Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Pregnancy

Font Size

Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women Urged to Eat Fish

Choose types lower in mercury, such as cod, salmon and tilapia, FDA and EPA say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant or breast-feeding women should increase their weekly consumption of fish, as long as it's lower in mercury, according to new advice issued Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The two agencies now recommend that women eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces per week of low-mercury fish, to support fetal growth and development. That equates to two or three servings.

Young children and women who might become pregnant should also try to eat a similar amount of fish every week, the agencies said in a newly released draft of updated nutritional advice.

The nutritional benefits of fish outweigh concerns about mercury, the agencies have concluded.

"For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children," said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the FDA's acting chief scientist. "But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health."

Added Elizabeth Southerland, director of the EPA's Office of Water: "There is now substantial evidence that fish consumption can benefit growth and development in the fetus and young children even though fish contain methyl mercury, and that this beneficial effect is much more likely to occur than harm from methyl mercury."

Previously, the FDA and the EPA recommended maximum amounts of fish that these groups of people should consume, but did not promote a minimum amount. Over the past decade, however, emerging science has underscored the importance of appropriate amounts of fish in the diets of pregnant and breast-feeding women and young children, the agencies said.

Fish contains important nutrients for developing fetuses, infants who are breast-fed and young children, according to the FDA.

The FDA calls fish and shellfish an important part of a healthy diet, because they contain high-quality protein and other needed nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can boost heart health and children's proper growth and development.

But, virtually all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. For most people, the risk from mercury isn't a worry. However, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or a young child's developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish, according to the FDA.

The FDA and CDC said Tuesday that they caution pregnant or breast-feeding women to avoid four types of fish associated with high mercury levels. They are shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish caught in the Gulf of Mexico.

Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

Today on WebMD

Woman smiling as she reads pregnancy test
Slideshow
pregnant woman with salad
Quiz
 
pregnancy am i pregnant
Article
calendar and baby buggy
Tool
 

slideshow fetal development
Slideshow
pregnancy first trimester warning signs
Article
 
What Causes Bipolar
Video
Woman trying on dress in store
Slideshow
 

pregnant woman
Article
Close up on eyes of baby breastfeeding
Video
 
healthtool pregnancy calendar
Tool
eddleman prepare your body pregnancy
Video