Is It True That Pregnant Women Can’t Eat Fish?

My mother-in-law used to tell the story that she stopped drinking when she was nursing because one day, after she’d had a beer, she swore she could smell beer on her son’s breath when he burped.

English: Nutrition in pregnancy. Pregnant woma...

Nutrition in pregnancy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was pregnant with my first son, social pressure was sufficient to keep most pregnant women from drinking, certainly not in public, although the common wisdom at the time was that the placenta protected the fetus from anything the Mom ate or drank.

By the time I was pregnant with my second son, 11 years later, social pressure had expanded to include smoking.

By the time my grandchildren were born, in 2005, the list of prohibited foods for pregnant women had grown considerably.

  • Cookie dough, eggnog, hollandaise and Casear salad dressing because of raw eggs and salmonella
  • Undercooked hot dogs because of listeriosis
  • Pre-stuffed poultry because of bacteria from mixing raw chicken juices and stuffing
  • Unpasteurized milk or cheese, like brie, feta, Camembert, blue cheese, Mexican soft cheeses because of foodborne illness

Perhaps the most confusing of these prohibitions has to do with seafood.

Mercury can accumulate in fish, making it potentially unsafe for pregnant women to eat.

What Are The Guidelines?

The bigger the fish, the more mercury.

Pregnant women should avoid large fish altogether.

  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • King Mackerel
  • Tilefish

I, personally, wouldn’t have trouble avoiding any of these, but there are places where they are common.

For smaller fish, which don’t accumulate as much mercury, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recommends not eating too much, no more than 8 to 12 ounces of fish a week.

  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Canned light tuna (albacore tuna, chunk white tuna and tuna steak should be limited to 6 ounces a week)
  • Salmon
  • Pollack
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Tilapia
  • Local, fresh water fish should be limited to 6 ounces

All states now monitor mercury levels in their fish and issue advisories if there are other fish to avoid.

Click here to find all state advisories.

Some seafood pregnant women should avoid altogether.

  • Raw fish and shellfish, like oysters and clams
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood, like lox

My instincts would have been for pregnant women to eat a lot of fish, because it is such a healthy, high-protein food.

But, then, I grew up with a neighbor who smoked during her pregnancy and once said to me, “My first child was fine and I smoked the whole time I was pregnant.”

I lived with a roommate who smoked when I was pregnant. Watching her light up every night after dinner might have tempted me to start if I hadn’t been pregnant.

Support pregnant women in their efforts to keep our future grandchildren healthy by feeding them the right foods, a loving thing to do.

Did you watch what you ate when you were pregnant?

Did your daughter or daughter-in-law have to teach you what she could eat?

Did you know tuna might contain too much mercury for a pregnant woman?

To you and finding out the best ways to keep our grandchildren healthy.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru, Grandma to two awesome 7-year-olds

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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