There’s a long-standing debate on the consumption of seafood for pregnant women, so what are the facts? Let’s break down where the guidelines currently stand.
Fish and shellfish have gotten a bad rap when it comes to preconception and prenatal nutrition. While it’s true some kinds are high in mercury and not the safest options for moms-to-be, it’s equally true that fish and shellfish are bursting at the seams with health benefits for mom and baby.
Many women have chosen to or been advised to completely forgo seafood to avoid being exposed to too much mercury. Fortunately, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. You can avoid high levels of mercury and eat fish, too.
But first, how much seafood should you eat if you’re pregnant?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have released advice about how to safely eat seafood if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. They recommend pregnant women eat 2-3 servings of seafood each week. That’s about 8-12 ounces of seafood since a single serving is 4 ounces or the size of the palm of your hand.
So what are the health benefits of fish and shellfish?
Fish and shellfish have Omega-3s for heart health, supple skin, and baby’s brain development; B vitamins are for ample energy and healthy blood cells, and protein helps with developing a strong immune system and muscles. Plus, each kind has it’s own unique mix of other health promoting nutrients.
Some are good sources of zinc for wound healing and healthy hair. Others are full of vitamin D for strong bones and a healthy immune system, while some types are packed with selenium for thyroid and reproductive health.
With all of that being said, mercury toxicity is a very real concern.
Mercury is a neurotoxin, meaning it can harm our nervous system. Not exactly a good thing, especially during early development. High levels have also been linked to an increased risk of infertility.
The key to reaping the benefits without the icky drawbacks is to opt for seafood with low and moderate amounts of mercury. This is especially true for women of childbearing age, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and young children. People in these groups should steer completely clear of fish and seafood with high levels of mercury.
Don’t forget, pregnant women are advised to avoid undercooked or raw fish and shellfish. While a recent report stated current food safety standards make it less necessary to avoid raw seafood or sushi during pregnancy (as long as it is obtained from reputable sources), the main consensus by public health officials is to avoid it to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.
To find out which fish and shellfish are best for you based on mercury levels, click here.
Kendra Tolbert, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified lactation counselor, and certified aromatherapist based in Alexandria, VA. Through her private practice, she helps women and couples prepare for pregnancy and enjoy healthier, happier pregnancies. Learn more about Kendra at Live Fertile.