Pregnancy and fish: What's safe to eat?

If you're unsure about whether it's safe to eat seafood during your pregnancy, you're not alone. Understand the guidelines for pregnancy and fish.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Pregnancy nutrition can be confusing, especially when it comes to seafood guidelines. Here's help understanding the facts.

What are the pros and cons of eating seafood during pregnancy?

Seafood, which includes fish and shellfish, can be a great source of protein, iron and zinc — crucial nutrients for your baby's growth and development. The omega-3 fatty acids in many fish, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), also can promote your baby's brain development.

But some types of seafood — particularly large, predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish — can contain high levels of mercury. Although the mercury in seafood isn't a concern for most adults, special precautions apply if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant. If you regularly eat fish high in mercury, the substance can accumulate in your bloodstream over time. Too much mercury in your bloodstream could damage your baby's developing brain and nervous system.

How much seafood is recommended?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that pregnant women eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces (340 grams) of a variety of seafood lower in mercury a week. That's about two to three servings.

June 17, 2016 See more In-depth