Should I Eat Fish During Pregnancy?

>> Thursday, September 1, 2011

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So many women become confused about the potential risks of eating fish and find the information they hear and read very puzzling. Fish is one of the most important foods a woman can eat. Yet there seems to be growing concern regarding safety, most of it related to mercury contamination.
Well let’s look at the FDA/EPA guidance on eating fish for pregnant and nursing women, women of childbearing age, and young children:

  • Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish.
  • Eat up to 12 oz (2 average meals) per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, including shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, and catfish. Albacore tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna; therefore, eat only 6 oz or less of albacore tuna per week.
  • Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught in local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If there is no advice available, then eat only 6 oz or less per week of fish caught in local waters, and do not eat any other fish during that week.
These recommendations were created to minimize mercury exposure and encourage fish consumption, but most pregnant women hear "Stop! Do not eat fish." Additionally, most health care providers feel that it is better to take a, “better safe than sorry” approach when discussing fish with their patients. So pregnant women began staying away from fish and removing it from their diet. This is unfortunate because recent research has revealed an enormous amount of evidence on the benefits of fish consumption during pregnancy. These benefits include better cognitive outcomes in newborns and children as well as reductions in preterm labor and peripartum depression. Wow! That’s great!

The main reason for this is that fish is a main source of DHA or omega 3 fatty acids. Today, many of you are finding these nutrients in prenatal vitamins. While that is a good way to insure consumption of omega 3s, nothing can replace the whole food benefit of eating fish. Even the plant sources of omega 3s are a poor replacement because many of us cannot extract the DHA or omega 3 from flaxseeds, canola, walnuts, etc.

The role of omega-3 fatty acids in neurologic development is likely why eating fish during pregnancy is linked to improved brain development (including cognition, vision, social/behavioral skills, language/communication skills, and motor skills in babies). It has even been found that, with deficiencies of DHA during brain development, neuron growth and synaptic development are diminished. The studies have even suggested that deficiency may be detrimental to a child’s brain development. In fact an article in The Lancet 2007, suggested that the benefit of fish consumption is far outweighed any concerns of mercury exposure.

This gives us all a lot to consider on the importance of fish consumption, especially in pregnancy and with nursing mothers.

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