If you've read any online articles or pregnancy books, you've probably noticed there is endless information out there over what you "can" and "can't" eat while you're growing a little'un. In fact, it can be a bit confusing! Some sources may say that a certain food has numerous health benefits for both you and your baby, while other sources may advise you not to even cast an eye over that same food. Fish is a perfect example of this. One the one hand, the natural oils found in fish, such as omega-3, are well known for being not only healthy but also as a brain booster. On the other hand, some fish are also bursting with high mercury levels which can cause neurological problems for babies such as brain damage and issues with hearing and vision. So what are you supposed to do? The solution is to enjoy the right sort of fish, but in moderation.
There are two very distinct benefits of eating fish during pregnancy: physical benefits and cognitive benefits. Let's start with physical benefits. Many research studies have taken place in remote Scandinavian and Asian fishing villages, where many foods are scarce, but fish consumption is very high. It is almost consistently found that babies born to women in these villages are heavier, longer, and have a greater head circumference than babies born to women in inland cities where fresh fish isn't readily available, but other produce is consumed heartily. Although the thought of a big baby might make your eyes water, they tend to have fewer health concerns than babies who are born below the average weight. It has also been suggested that certain fish can actually help protect against the development of asthma, particularly in babies born into families where asthma and allergies are a concern.
Moving on to the cognitive and developmental benefits, fish are widely considered to be a superfood for the brain due to the healthy oils, so it really is important to include fish as part of your pregnancy diet. Studies have found that rates of hyperactivity and ADHD are typically lower in children whose mothers regularly ate fish during pregnancy, but let's face it, what you're really interested in is if you're going to birth a baby genius, right? Well, having a little scientist on your hands isn't guaranteed, but what we do know is that both comprehension and verbal communication are typically greater in children whose mothers ate fish than in those whose mothers did not.
Choosing The Right Fish
If you think you can enjoy a big plate of king mackerel, or a greasy British-inspired fish 'n' chips, think again, as the type of fish you choose can have significant effects on your health, and the health of your baby. Some fish contains a great deal of fat, and others very high levels of mercury, both of which should be avoided during pregnancy. Stay away from breaded or battered fish, or anything that has been deep fried. Fish that contains trans-fats has found to actually have negative physical effects, and can rather than reducing the chance of asthma, it can increase the likelihood. Also stay away from swordfish, shark, and bigeye or ahi tuna which are known for having some of the highest mercury levels of all sea life. Instead, look for lean, naturally oily fish as these are both the healthiest and the safest during pregnancy. Any sort of white fish is good, along with shrimp, scallops, salmon, and clams. However, you still need to eat these fish in moderation, so aim for two 6 ounce servings each week, as recommended by the American Pregnancy Association.
I Don't Like Fish!
Don't worry! Just because you don't like the taste of fish doesn't mean you can't enjoy the benefits of fish oils. If you really can't stomach fish, pop out to your local health store and pick up some supplements, but read the labels carefully. Look for omega-3 supplements made from the body of the fish which give you all the great benefits but without the fishy taste. Avoid cod liver oil supplements, or any other supplements made from fish liver which contains high levels of vitamin A which can cause pregnancy complications when consumed in large quantities. It's the same with livers from other animals, so if you're partial to a dinner of liver and onions, you should postpone until after your baby's born.
Make It A Way Of Life
Don't stop eating healthy fish just because you've had your baby. Not only is fish, or fish supplements, an important part of any diet, the effects can also keep benefitting your baby if you're breastfeeding. The oils in the fish can be transferred to the baby via breast milk, but be sure to keep limiting fatty and high mercury fish until after you've weaned from the breast.