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When you read health news regularly, eating anything at all during pregnancy probably scares you! Fish is a particularly tricky food.

On one hand, you know that fish contains lots of nutrients that are really great for your developing baby. On the other hand, eating some types of fish can actually pose a danger! Want to know how to enjoy fish safely while you are expecting? Here's a guide. 

Why fish is great

Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, protein there's plenty of great stuff in fish! You'll need to eat at least 12 ounces of fish a week to get the benefits. Why do you need these things when you are expecting a baby? Let's take a look. Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in your baby's brain development, as well as vision.

The average American diet is really deficient in these long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, so it is a good idea to either make a conscious effort to include foods with Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, or to take a supplement. If you enjoy fish, that's the obvious answer. Iron keeps your blood and immune system healthy. As with omega-3 acids, lots of women don't get enough. Anemia during pregnancy makes you feel weak and dizzy, but it can also (in extreme cases) lead to preterm labor and serious health problems in newborns.

Fish is a convenient food source of iron, but those who are already anemic should also take supplements. Protein is an important building block for everyone's body including your baby's. It's also one thing that people in the west normally don't lack. In fact, most Americans take in far more protein than they need. Along with fish, other meats, dairy, eggs, beans, and tofu are great sources. All the stuff that makes up the very foundation of the American diet has protein in it. Yes, you need protein. No, you don't need to be worried about a deficiency here.

Fish the dangers

There are two problems with eating fish during pregnancy. Mercury is the first and most dangerous of those. Mercury, which fish accumulate from the environment, it pretty toxic to pregnant women and their babies, and to breastfed babies. Remember how we said that you need to consume 12 ounces of fish a week to get the health benefits? The Food and Drug Administration also advises women who are trying to conceive, pregnant, or nursing to eat a maximum of 12 ounces of low mercury fish a week. With fish that are higher in mercury, you'll want to be even more careful. Fish with the highest mercury levels should be avoided altogether. The highest-mercury fish are those that are highest up in the food chain, and live longest. We'll give you a list of fish that are safe and those you should stay away from or eat in very modest quantities in the next section. Before you decide all of this fish stuff is so complicated that you want to just stop eating fish for the duration of your pregnancy, doctors advise you never to avoid fish completely because of mercury, just to stick to the guidelines. The second possible problem with fish and pregnancy is, of course, raw fish. Raw fish can contain all kinds of nasty bacteria you don't want, so make sure you stay away from sushi or fish sold in dubious food outlets (like street stalls). This one is pretty much self-explanatory, so we won't go into it any further.

Confused yet?

So, here's a list of fish that are and are not safe during pregnancy. We've separated them into three groups. The fish in the first group are low in mercury, so you can eat 12 ounces a week of those. The second have medium-high levels of mercury, and you should not eat more than three six ounce portions a month. The fish in the third category are high in mercury and should be avoided altogether.

Low mercury fish:

  • Cod

  • Tuna (canned)
  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Crab
  • Shrimp

Medium mercury fish:

    • Tuna steak
    • Albacore (canned)
    • White tuna (canned)
    • Trout

High mercury fish:

    • Shark
    • Albacore
    • Swordfish
    • Tilefish
    • King mackerel

What are your thoughts and feelings about eating fish during pregnancy? If you have any questions or just want to discuss your dietary decisions during pregnancy with other women, come and join our pregnancy forums.

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