Fish: Good for Pregnancy?

I always thought women shouldn’t eat fish when they’re pregnant. Why? Well, remember this little list? From Dr. Fuhrman’s book Disease-Proof Your Child:
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine, including secondhand smoke
  • Alcohol
  • Medications, both over-the-counter and prescription drugs
  • Herbs and high-dose supplements, vitamin A
  • Fish, mollusks and shellfish, sushi (raw fish)
  • Hot tubs and saunas
  • Radiation
  • Household clear, paint thinners
  • Cat litter (because of an infectious disease called toxoplasmosis caused by a parasite found in cat feces)
  • Raw milk and cheese
  • Soft cheese and blue-veined cheeses such as feta, Roquefort, and Brie
  • Artificial colors, nitrates, and MSG
  • Deli meats, luncheon meats, hot dogs, and undercooked meats
Did you see it? “Fish!” Right there on the list. Makes me wonder what the heck this report is all about. According to Reuters, a coalition recommends women eat fish while pregnant. Here’s a bit:
Women who want to become pregnant, are pregnant or breast-feeding should eat at least 12 ounces of fatty fish such as tuna every week to help themselves and their babies, experts will recommend later on Thursday.

Fish including mackerel, sardines, light tuna and salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids -- components of fat known to help brain development. Walnuts, flaxseed oil and leafy green vegetables also contain the compounds.

Women need the nutrients to prevent postpartum depression and babies need them for brain and motor skill development, the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies coalition says.

The coalition, which includes the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says "90 percent of women are consuming less than the recommended amount of fish."

But these fish can also carry high levels of mercury, which is a brain and nerve toxin.
Eat tuna! Have they gone loony? Dr. Fuhrman is very mercury-phobic—especially for pregnant mothers! And tuna is hardly a safe fish. More from Disease-Proof Your Child:
Higher levels of mercury found in mothers who eat more fish have been associated with birth defects, seizures, mental retardation, developmental disabilities, and cerebral palsy.1 This is mostly the result of women having eaten fish when they were pregnant. Scientists believe that fetuses are much more sensitive to mercury exposure than adults, although adults do suffer from varying degrees of brain damage from fish consumption.2 Even the FDA, which normally ignores reports on the dangers of our dangerous food practices, acknowledges that large fish such as shark, swordfish, and yellowfin and bluefin tuna, are potentially dangerous. Researchers are also concerned about other toxins concentrated in fish that can cause brain damage way before the cancers caused by chemical-carrying fish appear.

Fish with Highest and Lowest Mercury Levels

  • tilefish
  • swordfish
  • mackerel
  • shark
  • white snapper
  • tuna
  • salmon
  • flounder
  • sole
  • tilapia
  • trout
I have one final question. Who writes these reports? Bozo the Clown!
1. Shamlaye, C. F., D. O. Marsh, G. J. Myers, et al. 1995. The Seychelles Child Development Study on neurodevelopmental outcomes in children following in utero exposure to methylmercury from a maternal fish diet: background and demographics. Neurotoxicology 16 (4): 597-612; Rylander L., U. Stromberg, and L. Hagmar. 1996. Dietary intake of fish contaminated with persistent organochlorine compounds in relation to low birthweight. Scand. J. Work Environ. Health 2 (4): 260-66; Does methylmercury have a role in causing developmental disabilities in children? 2000. Environ. Health Perspect. 108 (supp.3): 413-20.

2. Clarkson, T.W. 1997. The toxicology of mercury. Crit. Rev. Clin. Lab. Sci. 34(4):369-403.
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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Sara - October 5, 2007 11:47 AM

Wait, let me see if I have this logic. So, women need to eat Omega 3s to get healthy, but instead of recommending flax and walnuts and healthy ways to get the fats, they recommend feeding the unborn mercury-laden tuna and other fish.

Way to go scientists! Now women can feel guilty for both eating fish for the mercury and guilty for not eating fish for the Omega-3s. Are you sure the title of the report wasn't "How to Put the Pregnant Between a Rock and a Har Place" ??

Amanda - October 5, 2007 4:47 PM

You're partially right about who wrote the report -- the "study" Reuters reported on (a little haphazardly, I think) was actually funded by the seafood industry. Think they have anything to gain by telling women to eat more fish?

Melissa - October 8, 2007 2:32 PM

It is a horrible study. Thanks for pointing out the biasness in it. Many people are overlooking this. It is irresponsible to urge pregnant mothers to eat more fish than the FDA recommends without any advice to avoid high mercury fish. Decades of scientific research on the toxicity of methylmercury suggest that it harms healthy fetal development. According to, the National Fisheries Institute partially funded this latest campaign to urge expectant women to consume more fish and seafood

In fact, a few recent studies suggest that the benefits of fish consumption during pregnancy, such as improving infant gestation length and neurodevelopment, may be erased when the mother’s mercury levels are high.

Women of childbearing age still need to select their fish wisely. The FDA advice should be posted at fish counters to help end confusion. Here's website to an organization that is trying to get grocery stores to post this important advice.

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