Can Pregnant Women Eat Fish? Your Guide to Eating Fish During Pregnancy
While the questions used to be: Can pregnant women eat fish? Can pregnant women eat seafood? The questions are now: Am I eating enough fish during pregnancy? What are the healthiest fish to eat? The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say to eat a variety of cooked seafood 2-3 times each week during pregnancy, but the average pregnant woman in the U.S. eats less than half a serving. It’s important for moms-to-be to eat more seafood because the need for nutrients in fish is especially high during pregnancy.
Benefits of Eating Fish During Pregnancy
Fish contain the following nutrients that are especially important for moms-to-be:
Omega-3 DHA (“Omega-3’s”)
The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a special kind of healthy fat that helps build your baby’s brain and eyes. During the last trimester, a fetus’s brain and nervous system rapidly develops, requiring about 65 mg/day of DHA. The heightened demand for DHA continues to two years of age. Omega-3 DHA also nourishes moms’ brain health and may prevent depression during and after pregnancy.
The most widely available dietary source of omega-3 DHA is fish. Fish like salmon, canned or pouch tuna, sardines, trout, and anchovies are rich in omega-3 DHA. Fortified foods like DHA eggs are another dietary source.
Protein is needed to build a baby’s skin, muscle, hair, and bones. Moms-to-be need about 25 extra grams of protein every day to support their growing baby.
Fish and shellfish, eggs, beans, peanut butter, and dairy like cottage cheese are all good sources of protein.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb nutrients like calcium, which builds a baby’s bones, teeth, heart, nerves, and muscles as well as keeps moms’ bones and teeth strong. Vitamin D may also help lower the chance of getting high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Fish like salmon, shrimp, and canned or pouch tuna contain vitamin D. Fortified food sources include milk and orange juice.
Iron helps carry oxygen from a woman’s bloodstream to her baby. Iron also helps keep moms’ immunity strong. Most moms-to-be begin their pregnancies without enough iron in their diets.
Many people think of meats like turkey, beef, and chicken as top sources of iron. However, seafood like clams, halibut, crab, shrimp, and cooked oysters are also iron-rich. Vegetarian sources include red and kidney beans.
Best Fish to Eat During Pregnancy
Confusing “top fish to eat” lists abound, but fish advice for moms-to-be is a lot simpler than a Google search may make it seem. Popular types like catfish, clams, cod, crab, pollock, salmon, scallops, shrimp, tilapia, trout, and canned tuna are all not only safe fish, but healthy fish to eat during pregnancy. Just like it’s best to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, the recommendation is to eat a variety of seafood to get the full range of nutrients found in different types of fish and shellfish. Most moms-to-be should simply eat a variety of the types of seafood they like – just more often. Stop asking can pregnant women eat fish; instead enjoy.
All types of seafood – frozen, fresh, and canned – count. It’s easy to forget that fish is found in three places in the grocery store. Of course, the seafood counter, but also the canned goods aisle and the freezer section. It doesn’t matter which one women choose – all contain the nutrients, like omega-3s, that make seafood such a smart choice. Stock the kitchen with a variety of seafood options so there is a go-to no matter what sounds good.
Canned tuna is one of the most affordable, available forms of omega-3s in the American diet. There are two primary types of canned tuna, white (also known as albacore) and light. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can eat all types of tuna, including white (albacore) and light canned tuna as part of a variety of 2-3 servings of seafood each week.
Crab is a great choice for moms-to-be because it has a mild, sweet flavor and is rich in omega-3s. Consider adding crab or tuna to dishes you already love like macaroni and cheese.
Fish to Avoid During Pregnancy
There are only a handful of fish high in mercury to avoid, and the easy part is that most Americans rarely eat these fish anyway – shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, marlin, orange roughy, and bigeye tuna (found in sushi).
Essentially all seafood includes traces of mercury in addition to beneficial nutrients like omega-3s. Scientists have closely studied the health effects on children when their moms eat fish during pregnancy. They repeatedly conclude that eating seafood 2-3 times each week during pregnancy boosts babies’ brain development. The World Health Organization points out that avoiding seafood may actually mean missing out on the best possible brain development for babies.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Sushi?
To reduce the chance of getting sick from food, women shouldn’t eat any raw meats during pregnancy. Sushi is tasty, nutritious and fun; just make sure to stick with cooked types during pregnancy. There are many types of cooked sushi—just look for the “cooked” sticker when shopping in the grocery store or ask the server when dining out.
Can Breastfeeding Women Eat Fish?
Pregnant women who are already in the groove of eating seafood should keep it up after the baby arrives. Seafood fills breastmilk with omega-3s to nourish babies’ rapidly growing brains. Fish is also fast and fits well into busy new moms’ lives. Fish-loving parents set a positive example for their little one, who will be eating solid foods in just 4-6 months.
What are some Healthy Fish Recipes?
Whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it may make sense to eat several mini-meals instead of a big meal. Consider thinking of seafood as an add-on to mini meals and snacks morning, noon, and night. Combine canned tuna, a hard-boiled egg, and cheddar cheese for a mid-morning meal. Top tilapia with mango salsa and wrap in a corn tortilla for lunch. Mix canned salmon with olive spread and eat with a couple slices of a French baguette for a snack. Toss pasta with sundried tomatoes and shrimp for a quick dinner. Visit Dish on Fish for more ways to get at least two seafood meals each week.
Author’s Note: We used the words “seafood” and “fish” interchangeably.