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Search Health Information    Pregnant Women Urged Not to Forego Fish
 Safety Feature Story

Pregnant Women Urged Not to Forego Fish
Watch type and amount, but make it a diet staple, experts say

Pregnant Women Urged Not to Forego Fish(HealthDay News) -- Fish contains important nutrients that are good for both mom and baby, but how much a woman can safely consume is a matter that's still up for debate.

The problem is that many larger fish have high levels of mercury, which can harm a baby's developing nervous system.

Because of the potential harm that mercury poses, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that women don't eat more than 12 ounces of fish a week. And, because larger fish often have much higher mercury levels, the FDA advises expectant mothers to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.

However, the warnings have some experts concerned that women may forego fish altogether.

"There's simply no other way to get the omega-3s for brain development that you can from fish," Judy Meehan, executive director of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, told HealthDay. "Recent data show us that women are still not eating enough fish, and that's really alarming."

According to the FDA, fish is an important part of a healthy diet. It's low in fat, especially saturated fat, and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit a mother's heart health and the baby's neural development.

In one study, 341 women detailed their fish consumption for their second trimester of pregnancy, their blood was assessed for mercury levels and their children were given intelligence and motor skills tests when they were 3 years old.

"Test scores were highest in children of mothers who ate more than two weekly fish servings but had lower mercury levels, suggesting that the greatest benefit occurred when women ate fish low in mercury," one of the researchers, Dr. Emily Oken, an assistant professor in the ambulatory care and prevention department at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in Boston, told HealthDay. "Even mothers who ate canned tuna more than twice weekly had children who scored better on tests, compared with those who did not eat canned tuna during pregnancy."

Another study, which included more than 25,000 Danish children, found that youngsters whose moms consumed more fish while expecting had better motor and cognitive test scores than did kids whose moms ate less fish.

"Compared with women who ate the least fish during pregnancy, women who ate the most fish -- about 14 ounces per week, on average -- had about a 30 percent likelihood of better development, about the same advantage a child would get from being one month older or from breast-feeding for more than one year," Oken said.

Meehan's coalition suggests that pregnant women who want to include fish and other seafood in their diet should consider shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, catfish, scallops and clams. Salmon has the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids, it says. The group recommends eating seafood two to three times a week during pregnancy.

The FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, recommend eating seafood about twice a week and limiting consumption to no more than 12 ounces. The agencies also recommend limiting canned albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces a week because that type of tuna has higher mercury levels than canned light tuna. Fish sticks and fish sandwiches from fast-food restaurants, they say, are usually made from low-mercury fish.

On the Web

To learn more about safe foods to eat while pregnant, visit the March of Dimes Foundation.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Judy Meehan, executive director, National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, Alexandria, Va.; Emily Oken, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor, department of ambulatory care and prevention, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Boston; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov); U.S. Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov)
Author: Serena Gordon
Publication Date: May 31, 2010
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