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Can women safely eat fish while pregnant?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a warning regarding eating fish in response to the US FDA's consumer advisory about the dangers of eating fish for nursing mothers and women who are or who may become pregnant. The fish themselves are not harmful, but extensive fish consumption increases exposure to the naturally occurring compound methylmercury, levels of which have been increasing in the waters because of industrial pollution. Mercury is very toxic and can cause danger to the fetus and to the newborn nursing infant. Mercury exposure can actually occur via inhalation and/or skin absorption, and all fish contain trace amounts. However, longer-lived and larger fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, have increased mercury levels and cause the most concern for consumption by pregnant women.

The FDA, as of March of 2004, therefore advises that pregnant or nursing women should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. However, these women can safely eat 12 ounces per week of varieties of fish thought to be low in mercury if they eat a variety of cooked, smaller fish. The safest fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, and catfish. Specifically, the FDA states that albacore (white) tuna has more mercury than light tuna. So, pregnant women should eat only up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also recommends that pregnant women and young children limit their consumption of freshwater fish caught by family and friends to no more than one meal per week and to follow all local advisories as to fish safety. The EPA specifies no more than 8 ounces of uncooked fish per week for adults.