Recent reports show many pregnant women in the United States are not consuming fish in amounts recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In June of 2014, the FDA and the EPA revised their joint Fish Consumption Advice, Questions & Answers to encourage pregnant women, those who may become pregnant, breastfeeding mothers, and young children to eat more fish and to eat a variety of fish from choices that are lower in mercury.
Most of the studies that the FDA and EPA reviewed as part of a developing draft updated guidelines compared levels of fish consumption with the IQ of offspring.
These findings consistently demonstrate that among the women who consumed more fish during pregnancy there were improvements in the child’s IQ – noting that the positive effect extended to verbal as well as overall IQ.
Pregnant women should consume 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of different types of fish per week.
Fish with a higher concentration of omega fatty acids and lower concentrations of mercury are preferred. The most favorable balance of fatty acids is found in salmon, anchovies, herring, shad, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel, pollock, and freshwater trout.
Oysters also have a good ratio of omega fatty acids, but women should only consume cooked seafood during pregnancy.
Albacore and bluefin tuna contain higher levels of mercury, but light canned tuna, although lower in omega fatty acids, also has substantially lower levels of mercury. Therefore, light canned tuna is reasonable for consumption during pregnancy.
Other commonly consumed seafood, such as cod, catfish, tilapia, and shrimp, may not possess the high concentrations of omega fatty acids of fish such as salmon, but they also feature lower mercury levels and may be recommended during pregnancy.
However, pregnant women should not consume shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico because of unacceptably high concentrations of mercury.
The recommendations suggest that omega fatty acid supplements, including DHA in your prenatal vitamin, are a weak alternative to the consumption of dietary seafood, as supplements do not contain all of the other healthy nutrients that seafood does.
Pregnant women are reminded that consuming seafood should not result in excessive caloric intake. Healthy means of preparing seafood (eg, broiled vs fried) are stressed.
Pregnant women should pay attention to the source of seafood caught in freshwater bodies. Fish from water bodies with an advisory are to be avoided. If no advisory system is in place for a particular water source, adults should limit their consumption of seafood from that source to 6 ounces per week, and children should only consume 1 to 3 ounces per week.
The recommendations for seafood consumption among children mirror those for pregnant women. Children younger than 6 months should not be given seafood, and children younger than 6 years should consume 3 to 5 ounces of fish per week. This total can be increased to 4 to 6 ounces per week among children between ages 6 and 8 years, and older children can eat 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week.
The same recommendations stressing low-mercury fish and avoiding fish known to have high levels of mercury apply to children.
The key take away:
Eat 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish each week from choices that are lower in mercury. The nutritional value of fish is important during growth and development before birth, in early infancy for breastfed infants, and in childhood.
If you have any questions about your pregnancy, call our office and set up an appointment with your doctor. We’ll be happy to talk through any concerns or questions you may have regarding your diet and your baby’s health.