Don't stop eating fish entirely during pregnancy due to concerns over contamination. The omega-3 fatty acids you'll get from the fish in your diet are vital for the normal development of your baby's eyes and nervous system. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends consuming 8 to 12 ounces of fish weekly during pregnancy. You can safely keep fish on the menu by choosing those with the least mercury, limiting portions and always eating it cooked.
Concerns Over Contamination
While fish may become contaminated with bacteria or parasites, you'll kill most pathogens by cooking it to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, according to FoodSafety.gov. Another type of contaminant -- mercury -- is the reason pregnant women have to watch their fish intake. Nearly all fish and shellfish contain some mercury, but it doesn't pose a health problem for most adults. Pregnant women, however, must restrict the amount they consume because mercury harms the baby's developing nervous system. Unfortunately, mercury works its way up the food chain. As it reaches oceans and waterways, it's absorbed by bacteria that serve as food for small fish, which are eaten by larger fish, then it's passed along to anyone who eats the fish.
Safe Fish to Enjoy
You can safely eat two 6-ounce servings weekly of fish with the lowest amount of mercury, according to the American Pregnancy Association. This list includes flounder, haddock, tilapia, sole, ocean perch, catfish and pollock, which all contain about 0.2 gram of omega-3 fatty acids for every 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces, of fish. You can also enjoy canned salmon, sardines, trout and anchovies. They're some of the best sources of essential fatty acids, supplying about 1 to 2 grams of omega-3s in a 3.5-ounce serving. You'll find mackerel on this list, but be careful about which type you choose. North Atlantic and chub mackerel are safe; other types contain significantly more mercury.
Fish to Limit
Fish with higher levels of mercury may be included in your diet but only in very limited amounts. Halibut, carp, snapper, Alaskan cod, freshwater perch, striped and black bass should be limited to no more than six 6-ounce servings in one month. Lobster, mahi mahi and monkfish are also included in this group. Other types of fish contain even more mercury, so you should not eat more than three 6-ounce servings per month. This group includes sea bass, grouper, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Skipjack tuna is limited to no more than six servings monthly, while you should only have three servings or less a month of yellowfin tuna. You can eat 12 ounces weekly of canned light tuna but should only have 6 ounces of white albacore tuna each week.
Do Not Eat These
Do not eat shark, swordfish, tilefish or king mackerel because they're high in mercury, reports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The American Pregnancy Association adds orange roughy, marlin, bigeye tuna and Ahi tuna to the list of fish to avoid. Never eat any type of raw fish or refrigerated brands of smoked seafood because they may contain live bacteria. You should also skip fish caught in local streams and lakes that may be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Nutrition During Pregnancy
- FoodSafety.gov: Checklist of Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
- Natural Resources Defense Council: Mercury Contamination in Fish
- American Pregnancy Association: Mercury Levels in Fish
- Purdue University: Omega-3 Fatty Acid Content in Fish
- American Pregnancy Association: Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
- U. S. Food and Drug Administration: What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Food Safety for Pregnant Women
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Fish Consumption Advisories