Can I Eat Seafood While Pregnant or Breastfeeding?

Fresh seafood snack salad on square plate over blue wooden table

Read time: 5 minutes

What should I know about eating seafood while pregnant or breastfeeding?

  • Seafood contains necessary nutrients for fetal and infant development, as well as your own health.
  • Learn which types of seafood are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women (and which aren’t!)

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

What are the health benefits of seafood and shellfish?

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

Seafood and mercury

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

Fish high in mercury include:

  • Shark
  • Big eye (ahi) tuna
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Tilefish
  • Orange roughy9, 2

Fish low in mercury include:

  • Anchovies and sardines
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Haddock
  • Lobster (American and spiny)
  • Oysters, clams, and scallops
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Tilapia
  • Trout
  • Tuna, canned light9, 2

Learn more: Foods and Ingredients to Avoid while Pregnant

 What kind of tuna can I eat while breastfeeding or 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

What if I don’t like fish?

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

Other foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Flax seeds and flax seed oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Canola and soybean oil
  • Edamame10

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!

What about eating raw fish while pregnant or breastfeeding?

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

Tips for including more seafood during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Aim for 8 to 12 ounces of low mercury seafood per week

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.

Stock up on canned 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.

Go for frozen fish

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

Tips for cooking seafood

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.

Use lots of flavor!

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

Let’s Chat!

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!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

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

Sources

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