Nutrition is a huge consideration when it comes to the health during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Good nutrition sustains mothers and helps the growth and development of fetuses and babies.
There has been much debate about whether, how much and what type of fish pregnant and breastfeeding women eat. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency advise pregnant and breastfeeding moms to consume 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish, or two to three servings, per week. The new recommendations set forth in 2014 indicate that the benefits of fish outweigh the risks from methyl mercury.
Fish and shellfish offer incredible nutrients for mothers and babies. In fact, neither should go without these rich, diverse nutrients including lots of protein and essential fatty acids. Fish is an excellent source of lean protein, along with chicken and turkey, and good fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s give cells a terrific boost and help brain development. While omega-3 supplements are available, the best sources are those from nature, such as fish.
However, while moms are increasing fish intake, they should be very picky about which fish to eat. Moms should choose fish low in mercury content. Methyl mercury is the neurotoxin byproduct of mercury and can cause damage to a developing baby’s nervous system and autoimmune disorders in mothers. Fish high in mercury include mackerel, swordfish, tilefish, albacore tuna and shark, all of which should be avoided during pregnancy. Low mercury fish include salmon, trout, pollock, shrimp, cod, flounder, herring, sardines, light tuna and tilapia.
Also, where fish come from may alter mercury and other chemical contamination levels as some local and foreign waters are more prone to pollution. The Gulf of Mexico is one such area of concern. Moms should be picky and ask questions about where their fresh fish has swam from to get to her plate. Ask butchers at your local market or chefs at restaurants if you are unsure about the origin of your fish. There are several apps that can calculate mercury content based on the type and location of fish and also keep track of your weekly dietary mercury intake.
Diversifying your fish diet is important too. Different types of fish offer a variety of nutrients and will also balance your mercury consumption. Don’t eat the same type of fish more than two or three times a month. Never eat raw or undercooked fish. That means no sushi or sashimi, moms! If you do happen to eat fish high in mercury one time, there is no need to panic. Chances are it will not affect your health or your baby’s.
Many new moms are confused about fish recommendations during pregnancy. The new guidelines are clear: fish should be an essential part of every pregnant and breastfeeding mother’s diet. With two or three servings of low mercury fish per week, moms can provide crucial protein and essential fatty acids for themselves and their growing babies.