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Is it Safe? Fish Consumption During Pregnancy

July 18, 2011

Often times, friends and family are eager to share their tips and tricks for a successful pregnancy. Once the news is out that you’re expecting EVERYONE becomes an expert bombarding you with advice, even when you may not have asked for it. At this point, sometimes the most important and essential concerns or questions pregnant women may have, like what to eat during pregnancy, may get lost in the flurry of new information being received.

But be sure to study up in this area as it is perhaps the most important aspect in relation to your baby’s health. After all, what you eat and drink influences your baby’s development more than anything. Some advice is easier to understand than others, such as eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and eliminating alcohol from your diet.

But what about pregnancy and fish? Is it really safe to eat during pregnancy? If so, how much? Read below to find the answers to these common questions along with other valuable information regarding fish consumption during pregnancy.

BENEFITS OF FISH

Making smarter choices about food will help build the foundation for a healthy pregnancy- and a healthy baby. Fish is an excellent source of protein and iron, both critical nutrients for fetal growth and development, as well as the changing needs of your own body. In addition to protein and iron,  the Omega-3 fatty acids found in many fish are essential for the health of you and your baby.  The two most beneficial omega-3’s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).  Adding EPA and DHA to your diet may have a positive effect on the visual and cognitive development of your baby and reduce their risk for allergies. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids, meaning they are necessary for human health but cannot be made by our bodies. Therefore, we must obtain Omega-3 fatty acids from food sources- one being fish. Sounds like adding fish to your diet is a “no-brainer” during pregnancy, right?! There’s a catch…

MERCURY THREAT

You may find mixed messaging on consumption recommendations of fish during pregnancy- all of which stem back to the threat of mercury poisoning. The fact is most fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water, where fish absorb it. Larger fish that have lived longer in these waters have the highest levels of mercury because they’ve had more time to accumulate it. These large fish should be avoided all together during your pregnancy.  Although 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. If you’re a fish lover or a convert for your baby, the good news is there are plenty of fish low in mercury that can and should be enjoyed while pregnant.

 WHAT’S THE LIMIT?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces (340 grams) of seafood a week.  Similarly, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 8 to 12 ounces of seafood a week for pregnant women- or about two average meals. Again, the fish to avoid are swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish.  Fish lower in mercury content and considered safe when eaten within recommend servings are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. For albacore “white” tuna, the FDA and EPA recommend eating only 6 ounces per week (one average meal).  By following these recommendations for selecting fish, you can receive the benefits of eating fish while reducing your exposure to the harmful effects of  mercury.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

The benefits of eating fish far outweigh the potential risks when the amount of fish are eaten is within the recommendations established by the FDA and the EPA. Eating a variety of fish will help minimize any potentially adverse effects due to environmental pollutants. Check with local and state authorities about types of fish and watersheds that may be contaminated and visit the FDA Website the most up-to-date information on recommendations for consumption. As long as you avoid fish known to be high in mercury or contaminated with pollutants, like the large fish mentioned above, fish can be a regular part of a healthy-eating plan during pregnancy.

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