Fish Advice for Women and Children

Fish is Nutritious

Eating fish benefits you and your baby's health. Fish is a good low-fat protein that is filled with vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, calcium, and iron. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that keep our heart and brain healthy. Pregnant women need to build up these important nutrients in their bodies so they can pass them on to their developing child.

Limit and Avoid Certain Types of Fish

If you are pregnant, might become pregnant, nursing, or have children, you and your children are more sensitive to contaminants that may be in certain fish. In the womb and through the six years after birth, children undergo extraordinary cell growth. Toxic chemicals can disrupt a child's developing brain and immune system. For example, too much mercury can affect how a child learns, moves, and behaves. In adults, mercury can affect the nervous and cardiovascular system. PCBs can affect the blood, liver, and immune system. It can take years for high levels of PCBs, or months for high levels of mercury, to lower in a woman's body. A mother with high levels of chemical contaminants in her body can pass them on to her unborn or nursing child. It's important to eat fish for the health benefits, but make smart choices to minimize your risk from exposure to contaminants.

Common Questions

Should my children and I eat fish?

Yes, fish is nutritious and beneficial to your health. Fish is low in saturated fat and a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for your heart, brain, and overall health. Eat a variety of fish that are low in mercury and other contaminants and follow the steps for reducing your exposure to contaminants in fish to assure you gain the health benefits from fish. Unfortunately, contaminants are in most foods, so avoiding fish and replacing it with other protein sources like meat or poultry will not eliminate your exposure to contaminants.

Should I eat fish when I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?

Yes, during your pregnancy is a very important time to eat fish. Avoid eating fish high in mercury and follow the steps for reducing your exposure to contaminants in fish. Breastfeeding provides your baby with health benefits that will last a lifetime. The benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any risks that your baby may receive through breast milk. The key is to continue choosing fish low in mercury and other contaminants so you and your child gain the health benefits of fish.

Can I cook fish a certain way to reduce contaminants?

It depends on the type of contaminant. Contaminants such as PCBs and DDT concentrate in the fat of fish. These contaminants can be reduced by up to 50% by preparing and cooking fish properly. Cut off the skin and fat before cooking. Then broil, grill, or bake it on a rack so the fat drips off the fish. Don't use the drippings for sauces. Fish contaminated with mercury can't be prepared or cooked in a way that reduces the mercury. Mercury is stored in the muscle tissue (the fillet/meat of the fish).

See more frequently asked questions about contaminants in fish.

Content Source: Fish Advisories Program