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Is It Safe To Eat Fish While Pregnant? Here's What Scientists Suggest

By Maria Cook

It's one of the most discussed food items during pregnancy. It's been shown to aid fetal brain development, but also carries risks. What does science really say about the pros and cons of eating fish while pregnant?

First, it's worth noting the type of information that has led to some expectant mothers choosing to avoid fish, in recent years. In 2016, JAMA Pediatrics released a study which found that high consumption of fish during pregnancy was linked to an increased risk of rapid growth and childhood obesity in young children. According to this study, "fish is...a common source of human exposure to persistent organic pollutants, which may exert endocrine-disrupting properties and contribute to obesity development." 

The main organic pollutant at fault seemed to be mercury. Because of fish's unique biology, their bodies do not process mercury in the same way other animals do. Buildups of the metal can occur in fish's muscles, especially in large ocean species, and older individual fish. Because of this, the American Pregnancy Association recommends completely avoiding four species in particular: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, swordfish, shark and king mackerel. 

The Association also recommends caution when eating locally-caught fish, and suggests that pregnant women call their local health departments for information on specific bodies of water. In addition, raw fish is mentioned as carrying a higher risk of food-borne illness, unless it is frozen in a manner specific to sushi grade meat.