What's All This Talk About Fish and Mercury?

When it comes to pregnancy, there are some things that expectant moms should be wary of. Depending on who you talk to, you may have heard to steer clear of fish or to eat more of it. Whether you actually should consume your favorite seafood is a topic that has gone back and forth in medical research. This is because while the food option often contains traces of mercury, it also provides some health benefits for both mom and child.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are Great for You

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that most fish and shellfish are a rich source of protein, nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids while being low in saturated fat. Regularly including them in a diet can help keep the heart healthy. However, almost all seafood contains traces of mercury, which when consumed in sufficient amounts is toxic to a growing fetus.

Pregnant women should stay away from large fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, according to the FDA. On the other hand, shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish notably have the lowest levels of mercury, and up to 12 ounces of these can be consumed per week.

In particular, salmon is really good for you. Researchers from the Universities of Southampton and Reading reported that this kind of fish may increase the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in breast milk. This good fat is necessary for proper development of a baby's central nervous system and eyes.

However, scientists also found that salmon intake lowers the amount of secretory immunoglobulin-A, which protects infants against infection.

"The study showed for the first time pregnant women who ate more oily fish pass on useful nutrients to their babies while breastfeeding," said Philip Calder, the leader of the study. "However, we need to conduct much more research to examine how the lower levels of antibodies in breast milk could affect the babies."

Moderation Is Key

When it comes down to it, a one-time splurge isn't going to change the level of mercury that has accumulated in your bloodstream all that much. However, don't go crazy with fish during pregnancy. It's recommended to avoid those that contain significantly high levels of mercury, but it's okay to eat the others as long as you stick to around 12 ounces a week.

What do you think about fish consumption during pregnancy? Would you opt to stay away from it for the sake of your baby or would you continue to eat it, just not excessively? Leave your answers in the comments section!