No sushi. No oysters. No fish high in mercury. As pregnant women, we hear a lot of don’ts surrounding safe seafood during pregnancy, but does that mean all fish is off limits? What are the rules about fish during pregnancy?

Let’s break it all down, including:

  • Can you eat fish during pregnancy?
  • What the latest studies say about fish during pregnancy
  • What fish is safe to eat
  • Plus, whether fish oil is a suitable alternative

Can You Eat Fish During Pregnancy?

I know a lot of people who think they have to cut out fish entirely or think it’s safer to just avoid fish, but that’s not quite right. In fact, a new study shows that eating fish during pregnancy has some pretty amazing benefits for both mama and baby! It’s all about the type of fish you eat. (More on that later!)

The Study

Researchers in Finland performed a small-scale study on women who consumed fish during pregnancy. (Finland ranks in the top fifteen countries in the world for per capita fish consumption, along with other Scandinavian countries like Iceland and Norway, so it makes sense that they’d perform the study there.)

Moms participating in the study kept food diaries throughout their pregnancy, and study authors kept track of any pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes, and regularly drew blood to track the levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the mother’s blood serum. (These fatty acids are essential for growth and neurodevelopment in infants.)

Once the mothers gave birth, the study authors checked babies’ blood levels at one month old. When the babies’ turned two, the researchers also administered eyesight tests.

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The Results

Babies born to mothers who ate fish three or more times a week scored better than babies born to mothers who ate two or less portions of fish weekly.

Why?

Researchers hypothesize that this is because fish is high in vitamins A, D, and E. Let’s look at why these vitamins are so important during pregnancy:

  • Vitamin A: This nutrient is important for visual health and immune function, as well as fetal growth and development. Pregnant women are most likely to be deficient in this vitamin during the third trimester. (source) Worried about Vitamin A toxicity? Studies only link birth defects with synthetic forms of vitamin A.
  • Vitamin D: It’s estimated that up to 41 percent of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency. But pregnant women who have higher levels of vitamin D have fewer rates of preterm birth and delivery complications. Babies also need vitamin D to absorb calcium and grow strong bones.
  • Vitamin E: While vitamin E plays a role in supporting cells and vision, some studies have linked large amounts of vitamin E to heart defects in babies. For that reason, the WHO cautions against vitamin E supplements. Instead, pregnant women can get this essential nutrient in safe doses from low mercury fish like herring and sardines. (source)

Other Benefits to Eating Fish During Pregnancy

Beyond the results of this study, there are other known benefits to eating fish during pregnancy:

  • There is a reduced instance of autism-spectrum traits in babies whose mothers ate fish during pregnancy. (source)
  • Children whose mothers ate three to four servings of fish a week had higher IQ scores. (source)
  • It’s a great source of lean protein.
  • It’s high in iron, and women can struggle with anemia when pregnant.
  • The omega-3 acids it contains are essential to brain development.

So It’s Safe to Eat Fish During Pregnancy?

Should you be scared of fish while pregnant? No way! As you can see, there’s actually lots of good reasons to add seafood to your pregnancy diet. Just make smart decisions about what kind of fish you’re consuming. (More on this below!)

And remember: Although here in the U.S. we’re often bombarded by warnings about fish during pregnancy, women in Scandinavian and Asian countries consume plenty of fish during pregnancy and deliver healthy babies!

What Fish is Safe During Pregnancy?

Now that we’ve established the benefits of fish during pregnancy, what seafood is safe to eat during pregnancy?

  • Stick with fish that have low levels of mercury and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Keep an eye on local fish advisories, which will warn you if contaminants or higher levels of mercury have been reported in local waters.
  • Pass on anything that’s undercooked or raw—that includes shrimp and oysters. Raw shellfish can carry hepatitis A or lead to food poisoning.

Safe fish during pregnancy:

  • Trout
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Wild caught Salmon
  • Atlantic and Pacific Mackerel
  • Anchovies
  • Perch
  • Crayfish
  • Whiting

Check out this post for more information about the safe seafood listed above, what fish to avoid during pregnancy, and the truth about sushi during pregnancy.

What About Fish Oil During Pregnancy?

Can’t stomach fish? Or still don’t feel comfortable with it? There’s new evidence that fish oil supplements have great benefits for baby, too.

The Best Fish Oil Supplements

Always talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements, particularly when pregnant.

  • Cod liver oil: I think this is one of the most important supplements to take during pregnancy. It contains naturally occurring fat soluble vitamins A and D, which are vital for baby’s brain and eye development, and bone and teeth structure. But be careful about dosages, as cod liver can possibly be unsafe if taken in larger amounts.
  • Prenatal vitamins with DHA: If you prefer to keep it simple and take just one supplement, try a prenatal with DHA. DHA mimics the fatty acids found in fish. (Just don’t take these if you have a known shellfish allergy.)

How About You?

Did you eat fish during any of your pregnancies? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.