Eating fish while pregnant is one of the best ways to get brain-boosting nutrients to your growing baby. But what about mercury and other contaminants commonly found in fish?

The mercury that naturally occurs in fish can make it dangerous for pregnant women or young children to consume too much of certain fish species. For this reason, people may have told you to avoid eating fish altogether while pregnant. The truth is the benefits outweigh the risks when you follow the right guidelines.

Benefits of eating fish during pregnancy

There may be some risk to eating certain fish during pregnancy, but studies show that children experience developmental benefits when their moms-to-be eat fish while pregnant. This is because fish contains “good fats” called omega-3 fatty acids – specifically two kinds known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – that provide a multitude of benefits to both mother and baby.

These types of fatty acids play an important role in building baby’s brain and eyes before birth, and help them continue to develop during infancy. Fatty acids also enrich breast milk, ensuring your baby gets the nutrients they need to grow. Plus, DHA and EPA are excellent for your heart and brain health, lowering the risk of complications during pregnancy and the postpartum period after giving birth. Fish also contains a large amount of protein while still being low in fat.

However, the fish you eat during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, as well as the fish you feed to your young child, needs to be low in mercury. While all fish has mercury to some degree, larger fish species that eat other fish have the highest levels. When a pregnant woman is exposed to too much mercury, it can affect the development of their baby’s nervous system, causing learning disabilities, as well as vision and hearing problems later in life.

Choosing the right fish before, during and after pregnancy can help keep you and your baby healthy. Below, we’ll help you pick the right ones for your next meal.

These fish are very low in mercury and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, making them great choices for mother and baby:

  • Anchovies
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Atlantic or Pacific salmon (not Great Lakes)
  • Herring
  • Sardines

The following fish are also very low in mercury, but contain less omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Cod
  • Farm-raised catfish
  • Freshwater trout
  • Freshwater and ocean perch
  • Herring
  • Pollock
  • Shellfish (crab, oysters, scallops and shrimp)
  • Tilapia
  • Whitefish

Each week, you can have 2-3 servings of the fish listed above OR one serving of the following low-mercury fish:

  • Albacore and white tuna (canned, fresh or frozen)
  • Halibut
  • Bullhead
  • Carp
  • Crappie
  • Freshwater sunfish
  • Yellow perch
  • Yellowfin tuna

Fish to avoid eating during pregnancy

As we said above, some species of fish contain higher amounts of mercury than others. When pregnant, steer clear of:

  • Bigeye tuna
  • King mackerel
  • Locally caught muskie
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico)

Young children under 11 years old should also avoid eating these fish.

How much fish to eat while pregnant or breastfeeding

Now that you know what fish to eat while pregnant, how much fish is safe to eat? For people who may become pregnant, are currently pregnant or are breastfeeding, and children 11 years old and younger, the FDA guidelines list the recommended servings of fish per week – with one serving of fish being a four-ounce portion.

The FDA recommends:

  • 2-3 servings (8-12 ounces total) a week of fish with very low mercury levels


  • One serving (4 ounces total) a week of fish with low levels of mercury

How to safely cook fish while pregnant

You already have lots of things to think about during pregnancy – stressing about how to cook a healthy meal that includes fish shouldn’t be one of them. Fish can be a quick, nutritious option when prepared correctly and safely.

During pregnancy, stay away from raw or smoked fish so you can avoid harmful bacteria and parasites that may make you sick.

Pregnant women shouldn’t eat:

  • Ceviche
  • Smoked fish like lox
  • Sushi and sashimi
  • Uncooked shellfish like raw oysters, scallops, clams and shrimp

Instead, opt for fully cooked fish and shellfish. To ensure your fish is fully cooked, make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit and is opaque throughout. If you can flake it with a fork, it’s ready to eat.

If you’re not a fan of fish, it’s possible you just haven’t found the right recipe. Fish comes in many shapes, sizes and flavors, and your palate may prefer some over others, especially with pregnancy cravings. Check out our fish flavors and textures page to find the best fit for you.

Fish oil supplements can be a good alternative

It’s hard to find the most helpful types of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) in foods that are not fish. But if you’d rather not eat fish at all, you can take high-quality fish oil supplements instead. The important thing is that you get those DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. The American Pregnancy Association recommends that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding take a daily fish oil supplement containing a minimum of 300mg DHA with some EPA omega-3 fatty acids.

When selecting your fish oil supplement, make sure to thoroughly check the label and do a little research about how different brands manufacture their products. This ensures you find a supplement that provides you with the right amount of fatty acids, with little to no mercury.

Don’t forego fish

Eating fish is a great way to have a healthy pregnancy and supply your developing baby with important nutrients you can’t find in other foods, especially omega-3 fatty acids. Follow the guidelines above and make fish a favorite in your diet during pregnancy and beyond.