Can I eat canned tuna when breastfeeding?

Quick Answer

Yes, it is generally safe to eat canned tuna in moderation while breastfeeding. The FDA recommends limiting canned tuna intake to 6 ounces (170 grams) per week for breastfeeding mothers. This amount is considered safe and provides essential nutrients like protein, omega-3s, vitamin D, and selenium without exposing baby to too much mercury.

How Much Canned Tuna Can I Eat While Breastfeeding?

The FDA and EPA recommend limiting canned tuna intake to:

  • 6 ounces (170 grams) per week for breastfeeding mothers
  • 5 ounces (140 grams) per week for pregnant women
  • 4 ounces (113 grams) per week for children ages 1-3

This guidance is based on the mercury levels typically found in canned tuna. Consuming more than the recommended amounts over time can result in mercury building up in a mother’s body. Some of this mercury passes to the nursing infant through breast milk.

Too much mercury exposure can harm a baby’s developing brain and nervous system. Abiding by the weekly fish intake limits helps minimize this risk.

Why 6 Ounces Per Week While Breastfeeding?

The 6 ounce per week recommendation for breastfeeding mothers is a bit more relaxed than the amount advised during pregnancy. This is because some of the mercury from the mother’s diet is excreted through breast milk production.

Breastfeeding also boosts the mother’s metabolism, which helps eliminate mercury more quickly from her body.

Six 1-ounce servings spread throughout the week is considered a safe amount that helps limit mercury exposure for breastfed babies.

Does Type of Canned Tuna Matter?

Yes, the variety of canned tuna matters when determining mercury risks and intake limits:

Light tuna

Light tuna generally comes from smaller species like skipjack tuna. It tends to be lower in mercury. The FDA/EPA’s 6 ounce weekly limit applies specifically to canned “light” tuna. Consuming up to this amount is considered safe during breastfeeding.

Albacore (white) tuna

Albacore tuna is a larger species that contains about 3 times the mercury levels found in light tuna. The FDA recommends limiting intake of canned albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces per month during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Chunk light tuna

Chunk light tuna is a mix of smaller tuna species including skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye, and bluefin. Mercury levels can vary more than standard light tuna. To be safe, abide by the 6 ounce weekly limit if eating chunk light.

Tips to Limit Mercury Exposure from Tuna

To keep mercury exposure low for you and your baby, follow these tips when eating canned tuna while breastfeeding:

  • Choose light tuna over albacore
  • Limit white albacore tuna to no more than 6 oz per month
  • Stick to the recommended weekly limits for tuna intake based on type
  • Avoid larger, predatory fish known to be high in mercury like swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel
  • Check any tuna advisories in your local area
  • Spread out tuna consumption throughout the week rather than eating it all at once
  • Choose lower-mercury seafood options like salmon, shrimp, pollock, sardines, and cod when possible

Is Canned Tuna Nutritious for Breastfeeding Moms?

Yes, canned tuna is an extremely nutritious food that offers many benefits for breastfeeding mothers (as long as intake limits are respected):

High in protein

Tuna provides high-quality protein needed for recovering from pregnancy, lactation, and nourishing your baby through breast milk. A 3 ounce serving contains about 22 grams of protein.

Source of omega-3 fatty acids

Canned tuna also contains anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids including DHA and EPA. These support baby’s immune system, brain development, and vision.

Vitamin D

Important for calcium absorption and bone health. Deficiency is common in breastfed infants if mom is low. Tuna packs roughly 50% of the recommended daily vitamin D.


A powerful antioxidant mineral that supports thyroid function and immunity. A 3 ounce portion of tuna covers over 100% of the RDI for selenium.

Vitamin B12

Essential for energy, red blood cell production, and neurological function. Tuna is one of the few natural food sources high in vitamin B12.


Vital for healthy thyroid function and metabolism. Many women are mildly deficient. Tuna is the richest source of iodine in the American diet.


