Watch this video to understand:
- Why is fish important to a developing fetus?
- How can mercury harm a developing fetus?
- How do fish become contaminated with mercury?
- Should pregnant women eat fish?
- If so, what kinds, and how much?
Whether or not to eat fish can be a difficult question for pregnant women to answer. On one hand, it’s a source of many important nutrients, including Omega 3 fatty acids, which we need for healthy brain and eye development. On the other, some fish carry high concentrations of mercury, which can have devastating consequences on a developing fetus. So what’s a pregnant woman to do?
We sat down with Emily Oken, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, to ask about her study of women who ate fish during pregnancy, their mercury levels, and how well their children performed on tests on cognition, visual attention, and language in early childhood.
Pregnancy is a time of excitement and anticipation, but it can also be a time of confusion and anxiety about what to eat and what to avoid. Fish is a common food item that often raises concerns for pregnant women, as it can be a rich source of important nutrients but also a source of exposure to mercury. In this article, we’ll explore why fish is important to a developing fetus, how mercury can harm a developing fetus, how fish become contaminated with mercury, and what kinds of fish pregnant women should eat and how much.
Why is fish important to a developing fetus?
Fish is a source of many important nutrients, including Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D, iron, and zinc. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for healthy brain and eye development in a developing fetus. Studies have shown that pregnant women who eat fish have babies with better cognitive and visual outcomes than those who do not eat fish.
How can mercury harm a developing fetus?
Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that can harm the nervous system, especially during fetal development. Exposure to high levels of mercury during pregnancy can cause developmental delays, cognitive deficits, and other neurological problems in a developing fetus. These effects can be long-lasting and irreversible.
How do fish become contaminated with mercury?
Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is present in the environment, but human activities such as burning coal and mining have increased mercury levels in the air and water. Mercury can then be converted into methylmercury, a toxic form that accumulates in fish tissue. Large predatory fish at the top of the food chain, such as swordfish, shark, and king mackerel, tend to have the highest levels of mercury due to biomagnification.
Should pregnant women eat fish?
Yes, pregnant women should eat fish, but they should be selective about the types and amounts of fish they consume. The FDA and EPA recommend that pregnant women eat 2-3 servings (8-12 ounces) of low-mercury fish per week to obtain the benefits of fish while minimizing the risks of mercury exposure. Low-mercury fish include salmon, shrimp, canned light tuna, tilapia, and catfish. Pregnant women should avoid high-mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, as well as raw or undercooked fish.
Eating fish during pregnancy is a complex decision that requires balancing the benefits of important nutrients with the risks of mercury exposure. Pregnant women should choose low-mercury fish such as salmon, shrimp, canned light tuna, tilapia, and catfish and avoid high-mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. By following these recommendations, pregnant women can obtain the benefits of fish while minimizing the risks of mercury exposure, ensuring healthy development for their growing fetus.