MS, RD, LDN, CBS
Janel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University. As the recipient of the 2010 Massachusetts Young Dietitian of the Year award, she believes in making healthy eating simple, sustainable, and delicious.
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Most Americans aren’t eating the recommended two servings of seafood each week, and that includes pregnant and breastfeeding women.1 In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces of low mercury seafood a week.2
Most seafood contains micronutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, selenium, and iodine; as well as protein, all of which are important during pregnancy as well as breastfeeding.3, 4, 5 Many of the fattier fish also contain omega-3 fatty acids, fats that can help support your baby’s normal brain development.3, 6
Yet with concerns over mercury levels in fish, many pregnant and breastfeeding women simply skip seafood all together and miss out on the benefits. It makes all the difference to know which types of seafood to eat and which to avoid.
Learn more: Meal Plan: Key Nutrients of Pregnancy
Some specific types of seafood can contain high levels of methylmercury and should be avoided. This is because mercury can accumulate in your bloodstream over time, which could ultimately damage your baby’s developing brain and nervous system.7
Large predatory fish are often higher in mercury since more can accumulate in their muscles and tissues over time.8
Learn more: Foods and Ingredients to Avoid while Pregnant
There are many types of fresh and canned tuna. Here’s the scoop on which to eat and which to avoid.
Tuna highest in mercury: Big eye tuna (also called ahi tuna) should be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as children.10
Tuna moderate in mercury: Canned white albacore comes from larger fish that lives longer, making it a bit higher in mercury. The FDA recommends only eating 6 ounces or less of canned white albacore tuna per week for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as children.10
Tuna lowest in mercury: Canned light tuna is a great choice as it is lowest in mercury than other types of tuna. This is because it mostly comes from smaller fish. The FDA states you can have 2 to 3 servings of canned light tuna per week.10
If having tuna makes you nervous or you don’t like it, try canned salmon. Canned salmon is lower in mercury and also has more omega-3 fatty acids.10, 11
Read more: Low Mercury Mediterranean Meal Plan
If pregnancy food aversions have you turning your nose up at seafood, consider those with milder flavor, such as cod, tilapia, and pollock. Lean white fish tend to smell and taste less ‘fishy’. You can also experiment with using canned options in burgers and salads, like salmon, crab, shrimp, and canned light tuna.
Note that these milder fish tend to have much less omega-3 fatty acids than fattier fish, but are still good sources of minerals and protein.12
Cooking fish outside, such as on the grill, can help keep the fishy smell out of the house if strong odors are affecting your pregnancy symptoms. Also, a squeeze of lemon goes a long way in getting rid of the briny fish smell.
Have questions about your diet? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-4pm (EST). Chat Now!
Pregnant women should avoid eating raw fish, as they are more susceptible to food-borne illness.13, 15
Can’t go 40 weeks without a sushi fix? Try sushi with cooked fish (without roe or fish eggs), vegetarian rolls or rolls made with cooked shrimp, crab, or salmon. Just make sure to inform your server that preparation of your sushi needs to remain separate from any handling of raw fish to avoid cross contamination.
Breastfeeding women can eat raw fish!14 Just be sure you are choosing quality fish and eat in places with safe food handling practices to help avoid food-borne illnesses.
Read more: Getting the Right Nutrition While Breastfeeding
For more information on seafood choices while pregnant and breastfeeding, check out this helpful chart from the FDA: https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm393070.htm
To get 8 to 12 ounces, try to include seafood in your meal plan at least twice a week.16 Swap chicken, red meat, or pork for low mercury seafood.
Make salmon burgers with canned salmon or top leafy greens with seasoned, herbed tuna salad. Sautee canned shrimp with herbs and spices and toss with whole grain pasta and roasted veggies.
Frozen fish is often more affordable and can last 2 to 8 months in the freezer, depending on the type of fish.18 Defrost in the refrigerator starting the night before you want to cook, or by sealing in a plastic bag and immersing in cold water (use this second method only if you will be cooking it soon after defrosting).17
For fish fillets: baking and grilling works well. For shrimp and scallops: sauteing and baking tend to work best. For mussels and clams, try in a soup or steaming. Be careful not to overcook seafood as that may leave you with a rubbery or dry texture, or undercook which could be unsafe.19 Use an instant read thermometer to cook it to an internal temperature of 145 for most fish.
Top with your favorite herbs and spices or look up a few good recipes to keep in your meal rotation.
