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Should I Eat Fish When I’m Trying to Conceive ?


a blog by Beth Hartog, M.D., Damien Fertility Partners, June 16, 2011

Fish is a healthy food, and it is one of the primary food sources to get important nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids. Fish can also be contaminated with mercury.

The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommend that women of childbearing age, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers limit their consumption of fish. When pregnant, the brain of the baby is developing rapidly and is very sensitive to toxic substances. If too much mercury is consumed by Mom, the fetal brain can be damaged. When you are trying to conceive, it is prudent to follow the guidelines for when you are “actually pregnant." Remember, the first two weeks of your pregnancy, you don’t actually know you’re pregnant!

The recommendation is to eat one to two weekly servings of fish high in omega 3 fatty acids and low in mercury when planning a pregnancy, when you are currently pregnant or when breast feeding. Also, it is important to completely avoid eating fish high in mercury at these times.

By following these three safety tips from the FDA and EPA for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury

1. Do not eat:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King Mackerel
  • Tilefish

They contain high levels of mercury.

2. Eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

  • Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
  • Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers and coastal areas.

  • If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.

Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve smaller portions.

For more information, see “What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish” (Brochure). US Food and Drug Administration. March 2004. EPA-823-R-04-005

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