Updated Guidelines on Seafood Consumption During Pregnancy

By: Dara Godfrey, MS RD

New guidelines  have recently been released to the public regarding fish intake during pregnancy. Since past recommendations were both confusing and limiting in scope, both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental  Protection Agency ( EPA) have joined forces to expand the current advice to pregnant women,  women trying to get pregnant as well as breastfeeding women and parents with young children.

The guidelines have not been updated since March 2004. Past public comments and feedback help set the tone for what would be included in the new recommendations, along with scientific research and current federal guidelines.  The current advice, released in January 2017, includes an easy to follow chart outlining 1) Best Choices 2) Good Choices and 3) Choices to Avoid. Also added is a list of more than 60 different fish and shellfish categorized based on their mercury concentrations.

Overall, the main talking points include:

  • Eat 2-3 servings of fish per week from the Best Choices section (8-12oz)
  • Eat a maximum of 1 serving a week from the Good Choice list (max 6 oz)
  • Avoid high mercury fish (7 fish in total)
  • Vary your fish consumption
  • Fish caught by family/friends should be checked for fish advisories prior to consumption (with no advisory, consume only 1 serving and no other fish that week)
  • Children can consume 1-2 servings of fish per week beginning at age 2

(http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm)

Although not mentioned in the 2017 revised guidelines, it is also important to note that pregnant women avoid all raw and/or undercooked seafood, eggs and meat.

Women who follow these guidelines could potentially reap the benefits of seafood consumption while avoiding the potentially harmful effect of mercury. Methylmercury, found in fish containing the highest levels of mercury, can negatively affect the central nervous system, notably the brain of a developing fetus.  I recommend consuming fish since it is a good quality protein, relatively low in saturated fat and is potentially beneficial for the brain development of a child (especially in omega-3 rich seafood).

Hopefully the updated advice will encourage more women who are trying to get pregnant, to eat a variety of fish each week to maximize the potential benefits that fish could provide.

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