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Prior studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids – found abundantly in fish – are important for the health of developing fetuses. However, because women are also advised to limit fish due to contaminants such as mercury, which may harm the fetus, many pregnant women avoid fish entirely.
In this study, 22 pregnant women who ate less than two servings of fish per week were surveyed in focus groups about their knowledge of the health effects and risks of eating fish, advice they had received about eating fish, how much and what types of fish they ate, and other questions about their knowledge and dietary behaviors. Results showed:
The study results suggest that women should be counseled about the risks as well as the benefits of eating fish and participants suggested that a ready source of information, such as a wallet card with which type of fish to eat and which to avoid. “Pregnant women who infrequently consume fish might be willing to eat more fish if they received advice to eat some fish from their obstetrician or other sources and if they had a clear, readily accessible source of information regarding which fish types are safe to eat during pregnancy,” said Arienne Bloomingdale, lead study author, and her colleagues from the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that “fish and shellfish are good sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients” but also warns against eating too much fish and eating fish that is higher in mercury, which may harm the fetus. They offer the following guidelines:
New information about the benefits and risks of eating fish continues to appear in the scientific literature, so women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should discuss emerging information with an informed physician.
(Am J Clin Nutr doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.30070; “Nutrition During Pregnancy,” American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp001.cfm, accessed on September 26, 2010)