The short answer: YES!
Eating fish has many benefits for you and the baby.
Fish has omega-3 and omega-6 fats, iron, iodine and choline. Omega fats and choline help support the development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Iron supports increased red blood cell production for women. Other adult benefits include reduced risk of heart disease, colon/rectal cancers, and increased bone health (U.S. Food and Drug Association, 2023).
But there are a couple of other important points to keep in mind.
How much fish should I eat?
“Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding consume between 8 and 12 ounces per week of a variety of seafood from choices that are lower in mercury” (U.S. Food and Drug Association & United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2021, p.2).
This is 2-3 servings of fish in one week. A serving size is about the size of the palm of your hand.
The average pregnant women only eats about 4 ounces of fish a week while the average breastfeeding person only eats 7 ounces of fish per week (U.S. Food and Drug Association, 2023).
Are there fish I should avoid?
The big fish of the sea are to be avoided because they are large enough to store higher levels of mercury in their tissues or muscles because these fish are bigger and tend to live longer. The main big fish to avoid are: king mackerel, swordfish, shark, tile fish, tuna (bigeye version; the canned stuff on the shelf is generally fine to eat!), marlin and orange roughy (U.S. Food and Drug Association & United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2021).
What is mercury and why is it harmful?
Mercury is an element that occurs naturally in our environments. It is stored in bodies of water such as streams, lakes, or oceans. Too much mercury is harmful to the brain and nervous system – especially if there is a build up of mercury over a long period of time (U.S. Food and Drug Association, 2023).
Is there anything I can do to reduce the content of mercury in fish?
No. Nothing you can do – cooking or otherwise – can reduce the mercury content in fish you eat. (U.S. Food and Drug Association, 2023).
What about fish caught in the wild?
But what if it’s a fish caught in the wild by a friend or family member? GREAT question. For that guidance you want to review your local resources. The Environmental Protection Agency offers a nice list for each state/territory here (U.S. Food and Drug Association & United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2021).
Is there a cheat sheet I can use to check against the fish my store offerS?
Yes! The FDA and the EPA publish this cheat sheet based off the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Screen shot this list or save the PDF to your phone when meal prepping or shopping! Chart is also available in Spanish.
Your diet in pregnancy is important.
Practicing healthy habits during pregnancy will set you up for health habits for your children too! The same education sheet reviews the benefits of eating fish for children.
Fish tacos for dinner anyone? Tacos not your jam? Search for your favorite fish recipe online. Also consider adding fish to a soup for a chowder – but try to go healthy on the cream, milk and butter additions!
If you love this information and are pregnant, be sure to check out the prenatal templates. This is a recommended handout on the templates and information about fish should be reviewed at the beginning of your pregnancy by your healthcare team. Download the tool for your first pregnancy visit for free on the TOOLS & HANDOUTS page.
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U.S. Food and Drug Association. (2023). Questions & Answers from the FDA/EPA Advice about Eating Fish for Those Who Might Become or Are Pregnant or Breastfeeding and Children Ages 1 to 11 Years. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/questions-answers-fdaepa-advice-about-eating-fish-those-who-might-become-or-are-pregnant-or#IV
U.S. Food and Drug Association & United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2021). Advice about eating fish. https://www.fda.gov/media/102331/download