Is it safe to eat oyster while breastfeeding?

Quick answers

Most healthcare providers agree that eating oysters while breastfeeding is generally safe, as long as the oysters are fully cooked. The main risks associated with eating oysters during breastfeeding are:

  • Food poisoning from bacteria or viruses, if the oysters are not fully cooked.
  • Exposure to heavy metals like mercury, though levels in oysters are typically low.
  • Allergic reactions in babies, though this is rare.

To reduce any risk, breastfeeding moms should:

  • Only eat fully cooked oysters that have been heated to an internal temperature of at least 145°F.
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked oysters.
  • Limit oyster consumption to 2-3 servings per week.
  • Buy oysters from reputable, sustainable sources.
  • Cook and handle oysters properly to avoid cross-contamination.

If you take these precautions, the benefits of eating oysters like protein, zinc, iron, and healthy fats likely outweigh any minimal risks.

Are oysters safe to eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Oysters are low in mercury and considered one of the safer seafood options to eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The two main concerns with eating oysters while pregnant or nursing are:

  1. Foodborne illness: Oysters can harbor bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning. However, thoroughly cooking oysters destroys these pathogens.
  2. Allergies: Some babies may be allergic to oysters. Allergic reactions are possible with any new food introduced through breast milk.

As long as oysters are fully cooked, avoiding foodborne illness is unlikely. Start with a small amount of oyster and monitor your baby for signs of an allergic reaction.

Benefits of eating oysters while breastfeeding

Oysters are packed with nutrients that can benefit breastfeeding mothers and babies, including:

  • Protein: High quality, filling protein to support postpartum recovery and milk production. Half a dozen oysters contains about 10 grams of protein.
  • Zinc: Oysters are the best dietary source of zinc. Zinc supports the immune system and development in babies.
  • Iron: Boosts oxygen delivery and energy levels. Iron needs increase during breastfeeding.
  • Omega-3s: Supports brain and nervous system development in infants.
  • B Vitamins: Important for energy production and metabolism.
  • Copper: Helps form red blood cells in both mothers and babies.
  • Other minerals: Like selenium, manganese, and magnesium.

Eating 2-3 servings of oysters per week while nursing can provide excellent nutrition for both mom and baby.

Possible risks of eating oysters while breastfeeding

There are a few potential risks associated with eating raw or undercooked oysters during breastfeeding:

  • Bacteria/viruses: Raw oysters may contain Vibrio, norovirus, hepatitis A, Salmonella, and other pathogens that can cause severe gastrointestinal illness if consumed. Thorough cooking destroys these.
  • Heavy metals: Oysters can accumulate some heavy metals like mercury from water pollution. However, levels are typically low, and oysters are still considered a “low mercury fish.”
  • Allergies: Babies may develop a sensitivity to oyster proteins passed through breast milk. Monitor for symptoms like fussiness, rash, vomiting, diarrhea after eating oysters.
  • Cholesterol: Oysters are high in cholesterol, though dietary cholesterol has minimal impact on blood cholesterol.

To reduce risks, cook oysters thoroughly, limit intake, and buy oysters from unpolluted waters.

Are raw oysters safe when breastfeeding?

Raw oysters are not considered safe to eat during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Raw oysters carry the highest risk of harboring viruses and bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

Cooking oysters to an internal temperature of 145°F destroys any dangerous pathogens. Pregnant and nursing women should only eat fully cooked oysters to minimize the risk of food poisoning.

Some specific foodborne illnesses that raw oysters could transmit include:

  • Norovirus – Causes vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain
  • Vibrio – Causes diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, fever
  • Hepatitis A – Causes fever, fatigue, nausea, jaundice
  • Salmonella – Causes diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps
  • E. coli – Causes severe bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever

Raw oysters may also contain toxins like neurotoxins or marine biotoxins that can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. Cooking neutralizes both pathogens and toxins.

Foodborne illness during pregnancy or while breastfeeding can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and other complications. Wait until after you have finished breastfeeding to indulge in raw oysters again.

Tips for eating oysters safely while breastfeeding

Here are some tips for safely enjoying oysters during breastfeeding:

  1. Cook thoroughly. Only eat oysters that have been cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145°F. This kills any potentially harmful bacteria. Oysters should look plump and opaque when fully cooked.
  2. Avoid raw oysters. Only consume fully cooked oysters to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.
  3. Check for safe sources. Buy oysters from reputable, sustainable harvesters that follow food safety protocols. Avoid oysters from polluted waters.
  4. Limit intake. Stick to 2-3 servings of cooked oysters per week while nursing.
  5. Handle safely. Wash hands and cooking surfaces often. Separate raw and cooked oysters to prevent cross-contamination. Refrigerate promptly.
  6. Watch for reactions. If baby experiences diarrhea, rash, vomiting, or fussiness after you eat oysters, discontinue eating them.

Taking appropriate precautions allows you to gain the nutritional benefits of oysters safely during breastfeeding.

Are canned or smoked oysters safe when breastfeeding?

Both canned and smoked oysters are safe to eat while breastfeeding as long as they are fully cooked. The canning and smoking processes are sufficient to destroy any dangerous bacteria or viruses that could cause food poisoning.

