If you're unsure about whether it's safe to eat seafood during your pregnancy, you're not alone. Pregnancy nutrition can be confusing, especially when it comes to seafood guidelines. Here's help understanding the facts.
Seafood, which includes fish and shellfish, can be a great source of protein, iron and zinc — crucial nutrients for your baby's growth and development. The omega-3 fatty acids in many fish, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), also can promote your baby's brain development.
But some types of seafood — particularly large, predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish — can contain high levels of mercury. Although the mercury in seafood isn't a concern for most adults, special precautions apply if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant. If you regularly eat fish high in mercury, the substance can accumulate in your bloodstream over time. Too much mercury in your bloodstream could damage your baby's developing brain and nervous system.
The Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that pregnant women eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces (340 grams) of a variety of seafood lower in mercury a week. That's about two to three servings.
Eat a variety of seafood that's low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as:
Other safe choices include:
However, limit white (albacore) tuna and tuna steaks to 6 ounces (170 grams) a week.
Consider these precautions:
Beyond seafood, other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
Keep in mind that researchers haven't yet determined whether supplements can promote fetal brain development. While pregnant women can get omega-3 fatty acids from many sources, most experts recommend eating seafood for this purpose.
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.