What happens if you eat a little raw fish while pregnant?

Is it safe to eat raw fish during pregnancy?

Eating raw fish while pregnant is generally not recommended. This is because raw fish, especially shellfish like oysters, can contain bacteria and parasites that may cause food poisoning. Some of the biggest concerns with eating raw fish during pregnancy include:

  • Salmonella – A bacteria that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and dehydration.
  • Listeria – A bacteria that can cause flu-like symptoms and can be life-threatening to an unborn baby.
  • Hepatitis A – A virus that causes liver inflammation and can have severe effects on pregnancy.
  • Parasites – Such as tapeworms, that can cause abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea.

For these reasons, the FDA and most doctors advise pregnant women to avoid eating raw or undercooked fish and shellfish. However, it’s generally considered safe to eat fish and shellfish that has been thoroughly cooked.

What are the risks of eating raw fish during pregnancy?

There are a few key risks associated with consuming raw fish while pregnant:

  • Food poisoning – Raw fish may contain pathogens like salmonella, E. coli, vibrio bacteria, and parasites that can cause foodborne illness with symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.
  • Mercury exposure – Certain fish like tuna contain high levels of mercury, which can be toxic in high doses and harm your baby’s developing brain and nervous system.
  • Listeriosis – The bacteria Listeria monocytogenes is a concern in foods like unpasteurized soft cheeses and deli meats. Listeria infection during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and other complications.
  • Toxoplasmosis – A parasite found in undercooked meat and cat feces that can be transmitted to the fetus and cause birth defects or miscarriage.

The good news is these risks can be easily avoided by properly cooking fish and avoiding high mercury varieties like tuna. Talk to your doctor about safe fish choices while pregnant.

Is a little bit of raw fish occasionally ok?

While it’s best to avoid raw fish altogether when pregnant, the risks from eating a small amount on occasion are likely minimal. A one-time ingestion of sushi containing raw fish or a quick taste of tuna tartare is unlikely to harm your baby.

However, it’s impossible to guarantee that any raw fish is free from bacteria and parasites. So health agencies still recommend avoiding all raw and undercooked seafood during pregnancy as a precaution. The dangers increase the more often you eat raw fish or shellfish.

If you do choose to eat raw fish occasionally, opt for low mercury varieties like salmon. Choose reputable restaurants and follow food safety practices at home. Listen to your body, and discontinue eating raw fish if you experience any gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Discuss any concerns with your obstetrician as well.

What are the health benefits of eating fish during pregnancy?

Despite the risks of eating raw fish, cooked fish and shellfish can provide excellent nutrition during pregnancy. Here are some of the top health benefits:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids – Essential for baby’s brain and eye development. Found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and trout.
  • Vitamin D – Helps absorb calcium for baby’s bones and teeth. Low vitamin D is linked to preeclampsia.
  • Protein – Needed for growth and development. Fish is a lean, low-fat protein source.
  • Iron – Prevents anemia and aids in red blood cell production.
  • Iodine – Required for healthy thyroid function for mom and baby.
  • Selenium – An antioxidant that supports immunity.
  • Zinc – Important for cell growth and immunity.

Aim for 2-3 servings per week of low mercury fish like salmon, cod, tilapia, shrimp, and canned light tuna. Avoid high mercury fish like swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning from raw fish?

If you experience food poisoning after eating raw or undercooked fish, symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea and abdominal cramps
  • Fever and chills
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches

Symptoms can begin within hours of eating contaminated fish or may take a few days to develop. Food poisoning symptoms are usually short-lived and tend to resolve on their own. But dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can become severe if fluids and electrolytes aren’t replaced.

Seek medical care if symptoms don’t improve after 1-2 days or if you experience severe vomiting, bloody stools, high fever, stiff neck, or uterine contractions. You should also let your doctor know about any suspected food poisoning during pregnancy. Foodborne illnesses can potentially progress to more serious complications like meningitis, reactive arthritis, or sepsis. Prompt treatment is needed.

Can you get mercury poisoning from eating fish while pregnant?

It’s very unlikely you’ll get mercury poisoning from occasionally eating fish during pregnancy. The only risk is if you regularly eat high mercury fish multiple times per week.

Mercury is a heavy metal that gets into bodies of water through pollution. It accumulates in the tissues of fish that eat other contaminated fish. The larger and longer-living the fish, the higher the mercury levels.

