If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, adding at least 8 ounces of fish to the weekly menu can keep you and your little one from missing out on key nutrients.
Fish — including shellfish — are prime sources of protein and healthy fats known as omega-3s. Omega-3s are a group of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that are vital to the development of an unborn and newborn baby’s brain, eyes and nervous system. Omega-3s also have a positive effect on pregnancy itself. According to the American Pregnancy Association, increased intake of omega-3s has been shown to help prevent preterm labor, lower the risk of preeclampsia and potentially increase birth weight. Research suggests omega-3 deficiency is a risk factor for postpartum depression. Once the baby is born, a woman’s body depends on omega-3s to help make breast milk.
Since the human body cannot produce omega-3s on its own, it has to rely on diet to provide essential amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Pregnant women should consume omega-3s because pregnancy depletes this nutrient in the body, and women become more deficient in omega-3 with each subsequent pregnancy.
While all fish contain healthy fats, not all are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to consume, particularly fish high in mercury. Babies that are exposed to mercury can develop brain damage and hearing and vision loss. Fish to avoid due to high mercury content include Gulf of Mexico tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. You should also avoid albacore tuna caught outside the U.S. and British Columbia, and limit it or any fish caught in streams, rivers or lakes to a maximum of 6 ounces per week. According to the EPA and FDA, seafood that is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women includes salmon, tilapia, cod, catfish, pollock and shrimp.