Cincinnati Children's Blog

Pregnant Women Should Eat Fish

Pregnant Women Should Eat Fish

When you’re pregnant, keeping track of all of the things that are unsafe to eat can feel a little overwhelming. We want to help you better understand the guidelines for eating fish while pregnant. 

Should Pregnant Women Eat Fish? 

Through an ongoing research study, our team found that there is very little risk associated with eating moderate amounts of fish with low mercury content, and the benefits of eating it outweigh the potential detriments.

If you’re pregnant, put fish with low levels of mercury on your “okay to eat” list.

How Much Fish Is Recommended?

The EPA now recommends pregnant women eat 8-10 ounces a week (or 2-3 servings), because there are known nutritional benefits.

What Type of Fish Is Safe To Eat?

Consume the fish that are lowest in mercury. The smaller the fish, the less mercury it is likely to have:

  • Salmon
  • Tilapia
  • Cod
  • Cat fish
  • Shrimp

And avoid fish with high mercury levels, such as swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.

If you don’t like to eat fish, consider a supplement. Speak with your doctor first, but fish oil pills may be a reasonable substitute.

Learn More About Our Research 

In our study, we collected information on what type and how much fish mothers ate during pregnancy and also measured mercury concentrations in their blood during pregnancy.

We examined 344 five-week-old infants, and found that the babies whose mothers consumed more fish during pregnancy showed better behavior and coping skills during the exam. The babies whose mothers had higher mercury concentrations, likely coming from fish, also showed better attention during the exam.

There is evidence that when babies do well during this neurobehavioral test, it is linked to better outcomes when they get older. So, for instance, babies who do well on the behavioral side of the infant test are more likely to also show better behavior later in life. And a baby who is very attentive in infancy is more likely to pay better attention in school. 

This means that even a very small amount of fish – 1 to 3 times a month – provided cognitive and behavioral benefits to babies, without much risk involved. We interpreted these positive benefits to be related to the polyunsaturated fatty acids contained in fish, which have been shown to benefit attention, memory and other areas of development in children.

If you have more questions, or you’re concerned about something you may have eaten, please contact your doctor.  

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