When we eat contaminated fish, mercury is absorbed into the bloodstream and can pass through the placenta to the fetus. Too much mercury can damage a baby’s developing brain, nervous system, and kidneys.

To avoid mercury overexposure when pregnant:

  • Limit high mercury fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.
  • Eat no more than 6 ounces (2 servings) per week of canned albacore tuna.
  • Include low mercury fish like salmon, shrimp, pollock, tilapia, and cod.
  • Check local advisories about contaminated fish in your area.
  • Don’t eat fish every day – stick to 2-3 times per week.

If you think you’ve consumed too much mercury from fish, talk to your doctor about getting your blood levels tested. But again, occasional or one-time fish intake is very unlikely to cause mercury poisoning.

Does cooking fish destroy any nutrients or health benefits?

Cooking fish does not destroy all of the nutrients and health benefits, though it may slightly reduce certain heat-sensitive vitamins.

Here’s a breakdown of how different cooking methods impact fish:

  • Baking/broiling – High temperatures can slightly reduce B vitamins and vitamin D levels.
  • Poaching/simmering – Gentle moist-heat cooking helps retain nutrients best.
  • Microwaving – Quick cooking helps retain nutrients but can make fish dry.
  • Grilling – Creates compounds linked to cancer. Cook fish all the way through.
  • Frying – Adds unhealthy oils and calories outweighing benefits.

To maximize nutrition when cooking fish:

  • Use healthy cooking oils like olive or avocado oil.
  • Avoid overcooking fish until dry and chewy.
  • Eat edible cooked fish bones for calcium.
  • Enjoy the fish with vitamin C-rich sides to boost iron absorption.

Proper cooking destroys any dangerous bacteria, viruses, and parasites present while retaining most of fish’s beneficial vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3s.

What are healthy ways to prepare fish while pregnant?

There are lots of healthy and safe ways to prepare fish during pregnancy. Here are some great options:

  • Baked salmon – Bake filets brushed with olive oil, lemon, and herbs at 400°F for 15 minutes.
  • Cajun blackened tilapia – Coat tilapia in Cajun spice mix then sauté in olive oil 3-4 minutes per side.
  • Broiled shrimp skewers – Toss shrimp in lemon juice, garlic, and pepper then broil 4-5 minutes until opaque.
  • Seared ahi tuna steaks – Cook tuna steaks 1-2 minutes on each side leaving the center rare.
  • Fish tacos – Dice white fish and sauté in lime juice and chili powder, serve in soft tortillas.
  • Crab cakes – Mix lump crab meat with breadcrumbs, egg, lemon juice, and spices, then pan fry.
  • Grilled trout – Grill butterflied trout over high heat for about 3-4 minutes per side.

Aim for a minimum internal temperature of 145°F. Avoid raw fish other than cooked sushi. For tuna, limit intake to 6 ounces per week to minimize mercury exposure. Pair fish with antioxidant and fiber-rich sides like greens, tomatoes, avocado and brown rice or quinoa.

Are there any guidelines for consuming fish during pregnancy?

Here are the basic guidelines for eating fish during pregnancy:

  • Eat 2-3 servings (8-12 ounces total) of low mercury fish per week. Popular choices are salmon, tilapia, cod, canned light tuna, pollock, catfish, and shrimp.
  • Avoid high mercury fish like swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, bigeye tuna, marlin, and orange roughy.
  • Limit white (albacore) tuna to no more than 6 ounces per week.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked fish and shellfish.
  • Don’t eat refrigerated smoked fish unless it’s been cooked, as it may contain listeria.
  • Opt for low mercury canned tuna over fresh tuna steaks.
  • Check local fish advisories about contaminated waters.
  • Cook fish to an internal temperature of at least 145°F.
  • Avoid fish that contains high levels of chemicals like PCBs.

Following these guidelines helps minimize your exposure to mercury, parasites, bacteria and other contaminants when eating fish during pregnancy. Always discuss your diet with your doctor as well.


While raw fish does pose some risks if consumed when pregnant, eating cooked, low mercury fish provides excellent nutrition for mom and baby. Limit raw fish intake as much as possible. Cook fish thoroughly, choose low mercury varieties, and moderate portion sizes. With some simple precautions, pregnant women can safely reap the many benefits of fish consumption for their health and their baby’s development.

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