What seafood should you avoid while breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding provides ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect balance of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow. However, some toxins and chemicals can enter breast milk, which could harm your baby. For this reason, it’s recommended to limit seafood intake while nursing. Certain types of seafood, especially large predator fish like swordfish and shark, can contain high levels of mercury. Eating these fish frequently may cause mercury to accumulate in breast milk. But, you don’t need to avoid seafood altogether while breastfeeding. Many types of seafood are considered safe for nursing mothers. This article outlines the benefits of eating seafood while breastfeeding, which types of seafood to limit or avoid, mercury concerns, and healthy fish choices to include in your diet.

What are the benefits of eating seafood while breastfeeding?

Seafood provides many important nutrients for breastfeeding mothers and their babies, including:


Seafood is an excellent source of high-quality protein. The protein in seafood contains essential amino acids needed to build and repair tissues. Some types of seafood, like salmon, tuna, crab, and lobster are especially high in protein.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3s docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are found almost exclusively in seafood. These fatty acids are crucial for baby’s brain and eye development. Mothers who consume low amounts of seafood have lower levels of these omega-3s in their breast milk.

Vitamin B12

This vitamin is mainly found in animal foods. Many types of fish and shellfish are excellent sources. Vitamin B12 is essential for nerve function and red blood cell formation in infants. Low maternal vitamin B12 can cause deficiency in exclusively breastfed babies.


This mineral has antioxidant properties. Seafood is one of the richest sources of selenium. It plays vital roles in immunity and thyroid hormone metabolism. Selenium deficiency during infancy could impair your baby’s immune system.


Iodine is a key mineral needed for thyroid hormone production and brain development in babies. Seafood is the best dietary source of iodine. Nursing mothers require higher iodine intake to meet their baby’s needs.


Shellfish like clams and oysters are high in heme iron, which is more easily absorbed than iron from plant foods. Adequate iron intake is important to help prevent iron deficiency anemia in infants.


Many types of finfish are excellent sources of choline. This nutrient is essential for brain development in babies and helps prevent neurological disorders. Breast milk choline varies widely depending on maternal diet.

What seafood should I avoid while breastfeeding?

Some types of seafood are high in mercury, which can harm a baby’s developing brain when passed through breast milk. The FDA and EPA recommend avoiding the following high-mercury fish while breastfeeding:

King mackerel

This large predator fish contains high mercury levels. King mackerel steak and sushi are among the seafood items with the highest mercury concentrations.


Shark meat contains excessively high mercury levels compared to most other seafood. Consuming shark steaks or fins should be avoided while nursing.


Swordfish is very high in mercury and low in omega-3s. Eating this popular fish is not advised for breastfeeding mothers or children.

Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico

Tilefish from this region are very long-lived fish that accumulate high amounts of mercury. Tilefish caught elsewhere do not tend to be high in mercury.

Bigeye tuna

Also called ahi tuna, bigeye tuna steaks contain nearly 3 times more mercury than canned light tuna. Limit intake to no more than 1 serving per week.


As large, long-living predators, marlin (including blue marlin and striped marlin) can have mercury concentrations over 5 times higher than canned tuna. It’s best avoided while nursing.

Orange roughy

This slow-growing, deep sea fish has been overfished in some areas. It also tends to have higher mercury levels than many other white fish.

Mackerel (Spanish, Gulf)

King mackerel is highest in mercury, but other mackerel species can also have elevated levels. Limit consumption to no more than 1 serving per week.

Should I worry about mercury in canned tuna?

Canned light tuna is considered safe to eat in moderation during breastfeeding. However, limit albacore (white) tuna due to its higher mercury content. Here are some mercury concerns and guidelines for eating canned tuna while nursing:

Choose skipjack or chunk light tuna

These types of tuna are low in mercury since they are younger, smaller fish. Stick to 6 ounces (one typical can) per week.

Avoid albacore tuna

Albacore tuna is larger and contains around three times the mercury as canned light tuna. Consume no more than 6 ounces per month.

Check local advisories

In some regions, canned light tuna may have higher mercury levels. Follow local seafood advisories when available.

Avoid tuna steaks

While canned tuna is low in mercury, fresh or frozen tuna steaks can have much higher levels. It’s best to avoid tuna steaks while nursing.

Don’t eat tuna every day

To prevent mercury from accumulating to excess, limit total canned tuna to 2 or 3 servings per month.

Should I avoid all fish while breastfeeding?

While it’s important to limit high-mercury fish, eating 2-3 servings per week of low-mercury seafood has many benefits for nursing mothers and infants. Avoiding all fish due to mercury concerns could lead to deficiencies in omega-3s and other key nutrients.

