Is It Safe to Eat Fish During Pregnancy?

26/11/2014 11:05 GMT | Updated 25/01/2015 10:59 GMT

There are often contradictory messages out there for pregnant women. As you know, I highly recommend ensuring pregnant women increase their omega 3 levels, and work towards a healthier balance of omega 3 to omega 6 as this has been shown to increase our brain power, sleep and mood, and may help us fight any addictive tendencies. However, there is a concern from some readers, especially when pregnant, that eating too much fish (one of the most common sources of Omega 3) can be risky.

So what advice should you be listening to?

The understanding that fish could be risky to eat when pregnant is due to the fact that fish and shellfish can accumulate mercury in their system due to water pollution. If we eat a lot of mercury containing fish, we can accumulate mercury too which may cause health problems - though this is rare. Unborn babies and young children are more sensitive to the effects - hence this understanding of fish as risky. However, it has been all over the media recently that you can in fact eat fish while pregnant - and this is also true! In fact, eating fish can actually be beneficial during pregnancy. Confusing right? Let me clear this up for you.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a draft version of updated guidelines in June and a recent article has looked at these guidelines in detail to provide some clarification on this somewhat confusing issue for women who are pregnant, or breastfeeding. The advice from the FDA is that while certain fish do pose some risk, consuming the appropriate levels of fish that are low in mercury is actually incredibly beneficial during pregnancy - provided you follow some guidelines...

What fish should you eat, and how much?

  • Eat 8 - 12 ounces of fish per week.. This is equivalent to about 2 or 3 sevrings worth.
  • Choose fish lower in mercury. The good news is that many of the most commonly consumed fish are lower in mercury - these include salmon, shrimp, pollock, tuna and cod.
  • Avoid fish higher in mercury. There are four in particular that the FDA advises you avoid - tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. They also recommend limiting white tuna to 6 ounces a week.
  • Ensure your consumption of fish is in line with your calorie needs.

What are the benefits of fish?

The nutrients you can get from some fish are very important during the growth and development of the unborn child or foetus, as well as in early infancy and childhood. The Omega 3 acids EPA and DHA, which are found in some fish are essential components in all cells of the body - and vital for normal development of the brain and eye tissues. Not only this, but consuming adequate levels of EPA and DHA during pregnancy has been associated with better childhood IQ scores and increased levels of coordination and communication skills. Now I'm not saying that eating fish during pregnancy will ensure you a child-genius, but it does go to show how beneficial omega-3 acids can be to your child!

So, to answer the questions of whether fish is risky to eat during pregnancy, whilst eating certain types of fish can be risky, you CAN include fish in your diet while pregnant (or breastfeeding) and in fact, you're recommended to do so - just be sure to follow the guidelines above and the world is your oyster!

If you're looking for further advice on how to stay healthy during pregnancy, then follow this link.