You can make fish tacos, tuna melts, garlicky shrimp linguini, spiced grilled fish with mango salsa, fish stew, clam chowder, parmesan and breadcrumb crusted fish, baked coconut shrimp. The choices are endless!
Read more: Strategies for Creating a Healthy Kitchen
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday – Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-4pm (EST). Chat Now!
Read more about the experts that help write our content!
Which foods and ingredients should I avoid (and which can I enjoy) while breastfeeding?
Food safety during pregnancy
Which foods and ingredients should I avoid while pregnant?
How can I ensure my baby and I are meeting our needs on a vegetarian (or mostly vegetarian) diet?
Taste imprinting while pregnant and breastfeeding
1. Jahns L, Raatz SK, Johnson LK, Kranz S, Silverstein JT, Picklo MJ. Intake of seafood in the US varies by age, income, and education level but not by race-ethnicity. Nutrients. 2014 Dec 22;6(12):6060-75. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25533013/
2. The Food and Drug Administration. Advice about Eating Fish. Accessed 27 August 2021. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish
3. Aaron S. Bernstein, Emily Oken, Sarah de Ferranti, COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH, COMMITTEE ON NUTRITION. Fish, Shellfish, and Children’s Health: An Assessment of Benefits, Risks, and Sustainability. Pediatrics Jun 2019, 143 (6). https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/143/6/e20190999
4. McArdle H, Ashworth C. Micronutrients in Fetal Growth and Development. British Medical Bulletin 1999; 55 (No. 3): 499-510 https://academic.oup.com/bmb/article/55/3/499/406082?login=true
5. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Nutritional Status During Pregnancy and Lactation. Nutrition During Lactation. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1991. 9, Meeting Maternal Nutrient Needs During Lactation.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235579/
6. Hibbeln JR, Spiller P, Brenna JT, Golding J, Holub BJ, Harris WS, Kris-Etherton P, Lands B, Connor SL, Myers G, Strain JJ, Crawford MA, Carlson SE. Relationships between seafood consumption during pregnancy and childhood and neurocognitive development: Two systematic reviews. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2019 Dec;151:14-36. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31739098/
7. Hosomi R, Yoshida M, Fukunaga K. Seafood consumption and components for health. Glob J Health Sci. 2012;4(3):72-86. Published 2012 Apr 28. doi:10.5539/gjhs.v4n3p72 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4776937/
8. Environmental Defense Fund. Mercury in Seafood. Accessed 2 September 2021 https://seafood.edf.org/mercury-seafood
9. Abelsohn A, Vanderlinden LD, Scott F, Archbold JA, Brown TL. Healthy fish consumption and reduced mercury exposure: counseling women in their reproductive years. Can Fam Physician. 2011;57(1):26-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3024155/
10. United States Food & Drug Administration. Questions and Answers from the FDA/EPA “Advice About Eating Fish for Women Who are or Might Become Pregnant, Breastfeeding Mothers, and Young Children. Accessed 1 September 2021. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/questions-answers-fdaepa-advice-about-eating-fish-women-who-are-or-might-become-pregnant
11. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Accessed 2 September 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
12. Oregon State University. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Content in Fish. Accessed 3 September 2021. https://seafood.oregonstate.edu/sites/agscid7/files/snic/omega-3-content-in-fish.pdf
13. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Update on Seafood Consumption during Pregnancy. Accessed 30 August 2021. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/practice-advisory/articles/2017/01/update-on-seafood-consumption-during-pregnancy
14. US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health. Breastfeeding and Everyday Life. Accessed 3 September 2021. https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-home-work-and-public/breastfeeding-and-everyday-life
15. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Listeria and Pregnancy. Accessed 3 September 2021. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/listeria-and-pregnancy
16. Taylor CM, Emmett PM, Emond AM, Golding J. A review of guidance on fish consumption in pregnancy: is it fit for purpose?. Public Health Nutr. 2018;21(11):2149-2159. doi:10.1017/S1368980018000599. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6033312/
17. S. Food and Drug Administration. Selecting and Serving Fresh and Frozen Seafood Safely. Accessed 3 September 2021. https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/selecting-and-serving-fresh-and-frozen-seafood-safely
18. Food and Drug Administration. Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart. Accessed 8 September 2021. https://www.fda.gov/media/74435/download
19. US Department of Health and Human Service, FoodSafety.gov. Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart. Accessed 8 September 2021. https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/safe-minimum-cooking-temperature
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