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Eating Fish During Pregnancy

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Eating fish in pregnancy

Fish is a highly nutritious food and an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D, Iodine and the omega-3 fatty acids. All these nutrients provide important health benefits to you and your baby when you are pregnant or breastfeeding . Omega 3 is important for the development of the central nervous system in babies both before and after they are born.

The concern with fish is that the high mercury content in some types of fish can damage the nervous system of babies or young children leading to lower scores on tests that measure attention, learning and memory. Unborn babies are particularly vulnerable because their brains are developing very rapidly.

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and accumulates in fish, as methyl-mercury. While all fish contain some methyl-mercury, most fish in Australian waters have very low mercury levels. For most people this mercury from fish is not a health risk-it is mainly a concern for women who are planning pregnancy, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding or for children under the age of six.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines advise eating one or two fish meals per week for good health. There are only a few types of fish, which authorities recommend limiting in the diet – these are billfish (swordfish / broadbill and marlin), shark/flake, orange roughy and catfish. The reason these fish are high in mercury is because they live a long time and are at the top of the food chain, making it more likely that mercury builds up in their bodies.

Note: Canned tuna generally has lower levels of mercury than other tuna because the tuna used for canning is smaller and those caught are generally less than a year old and have accumulated less mercury.

Pregnant women, women planning pregnancy and young children should limit their intake of shark (flake), broadbill, marlin and swordfish to no more than one serve per fortnight with no other fish to be consumed during that fortnight. For orange roughy (also sold as sea perch) and catfish, the advice is to consume no more than one serve per week, with no other fish being consumed during that week.

Two to three serves (one serve is 150 grams) of other types of fish is quite safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women or for women planning pregnancy. A serve for children under six is 75 grams. A 150 gram serve for adults and older children is equivalent to approximately 2 frozen crumbed fish portions. A 75 gram serve for children under six is approximately 3 fish fingers (Hake or Hoki is used in fish fingers).

2-3 serves a week of fish with lower levels of mercury (see below) is quite safe
  • Mackerel;
  • Silver Warehou;
  • Atlantic Salmon;
  • Canned Salmon & canned tuna in oil;
  • Herrings and
  • Sardines

The mercury in fish advice is available from the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website.

Dr Hannah Dahlen is the Associate Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney. She has been a midwife for more than 20 years. Hannah is also an executive member of the Australian College of Midwives, NSW Branch. She has researched women's birth experiences at home and in hospital and published extensively in this area. Hannah's website is www.hannahdahlen.com.au


2 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

christine gorczynski
Jul 10, 2014 4:30pm [ 1 ]

26 weeks pregnant is it ok to eat blue grenadier fish?

Benjamin Sigston
Sep 5, 2014 8:27pm [ 2 ]

At 10 weeks pregnant is blue grenadier safe to eat if not what sort of fish can my other half eat that will be safe other the the one stated above?

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