Not sure of the rules on fish consumption and pregnancy? Well, you’re not the only one. There have been plenty of conflicting views sailing over the years. Fish is heart healthy. It is loaded with baby-friendly DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). But, it is full of mercury. It is also loaded with PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls). So what’s the real dish on fish? The bottom line is that eating enough of the right types is not only healthy but recommended for both you and your baby. Here’s the lowdown on what’s safe and what’s not when it comes to seafood.
How much fish you should eat?
In 2014 and again 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released joint statements encouraging moms to eat more pregnancy-safe fish. The groups said that expecting and breastfeeding women should eat 8 to 12 ounces (that’s two to three servings) of low-mercury fish every week. The permissible limit of Mercury Contamination should not exceed 0.5 parts per million by weight.
The body easily absorbs excess methylmercury from fish – and when you’re pregnant, this excessive methylmercury crosses the placenta. Imprudent doses of methylmercury during pregnancy can impair a baby’s growing brain and nervous system.
Fish to avoid during pregnancy?
Though the benefits of fish are many, you should still avoid a few types during pregnancy. Some particularly large, ocean-faring, predator-types — contain high levels of mercury, a distinctly baby-unfriendly toxin. Others especially those that live in polluted lakes and rivers can be laden with PCBs, a chemical you definitely don’t want to feed a fetus or an infant.
To play it safe, the latest FDA and EPA recommendations suggest avoiding or limiting the following fish while you’re pregnant and nursing:
Here’s a list of Fish that contains high levels of mercury, and hence should be avoided.
- Grouper (Kalava in Malayali)
- Sea Bass (Asian seabass is bhekti)
- Tuna (Canned Albacore, Yellowfin)
- Tuna (Ahi)
Limit to one serving per week
The following fish are considered “good to eat,” which means you can safely eat one serving per week (that’s approximately 4 ounces).
- Carp (Rohu)
- Cod (Gobro)
- Tuna (Canned Chunk light)
Safe Fish During Pregnancy
Despite the long list of fish to limit during pregnancy, the vast majority of fish are considered safe to eat when you’re expecting at two to three servings (that’s 8 to 12 ounces: 340 gm) per week.
Fish low in mercury
- Anchovies (Nethili in Malayalam)
- Butterfish (Pomfret)
- Catfish (Singhara)
- Herring (Hilsa)
- Mackerel (Bangada)
- Salmon (Indian salmon is rawas)
Benefits of Eating Fish
The good news (at least for moms who enjoy seafood) is that fish really does offer big benefits for both pregnant women and their developing babies.
- Supports fetal growth: Fish is a first-rate source of lean protein, an essential amino acid that helps create all of baby’s cells — from skin and muscle to hair and bones.
- Is good for baby’s brain: What’s more, fish (especially the fattier varieties, like salmon) is a source of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which has been shown to boost baby brain power. It’s more important than ever in the third trimester when your baby’s brain growth is fast and furious.
- Boosts your memory: Speaking of boosted brain power, getting enough omega-3s may also improve your memory — especially helpful when you’re battling a case of pregnancy brain.
- Improves your mood: An adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids and especially DHA has been shown to decrease your risk of depression during pregnancy as well as postpartum depression.
- Supports your heart: A diet rich in fish may lower your risk of cardiac disease by reducing blood clotting and levels of triglycerides (blood fat) as well as lowering blood pressure if you have preexisting hypertension.
- May reduce the risk of preterm birth: Scientists have observed that rates of preterm birth are lower in areas with a high fish intake — and some studies have indeed linked adequate omega 3 intake (whether through fish or supplements) to a lower risk of preterm birth.
Though mercury can harm a developing baby’s brain, eating average amounts of seafood containing low levels of mercury during pregnancy hasn’t been shown to cause problems. And the omega-3 fatty acids in many types of fish can promote a baby’s healthy cognitive development. As long as you avoid fish known to be high in mercury or contaminated with pollutants, seafood can be a regular part of your healthy-eating plan during pregnancy.