moms to wade through what’s good advice and what isn’t. It can be a lot to process at once. Especially when it comes to what you should or should not eat.

Are there dangers lurking in foods? What about seafood? Is it safe to eat or are there issues with certain types of fish? How do you know? Sit back and put your feet up. We’re happy to help and take a little bit of mom-to-be stress off your plate, so to speak.

What to Avoid

Avoid Raw Fish:

Do you adore sushi with raw tuna or a delicious slice of uncooked salmon? What about sashimi?

Unfortunately, we have some bad news for raw sushi and sashimi lovers out there expecting. You should avoid this to be completely safe. Undercooked or raw fish can carry toxoplasmosis and salmonella.

Toxoplasmosis is a rare but very serious blood infection that isn’t just contracted by meeting feline solid waste—but also by eating infected, undercooked contaminated fish.

Salmonella is unpleasant enough on its own but contracting it while pregnant the effects can become serious and even life-threatening. Faced with Salmonellosis as a pregnant woman you might experience:

  • Extreme dehydration
  • Bacteremia (bacteria in the bloodstream.)
  • Meningitis caused by Bacteremia
  • Reactive arthritis

And more seriously, Salmonellosis is transferable from mother to child.

If you are going to be handling raw fish to cook (or raw meats in general) wash your hands completely and thoroughly after contact with raw fish. Keep your counters clean and make sure to cook your fish at home well-done as well as ordering well-cooked fish if eating out. If you are craving sushi or absolutely must have it, try to consume sushi that includes vegetables and cooked seafood—not raw seafood.

Avoid Fish with High Levels of Mercury

Many of us in America aren’t consuming enough fish. However, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommends eating 8 to 12 ounces of fish low in mercury per week. That’s roughly 2-3 servings per week. Mercury is an element that can collect in oceans, lakes and streams. In these bodies of water, mercury turns into methylmercury, a neurotoxin found in most fish in very, very small trace amounts. In high quantities, however, it can be toxic to the nervous system. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, these fish are advised to be avoided:

  • Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • King Mackerel
  • Bigeye Tuna (found in sushi)
  • Marlin
  • Orange Roughy

If you have consumed one of these high-mercury fish once by accident, it’s highly unlikely a single serving will pose a risk. However, it’s best to avoid these fish. Keep an eye out on locally caught or consuming river, lake or stream fish as well. Check advisories for these bodies of water during your pregnancy, finding this information on your local fishing regulations website or through your local health department. If you can’t find any information about river, lake or stream fish, limit your consumption to 6 ounces per week or less.

General guidelines for seafood avoidance during pregnancy include:

  • Avoid large, predatory fish. This will reduce your exposure to mercury.
  • Skip the uncooked fish or uncooked shellfish: sushi featuring raw fish, oysters, sashimi. This avoids harmful bacteria or viruses. Refrigerate any uncooked seafood especially seafood marked nova style, lox, kippered, smoked or jerky.
  • Understand your local fish advisories. If eating any fish from local waters, pay attention to local advisories.
  • Cook all seafood properly. Most seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F (63C). Fish is done when it separates into flakes and is opaque throughout. For lobster and shrimp, cook until flesh is pearly and opaque. For clams, mussels, and oysters, cook until shells open. Discard any that the shells did not open.

What to Eat

Sushi fish with lower levels of mercury, that can be consumed safely (and should be cooked). A few examples of sushi safe to consume:

  • Shrimp
  • Conger eel
  • Abalone
  • Clam
  • Surf clam
  • Scallop
  • Octopus

Low mercury fish have less than 0.29 parts per million in them.

Seafood can be a great source of protein and zinc—crucial nutrients for a baby’s growth and development. Omega-3 fatty acids in many fish, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which promotes brain development.

The safest fish recommended to consume and cook during pregnancy (or order cooked when out to eat) at least 2-3 servings:

  • Wild-caught Salmon
  • Anchovies
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Pollock
  • Tilapia
  • Cod
  • Canned light tuna (but limit Albacore/white tuna or tuna steaks to 6 ounces per week.)

Fish safe to consume for pregnant women, but should be kept to once a week (4 ounces):

  • Bluefish
  • Buffalo fish
  • Carp
  • Chilean sea bass
  • Grouper
  • Halibut
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Monkfish
  • Rockfish
  • Sablefish
  • Snapper
  • Striped bass

Canned Clues

Other shelf-stable seafood hints to help ensure you are eating the best; healthiest and safest seafood is by looking for certain labels on canned seafood.

  • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
  • Canned salmon that is not labeled Atlantic Salmon. Atlantic Salmon is always farmed, as they have been nearly driven to extinction. Farmed salmon use antibiotics, PCB’s, and can be kept in polluted pens. Best to avoid any canned Salmon labeled, “Atlantic.”
  • For the best canned salmon choices make sure the label indicates you are buying either Alaskan pink salmon, sockeye, or red salmon.
  • Avoid canned crab meat labeled: swimmer crab, swimming crab, clue swimmer crab, jumbo lump crab or backfin lump crab.

Navigating through pregnancy can be a very tough time all around. Hormonal changes and society telling you to do this, or don’t do that and information that is coming at you from all around. We don’t want to add to that stress. With these helpful lists, tips, and hints you should have no problem figuring out what fish to avoid and what fish is safe for you and your baby or child with just a quick glance, saving you time and effort so you can focus on the more important things: your health and your little one's health!