Can I Eat Sushi While Breastfeeding?

Woman holding a baby while using chopsticks to pick up a piece of sushi

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It’s been months since the baby was born, and you're finally going on that long-awaited date night. When considering restaurant options, your partner suggests sushi. However, it dawns on you that although you’re not pregnant anymore, you are still nursing. Since sushi is on the restricted list during pregnancy, you’re wondering whether you still need to avoid it postpartum. 

According to experts, you can eat sushi while you are nursing, but with a few precautions.

“Eating sushi in moderation while breastfeeding is perfectly safe. However, just as when pregnant, breastfeeding women should continue to avoid high mercury fish,” says Claire Virga, RD, MS CDN, registered dietitian with Rooted Wellness, a private nutrition practice dedicated to fertility, prenatal and postpartum health. If you follow certain guidelines for safe sushi-eating, you can enjoy your meal without having to worry. 

Eating Sushi While Breastfeeding

Fish is a great source of lean protein and important vitamins for a breastfeeding parent and their baby.

“Breastfeeding mothers do not need to avoid sushi as long as it is from a safe source. However, it is recommended to avoid fish high in mercury,” says Jean Hawney, M.A., CCC-SLP, CBIS, CLC, a certified lactation consultant in Texas. Mercury is a neurotoxin, which is a substance suspected or known to have negative effects on nerve tissue.

Every breastfeeding journey is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about eating sushi while breastfeeding.

Is It Safe for Baby?

Parents often wonder how much of what they eat gets passed on to a baby in breastmilk. While the breastfeeding parent's diet can affect a baby, you don't have to be as strict as you may have been while pregnant.

It is safe for a breastfeeding person to eat sushi, with a couple of caveats. Choose fish lower in mercury to reduce the baby’s risk of exposure to this toxin. Since most sushi options contain raw fish, make sure you are eating fish from a reputable source. Raw fish can harbor bacteria and parasites which can make you ill with foodborne illness.

Benefits of Sushi During Breastfeeding

Eating sushi can be beneficial for people who are nursing since fish and seafood, in general, can be part of a healthy diet.

“While high mercury fish should be avoided, fish lower in mercury should absolutely be a part of a healthy lactation diet. Fish is a great source of lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and micronutrients like vitamin D and B12," says Virga.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in many types of fattier fish, are important for the development of the baby’s brain, eyes, and nervous system. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least 2 servings of fish each week (a total of 6-8 ounces) for optimal health. Varieties of fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water wild varieties of fish like mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardines, and herring.

Without enough omega-3 fatty acids, a growing baby may be at risk for impaired developmental and lower behavior scores. Research shows that there is a positive relationship between fatty fish consumption and omega-3 fatty acids concentrations in breastmilk; so when a breastfeeding parent eats foods rich in omega-3s, it can benefit the nursing baby.

Micronutrients

Fish contain micronutrients, such as vitamin D, which are needed to support healthy bone development in babies by helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorus from food. If a baby doesn't get enough vitamin D, their body can't hold on to the calcium and phosphorus needed for strengthening bones.

Vitamin D helps prevent rickets, a condition that causes bones to be weak and soft. Getting enough vitamin D is important for adults as well since it helps build bones and keep bones healthy.

Eating fish will also give you Vitamin B12, which is good for a baby’s brain development. This nutrient helps keep your body’s blood and nerve cells healthy and prevents anemia, a blood condition that can make you tired and weak.

Since B12 is transferred through breastmilk, it’s important for nursing parents to consume adequate amounts of the vitamin. Infants whose parents are deficient in vitamin B12 will themselves become deficient as well.

Balanced Meals

Sushi meals contain not only fish, but can also include rice, as well as vegetables like cucumber, carrot, avocado, and shiitake mushrooms. All these foods are helpful in contributing to a balanced breastfeeding diet of lean protein and vegetables to help a breastfeeding person get the nutrients they need.

Sushi is also often accompanied by nori, a type of dried seaweed that is a good source of iodine. Iodine is important for the proper function of the thyroid, which produces hormones that aid in an infant’s bone and brain development. Therefore, getting enough iodine is important for people who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding, and infants. In fact, people need more iodine while breastfeeding than during any other life stage.

Safety Precautions

Although sushi is safe to eat while breastfeeding, there are important precautions to follow. For one, higher levels of mercury can be found in certain types of fish used in sushi so you’ll want to be careful about the type of sushi you are ordering.

Mercury can build up in fish, especially the kind that eat other fish or live longer. Studies show that mercury exposure can be particularly risky to the development of a baby in utero and early in life. Eating too much contaminated seafood can affect a baby’s still developing nervous system.

“Breastfeeding moms should avoid sushi containing fish that is high in mercury like tuna, yellowtail, mackerel, or sea bass,” says Virga. Other options for lower mercury seafood can be found in the FDA list of best choices, good choices, and choices to avoid.

Food poisoning is a concern that people who are and are not breastfeeding should consider. It can occur if you eat seafood that has not been cooked. Raw seafood can harbor bacteria, causing foodborne illness.

“Bacteria and parasites cannot pass through breast milk so even if mom gets sick from eating raw fish, her baby will not,” says Virga. That being the case, it is always a good idea to eat sushi from reputable establishments that have high standards of food handling practices. 

“Breastfeeding mothers do not need to avoid sushi as long as it is from a safe source. The risk would be if the fish was not fresh or of quality, which could lead to food poisoning. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider where you purchase your raw fish,” says Hawney.

If you’re worried about the levels of mercury in sushi, you can choose items on the menu that use seafood lower in mercury. Balance out your order with choices like salmon, crab, and shrimp. You can also avoid eating raw fish altogether by going for vegetarian selections or sushi options containing cooked octopus, shrimp, crab, scallops, and eel.

A Word from Verywell

You may wonder at what point during the postpartum period you can once again start to eat the foods you have been avoiding during your pregnancy. Perhaps you have abstained from sushi for the sake of the baby in utero, but now that you’re breastfeeding, you may still be concerned about what gets passed on to the baby.

Sushi is generally safe to eat while breastfeeding. Fish is a good source of vitamins and nutrients important for a healthy diet. When eating sushi, choose fish options that are lower in mercury, and pick a reputable brand or restaurant known for their high-quality, fresh food. If you’re worried about possible bacteria in raw fish, choose vegetarian options, or selections that use cooked protein. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have concerns about eating sushi while breastfeeding. 

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