So, Is Eating Fish While Pregnant Safe?

Confusing Information

Once you find out you are pregnant, you are eager to find out all the information you can about what is and isn’t safe for your still-growing baby. But sometimes that information can be confusing – especially when it comes to eating fish.

Eating seafood during pregnancy can be safe… and even encouraged. Fish can be a great source of protein and nutrients like B-vitamins, iron and zinc. Some fish have large amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are not only good for your own heart health, but the also the development of your unborn baby’s brain.

Fish such as tilapia, cod, catfish, pollock, sardines, salmon and canned light tuna are all safe. Other forms of seafood, such as shrimp, crab and scallops are also ok to eat.

“The biggest thing about eating fish – and really all foods when you are pregnant – is moderation. Eating fish once or twice a week is totally fine.”

Dr. Mandy Buskevicius,
OB/GYN - Methodist Women's Center

How Much Seafood?

It is safe to consume up to 12 ounces of seafood weekly (up to six ounces per week of canned tuna.) To reduce the risk of food poisoning, it is recommended seafood be cooked to a temperature of 145 degrees. Fish should be flaky after cooking and be opaque in appearance.

Some seafood, however, can be dangerous for your growing baby. Certain fish – such as king mackerel, tilefish, swordfish, shark, albacore tuna and red snapper – contain large amounts of mercury that can be harmful to fetal brain and nervous system development. Seafood such as lobster and blue crab also make the “do not eat” list.

“What you’re trying to avoid are fish that are high in mercury,” said Dr. Buskevicius. “Fortunately, the fish that are high in mercury aren’t the ones that you eat very often. For example, shark is high in mercury. There aren’t many people in Nebraska eating shark very often.”

It is also important to be mindful of consuming farm-raised fish due to contaminants that may come from pesticides. There are resources available in each state that can provide you with up-to-date information about what locally-available fish are safe or unsafe to consume at any particular time.

What About Sushi?

Due to the risk of food poisoning, it is best to avoid undercooked seafood like sushi, sashimi, lox and refrigerated smoked salmon.

“You probably should avoid sushi unless you get cooked sushi,” said Dr. Buskevicius. “Shellfish, as long as you’re not allergic to it, is totally fine. Just make sure you’re very thorough in cooking it.”

If you can’t eat seafood due to allergies or pregnancy intolerance, you can get the necessary Omega-3 acids from other sources such as flaxseed, soybeans, edamame and pine nuts. There are some dairy products available that have been fortified with Omega-3 acids. And while dietary intake of Omega-3 acids is preferred, taking a fish oil supplement in pill format can provide you with some of your necessary intake.

The Bottom Line

Long story short, there are lots of seafood options that are considered safe for pregnancy (and a few to avoid.) So if you want a tuna fish sandwich at lunch or piece of salmon at dinnertime, you can rest assured knowing your choices are safe and, as an added bonus, you are providing your baby with necessary nutrients! And like with most dietary decisions in life (especially pregnancy), continue to be mindful of your food choices, serving sizes and safe cooking techniques.

If you have any questions about what may or may not be safe to consume during your pregnancy, speak with your Methodist Physicians Clinic OB/GYN or health care provider.