eating seafood during pregnancy

Updated June 28, 2021

Diet is especially important during pregnancy. Choosing a variety of healthy and safe foods is one of the best things you can do for your baby. You might wonder how seafood fits in, and whether it’s a good choice during pregnancy.

The good news is you can — and should — eat seafood during pregnancy, with a few exceptions. Here’s how you can enjoy seafood safely during your pregnancy.

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The Benefits and Risks of Eating Seafood During Pregnancy

All seafood is an important source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Their omega-3 fats are especially important for your baby’s brain and eye development. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should aim to eat 12 ounces of seafood each week to reap its health benefits.

As long as it’s cooked, most types of fish are safe for pregnant women to eat. Any raw fish is off-limits. Raw fish (like sushi or ceviche) can contain harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning.

Some fish have high levels of mercury, a metal that can harm your unborn baby’s developing brain. That’s why it’s important to choose fish low in mercury and avoid those with high mercury levels while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Which Fish Are Safest to Eat During Pregnancy?

It’s always a good idea to get lots of variety in your diet, and fish is no exception. Different kinds of fish provide different types and amounts of nutrients — so mix them up. You’ll get the most omega-3 fats from oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel, but leaner fish is a healthy option too.

Safest choices: Eat 8 to 12 ounces per week

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists these fish as low in mercury and best choices. They’re safe to eat 2 to 3 times each week, or up to 12 ounces. This amount maximizes the benefits of eating fish while keeping the exposure to mercury within safe limits for you and your baby.

  • Anchovies.
  • Black sea bass.
  • Catfish.
  • Cod.
  • Flounder.
  • Haddock.
  • Herring.
  • Mackerel (Atlantic/Pacific).
  • Perch (freshwater, ocean).
  • Pollock.
  • Salmon.
  • Sardines.
  • Sole.
  • Tilapia.
  • Trout (freshwater).
  • Tuna (skipjack or canned light).

Try to include these along with other non-seafood proteins each week for more variety in your diet.

Limit these to 6 ounces per week

These fish have higher mercury levels, so limit them to 6 ounces or less each week:

  • Bluefish.
  • Chilean sea bass.
  • Grouper.
  • Halibut.
  • Mahi-mahi.
  • Monkfish.
  • Rockfish.
  • Sablefish.
  • Snapper.
  • Spanish mackerel.
  • Striped bass.
  • White (albacore) tuna.

Always buy fish from a reputable source. It should look fresh and smell like seawater.

Regardless of which fish you choose, cook it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s high enough to kill any bacteria that could cause food poisoning. Grilled, broiled, roasted, or poached fish is healthier than fried fish.

Which Fish Is Not Safe During Pregnancy?

Large fish with a long lifespan are likely to have high levels of mercury. That’s because they eat lots of smaller fish. Over time, the mercury from those smaller fish accumulates in the flesh and fat of larger fish.

These fish can have high levels of mercury. The FDA recommends avoiding them, especially if you’re pregnant:

  • King mackerel.
  • Marlin.
  • Orange roughy.
  • Shark.
  • Swordfish.
  • Tilefish.
  • Tuna (bigeye).

It’s best for everyone to avoid these fish, but mercury is most harmful to a developing brain. That’s why it’s important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and growing children to steer clear of these fish.

What About Non-fish Seafood During Pregnancy?

The term seafood refers to both finfish and shellfish. Shellfish is low in mercury and a safe choice for pregnant women. It is lower in omega-3 fats, but high in protein and important vitamins and minerals you and your growing baby need.

You can include these shellfish in your diet as part of your 8 to 12 ounces each week:

  • Clams.
  • Crab.
  • Lobster.
  • Mussels.
  • Oysters.
  • Scallops.
  • Shrimp.

Cook clams, mussels, and oysters in their shell, until the shells open on their own. Cook other shellfish until it’s pearly white and opaque.

If you fish or dig for your own shellfish, pay close attention to any fishing advisories. Areas of shoreline sometimes close because of pollution or red tide poisoning. It’s unsafe to eat shellfish from those areas.

About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long renowned for its services to women and babies, but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and the hospital’s NICU is one of the largest in the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.