Should Pregnant Women Avoid Eating Fish?

I heard pregnant women should avoid certain types of fish. I am pregnant, and I just read that I shouldn’t eat any swordfish. Is this true? Should I stop eating fish altogether?

Congratulations on your future guppy. Unfortunately, the warning about eating certain types of fish is true. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised pregnant women, and women of childbearing age who may become pregnant, to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. They also recommended that nursing mothers and young children avoid eating these sea fish.

The fish listed by the FDA contain high levels of methyl mercury, that can harm the developing nervous system of an unborn baby. While mercury occurs naturally in the environment, it is also released into the air through the burning of household and industrial wastes as well as fossil fuels.

Mercury is soluble in both fresh and saltwater, where bacteria in the water can chemically change it from mercury to the more toxic methyl mercury. Small fish can ingest methyl mercury while feeding on organisms in the water. Larger fish, with longer lives, then feed on contaminated smaller fish and end up with high concentrations of the toxin in their bodies.

While it’s true that practically all fish contain trace amounts of methyl mercury, the FDA is still fish-friendly, and you needn’t stop enjoying seafood. When you’re fishing around for dinner the FDA is advising that pregnant women, and those of childbearing age who may become pregnant, choose from a variety of other seafood such as: shellfish, canned fish, smaller ocean fish or farm-raised fish. Women of childbearing age can safely eat 12-ounces per week of these cooked, commercial fish from stores and restaurants. A 3-ounce serving of cooked fish is about the size of the palm of a lady’s hand.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also released an advisory on mercury contamination from freshwater fish caught recreationally. The EPA is recommending that women who are pregnant, or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children limit non-commercial, locally caught, freshwater fish to no more than 6-ounces of cooked fish a week for adults, and no more than 2-ounces of cooked fish a week for young children. Since some local waters may have very high concentrations of mercury, the EPA suggests you check with your state and local health department to find out if they recommend eating even less freshwater fish.

So, while it appears that you don’t have to stop eating fish altogether, you may want to pass on the swordfish during this special time of your life. If you want seafood, opt instead for another kind such as shrimp or scallops.

The information provided on Health Search Online is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.