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Fish was never my favorite food as a child. I gagged daily when my mother gave me cod liver oil and was embarrassed when my Jamaican father would insist on keeping the heads on fish when we shopped at a fish market. In my dad’s culture, it was common to drink “fish-head” soup because it promoted intelligence and was “good for your brain.” In retrospect, my parents were right.

In a recent article in Contemporary OBGYN, Dr. Charles Lockwood of Yale University discusses his observation of healthy inhabitants in a coastal town of Italy during a recent vacation. Their diet consisted of daily fish which then led to the discussion of seafood and pregnant women. 

Fish consumption and pregnancy has been somewhat controversial since the 2001 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warnings to avoid consuming fish with high levels of mercury. Which fish have high levels of mercury? Tilefish, Swordfish, King mackerel, Tuna (bigeye) Orange roughy, Marlin, Grouper, Bass (Chilean) and Albacore Tuna. Fish with low levels of mercury include: Shrimp, Clams, Oysters, Scallops, Salmon, (fresh), Haddock (Atlantic), Pollock, Anchovies, Herring, Catfish, Crab (blue, king snow) and (light, canned) Tuna.  Again, canned light tuna is safe; “big-eye” and Albacore tuna have more mercury. The EPA had recommended only consuming two 6 ounces of low-mercy  fish per week.

As a result of the EPA advisory, there was a 17 percent decline in fish consumption by pregnant women. Fish is a healthy food because of its low saturated fat and contains beneficial nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which is important for early brain and eye development. When the EPA issued its warnings, they did not include information about the nutrients of different fish that could help pregnant moms achieve recommended doses of DHA.

Multiple medical studies have proven the benefits of fish. In Massachusetts pregnant moms who eat more than the recommended two weekly doses of low-mercury fish had children who received the highest intelligence scores. These results were duplicated in Denmark, the United Kingdom and in New York. What is equally exciting is a Danish study quoted by Lockwood that demonstrates a lower rate of preterm births in women who ate low-mercury fish at least twice a week if not more. The study also stated that women who did not eat fish had a higher incidence of preterm births.

Is seafood safe for pregnant women? Yes, as long as it’s not Shark, King Mackerel, Swordfish and “Big-eye” Tuna. Albacore Tuna should not be eaten more than once per week. Have a conversation with your OB healthcare provider about the benefits of fish. It might prove helpful to eat more than the EPA recommended low-mercury 2 6-oz servings per week. The benefits to your baby of eating low-mercury fish appear to outweigh the risks.

Do you know how to anticipate and manage the unexpected events that could occur during your pregnancy? You will if you purchase The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy available on or wherever books are sold.