Can Pregnant People Eat Seafood? Here's What Fish Is Safe During Pregnancy and How Much to Eat

With conflicting research and concerns about mercury levels, there’s plenty of confusion about whether fish is safe for pregnancy. Here, we break down the latest guidelines for expectant parents.

fresh salmon with spices
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Of all the food dilemmas you face when pregnant, seafood might be the most slippery. Fish contain nutrients essential to the developing fetus, but they can also be contaminated with damaging polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury, which may negatively affect your baby's brain and nervous system. Fish recommendations have also changed constantly over the years, leaving many pregnant people out of the loop on the latest guidelines.

While it may be tempting to simply throw up your hands and order a cheeseburger, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say not to shun fish completely. The organizations' 2022 updated guidelines encourage pregnant people to eat safe quantities of low-mercury fish to help their child's growth and development.

But what kinds of fish are considered safe, and what's the recommended serving size? Keep reading to learn more.

The Benefits of Fish During Pregnancy

"For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children," said Stephen Ostroff, M.D., the FDA's acting chief scientist, in an FDA statement. "But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health."

Indeed, fish provides plenty of protein, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and minerals like iodine, zinc, and selenium. It's also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promotes fetal brain and nervous system development and lowers the risk of preeclampsia, low birth weight, and preterm birth. When incorporated into a healthy diet, fish has also been associated with heart health and decreased obesity risks, says the FDA.

How Much Fish Should I Eat While Pregnant?

To get the benefits of fish without the harmful effects of mercury, follow FDA guidelines for serving sizes. "The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to consume between 8 and 12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week, from choices that are lower in mercury," according to the FDA. An adult serving size is 4 ounces (about the dimensions of your palm), so the 8-12 ounce recommendation is equivalent to two or three servings of fish per week.

List of Safe Fish During Pregnancy

Savvy eaters should look for clean seafood that's high in omega-3s, low in mercury and PCBs, and sustainably caught or farmed. The FDA further breaks safe fish into two categories: "best choices" and "good choices."

A 2022 study from the University of Bristol is adding more contrast to findings by reporting that the type of fish does not matter when it comes to levels of mercury; what matters is that pregnant people are getting essential nutrients from eating fish and those nutrients protect against any ingested mercury.

Professor Jean Golding, co-author and Emeritus Professor of Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology at the University of Bristol, said, "The guidance for pregnancy should highlight 'Eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily."

Thankfully there are plenty of choices for those who want to remain cautious when it comes to the type of fish they eat and can still enjoy seafood without the stress of unknown mercury levels.

Best Fish Choices

Pregnant people can eat two or three servings of these fish each week.

  • Anchovy
  • Atlantic croaker
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Black sea bass
  • Butterfish
  • Catfish
  • Clam
  • Cod
  • Crab
  • Crawfish
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Hake
  • Herring
  • Lobster, American and spinny
  • Mullet
  • Oyster
  • Pacific chub mackerel
  • Perch, freshwater and ocean
  • Pickerel
  • Plaice
  • Pollock
  • Salmon
  • Sardine
  • Scallop
  • Shad
  • Shrimp
  • Skate
  • Smelt
  • Sole
  • Squid
  • Tilapia
  • Trout, freshwater
  • Tuna, canned light (includes skipjack)
  • Whitefish
  • Whiting

Good Fish Choices

Pregnant people can eat one weekly serving of these fish.

  • Bluefish
  • Buffalofish
  • Carp
  • Chilean sea bass/ Patagonian toothfish
  • Grouper
  • Halibut
  • Mahi mahi/ dolphinfish
  • Monkfish
  • Rockfish
  • Sablefish
  • Sheepshead
  • Snapper
  • Spanish mackerel
  • Striped bass (ocean)
  • Tilefish (Atlantic Ocean)
  • Tuna, albacore/white tuna, canned and fresh/frozen
  • Tuna, yellowfin
  • Weakfish/ seatrout
  • White croaker/ Pacific croaker

Do you have a fisherman in the family? Note that if eating freshly caught fish, you should "eat only one serving and no other fish that week," says the FDA. Avoid eating any fish involved in current fish advisories.

Fish to Avoid During Pregnancy

Certain fish, particularly large predators at the top of the food chain, contain high levels of methyl-mercury, a potent neurotoxin dispersed into the air by coal-fired power plants. Mercury is particularly damaging to the developing brain, and studies have found that its negative impacts can cancel out the brain-boosting powers of fish oil.

Like omega-3s, mercury can pass to babies through breast milk—and so can polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), flame-retardant chemicals linked to neurological damage and cancer. Though banned in 1979, PCBs persist in oceans and waterways and accumulate in the bodies of certain fish.

Here's the FDA's list of fish with the highest mercury levels to banish from your plate:

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico)
  • Tuna, bigeye
Updated by
Nicole Harris
Nicole Harris, SEO Editor
Nicole Harris is the Editor at Parents. She joined the team in 2018 as a Staff Writer and was promoted to SEO Editor in 2021. She now covers everything from children's health to parenting trends. Nicole's writing has appeared in Martha Stewart Weddings, Good Housekeeping, The Knot, BobVila.com, and other publications. A graduate of Syracuse University, Nicole currently lives in New Jersey with her husband.
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