What fish is safe for pregnancy?

Eating fish during pregnancy provides protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients that are important for your baby’s growth and development. However, some types of fish contain high levels of mercury, which can be harmful. When choosing fish to eat while pregnant, it’s important to select options that are low in mercury and high in nutrients.

Benefits of Eating Fish During Pregnancy

Fish provides many health benefits for pregnant women and their babies, including:

  • High-quality protein for baby’s growth and development
  • Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA for baby’s brain and eye development
  • Vitamin D for strong bones
  • Vitamin B12
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Other minerals like iodine, magnesium, and potassium

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that pregnant women eat 8 to 12 ounces (two to three servings) of a variety of seafood per week. However, it’s important to choose low-mercury fish and seafood options.

Mercury Levels in Fish

Mercury is a metal that is found in trace amounts in seas, lakes and rivers. It is absorbed by fish and shellfish. Larger, longer-lived predator fish tend to have higher levels of mercury since they consume many smaller fish over their lifespan.

During pregnancy, mercury consumed from fish can pass through the placenta and affect the developing baby’s brain and nervous system. Too much mercury during pregnancy can lead to developmental delays and learning disabilities.

To protect against mercury exposure, there are recommendations for limiting certain high mercury fish during pregnancy. It’s also recommended to eat a variety of fish lower in mercury.

High Mercury Fish to Avoid

Here are types of fish that tend to be higher in mercury. It is recommended to avoid or limit consumption of these options during pregnancy:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
  • Bigeye and Ahi tuna (limit to 6 oz per week)
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughly
  • Grouper

Low Mercury Fish Choices

These types of fish tend to be lower in mercury. Eating 8-12 ounces per week of these options is considered safe during pregnancy:

  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Herring
  • Perch
  • Shrimp
  • Tilapia
  • Trout
  • Canned light tuna (limit to 6 oz per week)
  • Shellfish like oysters, crabs, and clams

Tips for Eating Fish During Pregnancy

Follow these recommendations when selecting and eating fish and seafood during pregnancy:

  • Eat 8-12 ounces per week of low mercury fish. This equals about 2-3 servings.
  • Avoid high mercury fish like shark, swordfish, tilefish, etc.
  • Limit albacore or “white” tuna to 6 ounces per week.
  • Check local advisories about fish caught from local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, limit to 6 ounces per week.
  • When eating out, ask how the fish is prepared and choose low mercury options.
  • Choose younger, smaller fish since they have had less time to accumulate mercury.
  • Prepare fish by baking, broiling, grilling or steaming rather than frying to reduce fat content.
  • Don’t eat whale, shark, dogfish, mackerel or swordfish steaks.

Fish to Avoid for Other Reasons

In addition to high mercury levels, there are some other types of fish that should be avoided during pregnancy for safety reasons:

  • Raw fish – Raw or undercooked fish and shellfish can increase risk of food poisoning or infections. Refrigerated smoked seafood also falls into this category.
  • Raw shellfish – Raw oysters, mussels, and clams can contain viruses and bacteria that may cause illness.
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood – Refrigerated smoked fish is not fully cooked and may contain listeria bacteria.
  • Fish exposed to industrial pollutants – Avoid fish from contaminated lakes and rivers that have advisories about consumption.

Healthy Fish Recipes for Pregnancy

Here are some healthy recipe ideas for fish that are low in mercury and safe to eat during pregnancy:

Baked Salmon

Baked salmon is easy to prepare and rich in heart-healthy omega-3s. Pair it with vegetables or salad for a healthy pregnancy meal.

  • 1 pound salmon fillet
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Place salmon skin-side down on foil or parchment lined baking sheet.
  3. Brush salmon with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Top salmon with lemon slices.
  5. Bake 12-15 minutes until cooked through.

Baked Tilapia with Vegetables

Baking tilapia and vegetables together makes for a quick, healthy one-pan meal.

  • 1 pound tilapia fillets
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Place tilapia, tomatoes and broccoli on parchment lined baking sheet.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic, salt and pepper.
  4. Top with lemon slices.
  5. Bake 15 minutes until fish flakes easily with fork.

Cajun Shrimp and Sausage

Spicy shrimp and sausage makes for a hearty but healthy one-dish meal when served over brown rice.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 ounces smoked sausage, sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  1. In large skillet over medium heat, warm oil. Cook sausage 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add bell pepper, onion and garlic. Cook 5 minutes until softened.
  3. Stir in shrimp and Cajun seasoning. Cook 3 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes and hot sauce. Simmer 5 minutes until shrimp is pink.
  5. Serve over brown rice.

The Safest Fish Choices in Pregnancy

To summarize, these are among the top fish options that are low in mercury, high in nutrients, and safe to eat during pregnancy:

  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Pollock
  • Tuna (canned light, limit to 6oz per week)
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Scallops
  • Trout
  • Oysters and clams
  • Sardines
  • Herring

A balanced diet containing a variety of these fish 2-3 times per week provides the best nutritional benefits for you and your developing baby while minimizing mercury exposure.


Eating fish during pregnancy can provide protein, omega-3s and other beneficial nutrients. However, it’s important to select fish options that are lower in mercury and avoid high mercury fish. The healthiest choices include salmon, shrimp, light tuna, pollock, catfish and cod. Avoid raw fish, shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel. Read local advisories about caught fish. Limit white albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week. With a little bit of planning, you can safely reap the nutritional benefits of fish while pregnant!

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