However, some precautions still apply:

  • Avoid smoked seafood labeled as “nova style”, “lox”, “kippered” or “jerky” as they are not fully cooked.
  • Choose low-sodium canned or smoked oysters to limit your sodium intake.
  • Rinse canned oysters to remove excess sodium.
  • Limit smoked seafood to no more than 1-2 servings per week.
  • Store opened canned oysters in the refrigerator and eat within 3-4 days.
  • Look for cans free of dents, bulging or rust to ensure safety.

Properly processed canned and smoked oysters have minimal risks during breastfeeding. They can be a quick, convenient way to get the benefits of oysters when you are short on time for cooking fresh oysters.

How to cook oysters while breastfeeding

Cooking kills bacteria and viruses in oysters, making them safer to eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Here are some cooking methods to try:

Baked Oysters

Preheat oven to 450°F. Wash oysters thoroughly. Place oysters on a baking sheet and top each with butter, garlic, cheese, breadcrumbs or other toppings. Bake 10-12 minutes until plump and bubbling.

Fried Oysters

Rinse oysters and coat with egg and breadcrumbs or cornmeal. Fry 3-4 minutes per side in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Broiled Oysters

Set oven to high broil. Place oysters on a foil-lined baking sheet. Top with butter, garlic, lemon juice and other seasonings. Broil 5-7 minutes until cracked open.

Grilled Oysters

Heat grill to medium high heat. Place oysters directly on the grill grates. Close lid and grill for 7-10 minutes, until the shells crack open. Serve with desired toppings.

Steamed Oysters

Add 2 inches of water, wine or broth to a large pot fitted with a steamer basket. Bring to a boil. Add oysters in batches to steamer, cover, and steam for 5 minutes until the shells open.

Oyster Stew

Make a basic stew with milk, butter, celery, onion and potatoes. Add shucked, chopped oysters and continue simmering until oysters are cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.

Signs of food poisoning from oysters

In very rare cases, thoroughly cooked oysters can still cause food poisoning. Symptoms usually begin 12-48 hours after eating contaminated oysters and can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches

Symptoms are usually mild and resolve within 3-5 days. However, dehydration can become dangerously severe for pregnant and nursing women.

Seek medical care if you experience:

  • Diarrhea lasting more than 3 days
  • Fever over 101°F
  • Signs of dehydration like dizziness, excessive thirst, dark urine
  • Inability to keep down any fluids

IV fluids and medications may be needed to prevent complications. Let your doctor know if you recently ate raw or undercooked oysters.

Oyster allergy in breastfed babies

Allergic reactions to oysters are possible but rare in exclusively breastfed babies. Symptoms typically occur immediately or within 2 hours after mom eats oysters and can include:

  • Rash, redness, itching
  • Runny nose, watery eyes
  • Vomiting, diarrhea
  • Fussiness, refusing to eat
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, face
  • Breathing difficulties

Anaphylaxis is unlikely but requires emergency medical treatment.

If your baby shows a sensitivity to oysters, stop eating them and speak with your pediatrician. Many babies outgrow shellfish allergies. You can try reintroducing oysters after breastfeeding and after consulting your pediatrician.

How to choose safe oysters

Follow these tips for choosing safe oysters while pregnant or nursing:

  • Buy live oysters right before cooking and use within 7-10 days.
  • Ensure shells are tightly shut which indicates they are alive.
  • Avoid oysters with cracked or broken shells.
  • Make sure oysters are tagged with the harvest location.
  • Reject oysters stored in standing water which can breed bacteria.
  • Refrigerate live oysters below 40°F immediately.
  • Ask if oysters are treated for Vibrio bacteria.
  • Avoid raw oysters or pre-shucked oysters.

Buying high-quality live oysters from reputable sellers can help minimize foodborne illness risks.

FAQs about eating oysters while breastfeeding

Are smoked oysters safe during pregnancy?

Smoked oysters are safe in pregnancy if fully cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F. Avoid partially cooked smoked seafood. Limit smoked oysters to no more than 2 servings per week.

Can I get food poisoning from cooked oysters?

Properly cooked oysters rarely cause food poisoning. Cases are usually linked to cross-contamination or heating that doesn’t reach high enough temperatures. Use proper handling procedures and cook oysters until plump and opaque.

Do oysters have mercury?

Oysters have very low mercury levels compared to many fish and are considered a “low mercury seafood.” Eating 2-3 servings per week is unlikely to cause mercury exposure issues during breastfeeding.

Can you eat oyster sauce while pregnant?

Yes, commercially prepared oyster sauce is likely safe in pregnancy as it is cooked thoroughly during production. But check that the product doesn’t contain any raw or undercooked oyster juice or extract.

Do you have to fully chew oysters before swallowing?

It’s best practice to fully chew oysters to prevent choking. Chewing also allows stomach acid to break down any lingering bacteria. Avoid gulping down partially chewed oysters.

The bottom line

Cooked oysters can be safely enjoyed in moderation during pregnancy and breastfeeding. They provide protein, zinc, iron, and other nutrients important during this time. Take basic precautions like fully cooking oysters, avoiding cross-contamination, limiting intake, and purchasing from reputable sellers. Discontinue eating oysters if you suspect a foodborne illness or allergic reaction. With some simple guidelines, nursing mothers can gain the healthy benefits of oysters for themselves and their growing babies.

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