Helps prevent anemia and builds blood to transport oxygen. Useful for offsetting iron losses through breast milk. Provides around 10% of the RDI per serving.

Potential Risks of Eating Too Much Tuna

While tuna does provide excellent nutrition for breastfeeding, eating more than the recommended amounts can pose risks:

Mercury exposure

Eating more than 6-12 ounces weekly can cause mercury to bioaccumulate in the body over months and years. This may impair neurological development in the nursing infant.


Canned tuna may contain other pollutants like PCBs, dioxins, and pesticide residues. The trace amounts are usually harmless, but excess intake could theoretically cause problems.


Some babies may have sensitivities to tuna proteins that can trigger reactions like colic, rash, GI issues. Moms may notice irritability or changes after eating tuna. Rotating fish types helps minimize allergy risk.


Canned tuna is prone to small, soft bones that can be inadvertently swallowed. These bones can pose a choking hazard or irritate baby’s sensitive digestive system. Carefully check canned tuna for any bones.

Iodine excess

Regularly exceeding the RDI for iodine could potentially cause thyroid dysfunction. This seems most likely from routinely eating more than 8-12 ounces of tuna per week.

Nutrient imbalances

Eating tuna as a big part of the weekly diet could create excesses or deficiencies of certain nutrients relative to others. A varied, well-balanced diet is ideal.

Tips for Safely Incorporating Tuna into a Breastfeeding Diet

You can safely enjoy canned tuna within the recommended limits by:

  • Choosing light over albacore and limiting white tuna
  • Mixing tuna with toasted breadcrumbs or mayo to spot any remaining bones
  • Pairing with ginger, lemon, veggies to enhance digestibility
  • Spreading intake throughout the week rather than all at once
  • Trying organic brands or sustainable fisheries when possible
  • Rinsing the tuna first to remove excess salt, liquid, and metals
  • Avoiding additional high-mercury fish that same week like swordfish
  • Monitoring baby for potential reactions like GI upset, rash, irritability
  • Consuming a variety of other low-mercury seafood as well

Healthy Canned Tuna Recipes for Breastfeeding Moms

Here are some nutritious recipes for enjoying canned tuna safely while breastfeeding:

Mediterranean Tuna Salad

  • Canned tuna
  • Chopped cucumber
  • Diced tomato
  • Crumbled feta
  • Chopped kalamata olives
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Fresh dill
  • Ground pepper
  • Baby spinach leaves

Tuna & White Bean Salad

  • Canned tuna
  • Cooked white beans
  • Diced red onion
  • Chopped parsley
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Tuna Pesto Salad

  • Canned tuna
  • Basil pesto
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Baby carrots
  • Chopped cucumber
  • Feta cheese
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Mixed greens

Tuna & Avocado Sandwich

  • Canned tuna mixed with lemon juice
  • Sliced avocado
  • Leafy greens
  • Sliced tomato
  • Sprouts
  • Olive oil & balsamic vinegar
  • Toasted whole grain bread

Tuna Casserole

  • Tuna mixed with Greek yogurt
  • Whole wheat or brown rice pasta
  • Sautéed spinach
  • Peas
  • Crushed potatoes
  • Parsley
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Feta cheese

Canned Tuna Melt

  • Tuna mixed with Greek yogurt
  • Diced onion & celery
  • Melted cheddar cheese
  • Chopped tomato
  • Avocado
  • Toasted English muffin or whole grain bread

The Bottom Line

Canned tuna can be part of a healthy diet during breastfeeding. For the best balance of nutrition and safety:

  • Limit light tuna to 6 ounces per week
  • Limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces per month
  • Focus on getting nutrients like protein, omega-3s, B12, selenium
  • Avoid mercury exposure by sticking to recommendations
  • Eat tuna as part of varied diet with other low-mercury fish

Using these simple guidelines allows breastfeeding mothers and babies to benefit from tuna nutrition without risk of excessive mercury intake.

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