- Women's Health
Should You Eat Fish During Pregnancy
Have you ever wondered if eating fish is good or bad for pregnant women? There have been contradicting opinions both in favor of and against eating fish during pregnancy. It is not surprising therefore that most pregnant mothers are confused about what they should really be doing? So - why this confusion and what are the facts really? What should pregnant mothers be doing? Should they include lots of fish, only a little or no fish at all in their diet? To address this question, first we would have to look at the reason for concern in the first place.
Why the adverse opinion about having fish while being pregnant? The one-word answer to that would be "Mercury." As many of you would know, Mercury is one of the elements that occur in nature naturally but can also be released into the environment as a direct consequence of industrial activity. When this Mercury comes down onto the world's oceans/water bodies, it gets absorbed and transformed by certain bacteria into methylmercury or dimethylmercury (a toxic variant). Fish take in this methylmercury through the food chain, from the plants and organisms they eat. Why should this be a concern to pregnant mothers? Well, methylmercury can be devastating to the developing fetus and fish and seafood especially contain concentrated amounts of it. Hence, the concern.
Does it Mean Pregnant Mothers Should Stay Away From Fish?
So, do the above concerns mean that pregnant mothers shouldn't have fish at all? Well, not quite. There are certain fish that are more likely to have large amounts of methylmercury than others. Typically, large fish that live long are more likely to accumulate large amounts of methylmercury than smaller fish that have a smaller life span. Therefore, it is prudent to avoid fish such as sharks, tilefish, swordfish, king mackerel etc. Most other varieties of fish and shellfish are safe if they are eaten in moderation and - about 10-12 ounces of fish weekly. Also, certain fish are thought to have lesser levels of mercury than others. These include salmon, shrimp, catfish, etc. These are safer to eat. However, do keep in mind that the specific area where the fish are caught could also affect the methylmercury levels in the fish. For instance, if the fish was caught in a nearby river that is thought to have been heavily polluted by industrial pollutants. So, if you aware of where the fish offered in your local markets have been caught - do check upon them via your local health service.
The Benefits of Having Fish During Pregnancy
You might think its better to avoid all fish altogether, just to be totally safe. But, here's where you have the twist. Eating fish is thought to benefit child development. Studies have shown mothers who ate higher amounts of fish during their pregnancy had children who scored higher on tests of mental ability and other developmental and cognitive parameters. The higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids present in fish and other seafood is thought to be the reason for this. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be vital in the neurological development both during pregnancy and during childhood. So, that makes the situation trickier - would you want to deny your child that apparent X factor that could potentially give your child an edge?
The ideal situation therefore would be to consume your fish but know which fish to avoid and which ones to have. Also, it would be ideal to have your fish in moderation (below 350 grams weekly / 12 ounces). Having this particular amount is thought to benefit more than have any harmful effects. The benefits are thought to outweigh the risks if you can maintain that amount of fish intake. So, do have your fish but watch out for the types of fish you eat and also keep in mind the recommended amount of fish per week and your baby should just be fine. By the way, all of the above is applicable to nursing mothers and also women wanting to conceive.