Pregnant women should definitely be eating fish to get brain-boosting DHA to their developing babies. This is also important for nursing mothers. Babies and toddlers need these fatty acids in their early years because of the rapid pace of brain development.
However, a fear of consuming too much mercury has led many pregnant women to ignore previous recommendations about eating fish, which advised that women should eat up no more than 12 ounces a week. This recommendation makes it sound that the lower the amount of fish, the better—but this is not the case. Fish is an excellent source of DHA (see this table on the FDA website to see how much DHA and EPA are found in different kinds of fish).
In fact, when the FDA surveyed a group of 1,000 pregnant women, they found that 20 percent had eaten no fish in the previous month. In addition, 75 percent of the women who did eat fish ate less than four ounces a week—far less than the amount they should be eating.
To try to take the fear out of eating fish, the FDA and the EPA have issued updated advice when it comes to seafood consumption.
- Women who are pregnant, might become pregnant, or are breastfeeding should eat 8-12 ounces of fish a week, or 2-3 servings.
- Children should also get 2-3 servings of fish a week, with portion sizes appropriate for their age.
- When it comes to tuna, limit albacore (white) tuna to 6 ounces a week. Canned light tuna has lower amounts of mercury, and as such isn’t included in this 6-ounce limitation.
- Pick fish that is lower in mercury, which most are. A good reference list can be found here.
- Avoid these four fish with the highest mercury amounts: shark, tilefish, swordfish, and king mackerel.
- If you are catching fish locally, be aware of any local fish advisories.
The re-statement of seafood recommendations will hopefully make the public more aware of just how important fish is in our diets, especially for children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
- Fish is an important source of omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA, which are important for brain development in babies and children.
- Most pregnant and breastfeeding women eat far too little fish because of unfounded fears about mercury levels.
- Most fish contains very little mercury.
- The FDA and EPA have updated their fish consumption recommendations to better promote seafood consumption.