Seafood and Pregnancy

Safe fish to eat when you are expecting

In pregnancy, your nutritional needs skyrocket and sometimes that means you need to find new, concentrated sources of nutrients. When it comes to lean protein, few things can measure up to fish: with an abundance of important fatty acids and relatively few calories per portion, it's no surprise that experts recommend including fish in your daily diet during pregnancy. However, you've probably heard that seafood can be risky in pregnancy, and that can certainly turn you away from fish and shellfish altogether. But is this the best move for your health and your baby's wellbeing? Find out why fish can pose a threat and how to get the benefits of seafood without jeopardizing your pregnancy.


Risks and Benefits to Eating Fish While Pregnant

While there are some threats to be aware of, it may not be wise to cut out fish completely. The main reason for including fish in your pregnancy diet is the enormous health benefit it offers you and your baby: from omega-3 fatty acids that help the brain develop to high levels of lean protein, fish can be a powerful weapon against birth defects and barriers to proper development -- if you choose the right kinds.

Mercury is the biggest concern surrounding fish in pregnancy, and for good reason. Mercury has been linked to a variety of developmental problems in the fetus, including brain damage and nervous system abnormalities. For this reason, the FDA insist that pregnant women stick to low-mercury fish like salmon, sardines, cod and haddock, and no more than 12 oz each week. Be sure to avoid shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish altogether, as these species store exceptionally high amounts of mercury in their bodies. Tuna and pregnancy is not problematic as long as you steer clear of the albacore and bluefin varieties and limit your intake to only a few servings a month.

But mercury isn't the only thing to keep in mind when choosing your seafood. Fish that were caught in contaminated lakes or rivers can carry high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. In turn, these chemicals can travel through the placenta and impair vision, delay muscle development and lead to small head size in the fetus. Before eating any fish from local lakes, contact your local health department to find out which species from which bodies of water should be avoided.

Shellfish and Pregnancy

More food borne illness is caused by shellfish than any other type of seafood, so you'll want to be extra careful with shellfish while you're expecting. Fortunately, some basic rules of food safety during pregnancy can help you sidestep the dangers, beginning with food preparation. First, stay far away from raw shellfish, and be sure that cooked mussels, clams and oysters are cooked all the way through. Pathogens such as salmonella and Vibrio bacteria can live in the flesh of these molluscan shellfish and if they are not destroyed through cooking, they can cause very severe food poising in pregnant women and may cross the placenta to infect the fetus, too.

If you speak with your doctor and local environmental agency about safe fish to eat, you should be able to avoid these dangers. Remember that seafood and pregnancy can be a particularly healthful combination, but like any other food group, not every item or brand is created equal. If you're ever unsure about a piece of seafood, go the safe route and throw it out.