The Truth About Eating Raw Fish During Pregnancy

When I was pregnant, all of my friends and family warned me to avoid eating sushi because sushi was one of my favourite foods! Though devastated, I knew I had to make those sacrifices when I got pregnant – raw fish being one of them. And for the sake of my unborn child, I never bothered to question it.

Literally 2 minutes after I had delivered my baby girl, I joked to my doctor and said, “God, I can’t wait to eat sushi again!” My doctor looked at me and said, “…who said you couldn’t before?” I looked back at her puzzled and realized, I never actually asked my doctor if I had to avoid raw fish during pregnancy! I just assumed that it was the obvious thing to do! 

Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

So if you didn’t know, now you know. To all my sushi loving friends, it’s generally safe to eat sushi and raw fish when you’re pregnant and when you’re breastfeeding! Hooray!

The FDA does state that pregnant women and young children should stay away from raw fish as they have weaker immune systems and are at more risk for food borne illnesses but raw fish served in sushi and sashimi is not included in this recommendation!

In fact, the FDA states that eating a variety of fish when pregnant or breast feeding can provide health benefits for mom and baby! (Keyword: variety! Don’t just eat the same type of fish every time you do!)

Eating fish provides:

  • Protein
  • Omega 3 fats (aka DHA and EPA)
  • Very high in Vitamin B12 and vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Minerals such as selenium, zinc, iodine

And these nutrients contribute to healthy growth and development of your baby. They even provide heart health benefits and lowers the risk of obesity.

Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

2 Things to look out for when eating raw fish

1. Parasitic worms

It’s the parasitic worms found in raw fish that actually make you sick. Ingesting and getting infected with the worms (aka anisakis) results in a painful condition called anisakidosis. These worms invade and penetrate your stomach lining. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Allergic reaction
  • Death in very rare cases!

Other parasitic worms present in fish is tapeworm. Fishes potentially infected with tapeworm include:

  • Pike
  • Perch
  • Anadromous fish (fish that migrate up rivers from the sea to spawn such as salmon)

Learn more about parasites from the Seafood Health Facts website!

2. High levels of mercury

Ingesting high levels of mercury can lead to birth defects specifically affecting the brain and nervous system. Mercury is present in streams, lakes and oceans and are either naturally occurring or man made. Mercury turns into methylmercury which is found in nearly all fish but in different amounts. It is this type of mercury that is harmful to us in high amounts.

These fish have the highest mercury level and should be avoided:

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Tuna, big eye 

There is no way to prepare or cook fish to lower its mercury level because the mercury is in the tissue of the fish. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid eating fish entirely during pregnancy due to its considerable health benefits. Just consume fish that are low in mercury and avoid fish with high levels.

Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash

Fishes low in mercury that you should eat:

  • Anchovy
  • Atlantic croacker
  • Atlantic, and pacific chub mackerel
  • Black sea bass
  • Butterfish
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Herring
  • Pickerel
  • Pollock
  • Salmon
  • Sardine
  • Sole
  • Tilapia
  • Freshwater trout
  • Canned light tuna
  • White fish
  • Whiting

… and many more! Learn more about which fish is best to eat here on the FDA website.

Remember, a variety of fish in your diet is key!

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Farmed Fish and Freezing Methods

Some farmed fish used in sushi such as salmon or tuna are very unlikely to be infected with the parasitic worms because of the methods used to farm these fish for mass human consumption.

Also, freezing raw fish kills any worms present which makes it safe to eat. When preparing sushi in your own home, make sure to freeze the raw fish for at least 4-7 days.

Learn more about farmed fish practices here!

Photo by ray rui on Unsplash

What about shellfish?

Shellfish is totally okay to eat when it is cooked. Raw shellfish contains harmful viruses and bacteria that can cause food poisoning so if you’re pregnant, you should probably avoid that scallop ceviche dish!

Shellfish include:

  • Shrimps
  • Prawns
  • Crawfish
  • Crabs
  • Scallops
  • lobster

Keep these tips in mind when you’re at the sushi restaurant and about to enjoy some delicious sushi rolls with you baby bump! But beware of the concerning stares – they don’t know any better…

Thanks for reading everyone!