What are the best choices of fish while breastfeeding?

The top seafood picks while nursing are those that are high in omega-3s and low in mercury. Here are some of the best fish choices for breastfeeding moms:


Rich in DHA and EPA omega-3s. Farmed salmon is a sustainable choice with low mercury levels. Limit to 2 servings per week.


Canned sardines are high in omega-3s, low in mercury, and one of the most sustainable seafood options. Enjoy up to 2 servings per week.


Both Atlantic and Pacific herring are excellent sources of DHA and EPA with minimal mercury risk. Enjoy pickled, smoked, or grilled herring in moderation.


As shellfish, shrimp are very low in mercury and rich in iron, selenium, vitamin B12, and protein. Choose sustainable shrimp varieties.


A tasty, mild white fish that’s high in protein with low mercury levels. Look for Alaskan pollock labeled as sustainably caught.


A lean, affordable fish that’s low on the food chain and has very low mercury levels. Opt for responsibly farmed tilapia.


These shellfish are loaded with key nutrients like zinc, iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Farmed oysters are a sustainable choice.


Farmed catfish contains heart-healthy omega-3s and is low in contaminants like mercury. Select U.S. farmed catfish.


Cod is a versatile, flaky white fish that’s high in protein, low in fat, and has minimal mercury levels. Stick to sustainable Pacific or Alaskan cod.


A good source of omega-3 fats with a moderate mercury content. Opt for wild-caught rainbow or steelhead trout varieties.

Tips for eating seafood safely while nursing

Here are some additional tips for minimizing risks when eating seafood during breastfeeding:

Consume a variety

Eat different types of low-mercury seafood to limit exposure to any one contaminant. Don’t eat the same fish every day.

Check advisories

Consult local seafood advisories and avoid fish caught from contaminated waters.

Buy sustainable

Choose seafood labeled sustainable or certified by organizations like the MSC or ASC.

Limit portion size

Stick to a palm-sized serving, around 3-6 ounces. Larger portions increase contaminant exposure.

Cook properly

Cook fish to an internal temperature of 145°F to destroy pathogens and parasites. Avoid raw seafood.

Eat more omega-3s

In addition to seafood, include other good plant sources of omega-3s like chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed.

Recipes for pregnancy-safe seafood

Here are some nutritious recipe ideas featuring seafood choices that are safe and recommended while breastfeeding:

Baked Salmon

Flavor wild salmon fillets with garlic, lemon, and dill. Bake until flaky – high in omega-3s and vitamin D.

Citrus Shrimp Stir Fry

Quick stir fry with shrimp, broccoli, bell peppers, and orange ginger sauce. Excellent source of protein and selenium.

Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna

Seared rare ahi tuna topped with black and white sesame seeds. Use fresh chunk light tuna and limit to 1 small serving per week.

Crab Cake Lettuce Wraps

Serve lump crab meat blended with bread crumbs and spices inside a lettuce leaf. Rich in vitamin B12 and minerals.

Ceviche-Style Scallops

“Cook” scallops in lime juice mixed with tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro and avocado. Serve with tortilla chips.

Clam Chowder Soup

Creamy New England-style chowder full of clams, potatoes, onion, celery, milk, and butter. Excellent source of iron and vitamin C.

Shrimp Fajitas

Sauté shrimp with onions and bell peppers. Wrap in tortillas and top with guacamole. Contains selenium, niacin, and vitamin B12.

Teriyaki Salmon Burgers

Make patties using canned salmon, bread crumbs, eggs, onion, ginger and sesame oil. Brush with teriyaki sauce before cooking.

Tuna Salad Stuffed Avocado

Flake canned chunk light tuna and mix with mayo, lemon juice, celery, onion, dill, and a dash of mustard. Scoop into avocado halves.

Baked Tilapia

Coat tilapia fillets with Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, garlic, and herbs. Bake until fish flakes easily with a fork. Rich in vitamin B12 and potassium.

The bottom line

Seafood that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids provides great nutritional value during breastfeeding. However, limit or avoid fish that typically contain high mercury levels, like swordfish, shark, king mackerel, bigeye tuna, and orange roughly. Instead, opt for low-mercury choices like salmon, sardines, trout, shrimp, tilapia, cod, and canned light tuna. Consuming 2-3 lower-mercury seafood servings per week ensures you get enough DHA, EPA, and other key nutrients crucial for your health and your baby’s development. When choosing seafood, be sure to buy sustainable options whenever possible.

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