Safe Fish for Pregnancy

We often look to fish for great nutrients such as omega 3, vitamin B, and lean protein. However, some unhealthy contaminants can be found in fish as well. Mercury is a contaminant we’ve been hearing a lot about recently because it can affect brain development and the nervous system. Government studies show that one in every six pregnant women in the United States will give birth to a baby whose blood is contaminated with mercury levels above the federal safety standard.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine stresses moderation in fish consumption for pregnant women and women who are trying to become pregnant, stating that no one should cut fish out of their diet altogether. With so many healthy nutrients that are essential for the growth and development of your baby, it’s important to be informed about the fish you are consuming.

Below is a helpful list provided by the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org/safefishlist) for making your fish choices.

Avoid: bass (large mouth), gulf coast oysters, halibut, mackerel (king), marlin, pike, seabass, shark, swordfish, tilefish, tuna (canned), tuna steaks, walleye, white croaker

No more than one serving per month: blue mussel, channel catfish (wild)*, cod, eastern oyster, Great Lakes salmon, gulf coast blue crab, lake whitefish, mahi mahi, pollock

Lowest in mercury: blue crab (mid-Atlantic), croaker, fish sticks, flounder (summer), haddock, salmon (wild Pacific), shrimp**, trout (farmed)

* Farmed catfish have low mercury levels but may contain PCBs in amounts of concern for pregnant  a** Shrimp fishing and farming practices have raised serious environmental concerns.

Although there is no recent data available, studies from the 1970s show high concentrations of contaminants in:

  • Bluefish
  • Gontino
  • Lake trout
  • Orange roughy
  • Porgy
  • Rockfish
  • Snapper

The American Fertility Association also cautions women seeking to improve their fertility to “ease up on your fish intake.” Shark, swordfish, and mackerel typically contain high levels of mercury, which is associated with infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects. Eliminating ingested mercury from your system can take over a year.

Since fish contains protein and other essential nutrients, the association suggests that you “stick to two meals a week of low-mercury seafood like shrimp, salmon, and light tuna.”

For additional information about mercury levels in fish, visit the following web sites: