Frequently Asked Questions

Discover more about eating seafood during pregnancy and while breastfeeding by reading the answers to the frequently asked questions found below.

Omega 3 fatty acids, specifically DHA, are essential for a child’s brain and eye development. You can think of DHA for the brain like calcium is for bones.

Most fish provide key nutrients that support healthy development for babies and children. Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, iron, iodine, and choline support brain development. Fish also are a good source of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and selenium. The nutritional values are slightly different depending on the type of fish and what that fish ate throughout its life. The best fish to eat when pregnant or breastfeeding and for young children are fish containing high levels of the essential nutrient omega 3 fatty acids like salmon, trout, lake whitefish and sardines. Any fish list on the Best Choices and Lowest Mercury lists are good types of fish to eat as part of healthy eating pattern.

Health experts and scientists who have looked at the risks of eating fish versus the benefits have concluded that eating a variety of different types of fish and shellfish is better than not eating seafood at all. Seafood is a protein source that contains healthy fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. It is because of all the nutrients in fish and shellfish that seafood is referred to as a nutrient dense protein.

You may also be wondering why many health experts recommend eating seafood when pregnant whereas a decade or more ago it was often advised against. Significant amounts of research has been done to look into the development and health benefits of eating seafood and the risks. One critical factor is that fish, shellfish and marine algae are the only natural food sources of DHA. DHA has been identified as the omega 3 fatty acid that is essential for healthy brain and eye development. The human body can make small amounts of DHA, but not enough to provide the brain with what it needs. Because of this, health experts may recommend supplements with algal DHA for individuals who do not like, or do not trust, eating seafood.

Yes, certain farm raised fish have lower concentrations of contaminants when compared to wild or even farm raised fish sourced from other countries. Contaminant levels in fish though are not as simple as farmed or wild. There are safe and tasty products to eat from both farms and from the wild. Fish are exposed to pollutants when they eat contaminated feed. That is why it some cases, it is recommended to eat young smaller fish instead of really big old fish. Fish bodies store, or bioaccumulate, the contaminants that they eat over their lifetime. So, fish that eat other fish and live a long time tend to contain high levels of contaminants. That is why some types of tuna, marlin and sharks are on Do Not Eat lists. Recreational fish advisories and commercial fish consumption advice can be so helpful when choosing the best fish for you.

Farmed fish do have certain advantages that wild populations do not. Farms have control or partial control of what their fish eat, while wild populations eat whatever they catch or find. That’s why when reading articles or news stories it is recommended to check sources. It is often the case, particularly with salmon, that while the contaminant levels are not the same, both farm raised and wild captured fish are safe to eat.

Some groups do put a spin on food related advice, and some are perhaps looking out for their own interests. Tools like Find the Best for You, the FDA’s advice about eating fish FDA and EPA’s advice about eating fish, and state advisories are good resources because they are developed specifically to provide honest information to give you as the consumer the opportunity to make the best decision for you and your family.

Unfortunately, you cannot look at the waterbody from which a fish was caught and determine if is safe to eat. Some fish that are captured from pristine-looking waters are highly contaminated and conversely, some fish from murky waters are low in pollutants. Fish become contaminated when they eat food that has contaminants in it. When fish eat other aquatic animals or plants that contain pollutants, these pollutants can build-up in different parts of the fish’s body.

Another way to say this is that contaminants can bioaccumulate in the fish’s body. For example, mercury will bind to proteins in muscles and be found in fillets. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) will concentrate in fats which are dispersed throughout the fish. PCBs take an estimated 6 years to clear from the human body, so it is important that individuals make good decisions about their fish consumption well before they become pregnant, particularly if they are eating recreationally-caught fish.

Check a local consumption advisory before eating your catch. If a fish that you caught is not listed on the advisory, then eat no more than 1 meal per month. If you are unsure about the safety of the fish that you caught, be safe—‘catch-and-release.’

No, do not eat raw shellfish, raw fish, or refrigerated smoked fish when you are pregnant. Fish should reach 145o F for at least 15 seconds before it safe for you or children to eat.

Raw and undercooked fish and shellfish may contain pathogens including Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause spontaneous abortion. There are also pathogens which may harm young children. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that fish be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 °F for at least 15 seconds.

Only widely available commercial species are listed on the Fish for your Health printable card and website. If a fish that you caught, or want to purchase, is not listed in the advisory, then eat no more than 1 meal per month. If you are ever unsure about the safety of the fish—play it safe and instead choose a fish on the advisory.

No. Do not eat puffer fish when pregnant or breast feeding and do not feed it to young children. Puffer fish is sometimes called fugu, blowfish or sea squab.