Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. They are a great source of protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids for people of all ages. The nutrients in seafood are important for unborn babies, as well as for infants and young children. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids eaten by pregnant women may aid in babies' brain and eye development. Also, some researchers believe depression in women during and after pregnancy may be related to not eating enough fish.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week to get the health benefits. Unfortunately, some pregnant and nursing women do not eat any fish because they worry about mercury in seafood. Mercury is a metal that, at high levels, can harm the brain of your unborn baby even before he or she is conceived. Yet many types of seafood have little or no mercury at all. So your risk of mercury exposure depends on the amount and type of seafood you eat.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can safely eat a large variety of cooked seafood, but should not eat a few kinds of fish that contain high levels of mercury. Keep in mind that removing all fish from your diet will rob both you and your baby of all the nutritional benefits that seafood provides, including important omega-3 fatty acids.
To reach the recommended amount of 8 to 12 ounces per week while limiting exposure to mercury, follow these tips:
* Don't eat uncooked fish or shellfish (such as clams, oysters, scallops), which includes refrigerated uncooked seafood labeled nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked, or jerky. Uncooked seafood may contain bacteria that are harmful during pregnancy.
Foods supplemented with DHA/EPA (such as "omega-3 eggs") and prenatal vitamins supplemented with DHA are other sources of the type of omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood.
Reviewed by: Rafael Perez-Escamilla, Ph.D.
Professor of Epidemiology & Public Health
Director, Office of Community Health, Yale School of Public Health
Source: WomensHealth.gov, Office of Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Content last updated August 22, 2011.