Eating fish during pregnancy: is it a good idea or not? Fish is low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin D, and other nutrients crucial for your baby’s development, so it makes sense that you should include them in your diet. But why do medical experts recommend practicing caution when eating fish?
Eating fish while pregnant
Can pregnant women eat fish while pregnant? The short answer is yes. Aside from the benefits listed above, fish is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA that are difficult to find in other foods and are vital for your baby’s health.
In case you’re not yet convinced, studies have shown that eating fish while pregnant does make a difference in your child’s development.
One Danish study found that children whose mothers ate more fish during pregnancy (around 14 ounces a week) had a better motor and cognitive skills at 6 and 18 months than those whose mothers ate less fish.
Can pregnant women eat sushi?
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Any sushi that contains raw or undercooked seafood is forbidden, according to FoodSafety.gov. Your developing youngster is exposed to harmful bacteria, parasites, and mercury when they consume raw or undercooked fish.
According to Kristian Morey, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian at The Center for Endocrinology at Mercy Medical Center, immune system changes during pregnancy increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, uterine infection, and premature delivery.
Furthermore, Morey says that your baby is especially vulnerable to mercury exposure, which can result in neurological issues because methylmercury has negative effects on the brain system throughout development.
The dangers of mercury
Plenty of fish carry toxins like mercury, which are harmful to your baby’s nervous system. Your baby’s cognitive skills, language, motor skills, and vision may be affected, so pregnant women trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding need to pay attention to the fish they’re consuming.
Can pregnant women eat salmon?
Fully cooked salmon is safe for your unborn child and provides a number of benefits, including better brain and eye development. Smoked salmon is not considered safe unless it is canned using a process that renders it shelf-stable. In other words, it is not purchased from the refrigerated department of the store.
Salmon should not be consumed uncooked when pregnant. You may protect your infant and give him or her nutritious food by limiting their weekly intake of salmon to two to three servings that have been properly cooked.
Eating fish during pregnancy? Benefits of eating salmon
Salmon offers several benefits for a developing child because of its high docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) concentration, an omega-3 fatty acid.
You can consume the required quantity of salmon without being concerned about this risk because it has a lower mercury concentration than other fish.
Because they include DHA, fatty fish varieties make ideal pregnancy foods. However, due to their mercury concentration, several other fish are unsafe to consume while pregnant.
Canned salmon may also be suitable if purchasing fresh or frozen salmon is financially impossible.
Helps with neurodevelopment
DHA is crucial for brain growth and development. British Columbia-based registered dietitian Rachel McBryan found that parents who consumed 8 to 12 ounces of fish each week had children with much higher IQ scores than those who didn’t.
Even a weekly fish intake of 4 to 6 ounces could boost IQ. The richest sources of omega-3s are fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines. According to one study, babies whose mothers ate enough DHA during pregnancy had better cognitive abilities when they were 1.5 years old.
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Reduced hypertension during pregnancy
Preeclampsia, a serious and occasionally fatal condition during pregnancy, can be caused by hypertension.
Eating fish during pregnancy may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure. If you like eating fish, it could be beneficial to include it in your meals frequently together with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, calcium-rich foods, etc.
In addition, regular blood pressure checks are very crucial when pregnant. Also, regardless of what you consume, regularly attend prenatal visits.
You can reduce your risk of preterm delivery by consuming adequate amounts of fish (two to three 4-ounce servings per week).
Contrary to other forms of fish, which should only be consumed in moderation or not due to their high mercury content, salmon can be safely ingested twice per week.
However, it is especially important to speak with a healthcare provider because many studies on this topic employ omega-3 supplements rather than food sources.
Eating fish during pregnancy third trimester
The rule prohibiting undercooked or raw fish in sushi is in place throughout all three trimesters.
Eating fish during pregnancy first trimester
It’s critical to stop as soon as you learn you’re pregnant because the first trimester is when a number of crucial processes occur. The brain and spinal cord’s development begins between weeks one and eight. At this point, the tissues that make up the heart begin to beat, and the eyes, ears, and nose all begin to develop.
The majority of your baby’s major organs will have developed and started to function by the end of the first trimester. During these first 12 weeks, the fetus is most vulnerable to harm and damage from exposure to dangerous substances.
Eating fish during pregnancy second trimester
According to Dr. Lisa Valle, DO, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, through Healthline:
“Undercooked or raw fish increases the risks of exposure to certain types of bacteria during pregnancy and is more likely to contain bacteria and parasites.”
The possibility exists that you or your unborn child could contract listeriosis, a food illness brought on by the listeria bacteria. Additionally, pregnant women are more at risk for listeriosis.
It may also cause vomiting, diarrhea, miscarriage, and preterm labor. A newborn with listeriosis may also develop blood or brain infections, as well as kidney and cardiac problems.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises pregnant women to avoid foods including hot dogs, lunch meats, and unpasteurized milk to prevent listeriosis. This recommendation also holds true for sushi made from raw fish.
Giving your baby raw fish could increase their exposure to mercury. When a pregnant woman is exposed to excessive mercury concentrations, a metal, the mother and the unborn child’s health are at risk. High mercury concentrations can damage a baby’s brain and result in hearing and vision problems, claims Valle.
Fish to avoid during pregnancy
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi
These fish have high mercury levels, and are best avoided altogether.
- king mackerel
- orange roughy
- bigeye tuna
The best fish to eat when pregnant
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that:
Pregnant women shall consume at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces (340 grams) of a range of lower-mercury seafood each week – roughly 2 to 3 servings.
Pregnant and nursing mothers (as well as young children) should opt for fish with low mercury levels, like:
- mackerel (Atantic, jack, chub)
- rainbow trout
When eating fish during pregnancy, remember this:
Pregnant women are advised to take up to 12 ounces (340 grams) of a variety of lower-mercury seafood per week, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It equates roughly to two to three meals.
Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish to reduce your exposure to mercury.
- Be updated with local fish advisories. If you ingest fish from adjacent waters, heed local warnings. If recommendations are unavailable, keep your weekly fish intake from nearby waterways to 6 ounces (170 grams).
- Cook seafood properly and well done. The majority of seafood should be cooked to internal temperatures of 145 F. (63C). Fish is deemed to be cooked when it flakes and turns completely opaque. The flesh of the lobster and shrimp should be opaque and glossy when done. Oysters, mussels, and clams should be cooked until their shells open. Throw any that won’t open away.
- Don’t eat raw fish or shellfish. Avoid consuming raw seafood that has been marked as “nova style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky” in the refrigerator. This includes oysters, sushi, sashimi, and seafood served in these ways.
Knowing what goes into the food you eat can help to keep you and your developing child safe. Speak with your doctor or a qualified dietician. They can help you create a balanced diet that will keep you and your baby safe and healthy.
For more information, consult this printable wallet card from Purdue University.
And when in doubt, always look up the mercury levels of the fish before consuming.
Additional information from Margaux Dolores
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