Can My Baby Eat Tuna?

Baby eating with a spoon

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Feeding your baby fish helps boost their brain development and keeps them healthy and strong. But not all types of fish are safe for babies. Unfortunately, all fish has at least some mercury in it, so it's important to choose fish with the lowest amount of the toxin.

"Tuna is safe for your baby and very healthy if you pick the low-mercury types," says Preeti Parikh, a pediatrician and the executive medical director at GoodRx.

Some types of tuna are safe and healthy for your baby in limited amounts, while other types should be avoided completely. Generally, larger fish that live longer have higher mercury levels. There are some smaller types of tuna that your baby can enjoy.

Let's break down which types of tuna are safe for babies, and how much of it they can eat.

Is Tuna Safe for My Baby?

Canned light and skipjack tuna are considered safe for babies to eat. Just make sure to limit their total fish intake to two servings per week of low mercury options. All fish that your baby eats should be fully-cooked. Since most types of canned fish are cooked during the canning process, it's OK for your baby to eat tuna as-is from a can. (Just be sure to double-check before serving it!)

Every baby is different. Be sure to consult with a pediatrician if you have any questions about giving your infant tuna.

Benefits of Giving Baby Tuna

Tuna has many benefits for your baby.

Boosts Brain Development

Your child's brain is growing rapidly during the early years of life. "Tuna contains important nutrients for brain development and growth," notes Dr. Parikh. Eating fish provides your baby with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and iron, all of which are essential in cognitive development.

Good Source of Protein

Tuna is one of the best protein choices for your baby. Babies under age 1 need about 1/2 an ounce to 1 ounce of protein each day. While there are many foods with protein in them, such as nuts, tofu, or eggs, fish offers many other benefits as well. "Tuna offers plenty of protein without a lot of saturated fat," says Dr. Parikh.

High amounts of saturated fats raise LDL-cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) levels, which may increase the risk of heart attack or stroke later in life. On the other hand, eating fatty fish, such as tuna, raises HDL-cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) levels, which decreases the risks of heart attack or stroke.

Reduces the Risk for Obesity

Although there are many factors involved, we do know that people who eat more seafood and less red meat are less likely to have obesity. We also know diets high in fish and vegetables and low in added sugars and saturated fats reduce the risk of obesity. So while your baby should always eat a variety of nutritious foods, including fish like tuna in their diet may help them develop a taste for foods that will keep them at the best weight for them over the long term.

Safety Precautions

Although tuna has many benefits for your baby, there are a few important safety precautions to keep in mind. Not all types of tuna are safe for babies and young children.

Avoid High Mercury Tuna

Some types of tuna, such as bigeye tuna, contain dangerously high levels of mercury. Your baby should not eat these varieties. Stick to canned light tuna or skip jack tuna only. "Exposure to substantial amounts of mercury can affect [babies'] growth and development," says Kristian Morey, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian with the Nutrition and Diabetes Education program at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. In high amounts, mercury can damage the brain, kidneys, and liver. It can also lead to tremors, memory problems, or kidney damage.

There is no safe amount of mercury, but sticking to the required serving size and eating only low-mercury fish is recommended because the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks of consuming such a small amount of mercury.

There are different species of tuna, and only some of them make the cut as low-mercury fish. In general, the larger the fish and the longer its lifespan, the more mercury it will have in it. This is because larger fish may eat smaller fish, which causes them to ingest more mercury. And the longer a fish lives, the more time it has to absorb mercury.

Serve a Limited Amount

While you can serve low-mercury tuna options, there's no way to avoid all mercury exposure when serving tuna. "Even canned tuna has some mercury," notes Morey.

Remain mindful of the total amount of tuna your baby eats. Babies should have just two servings of low-mercury fish each week. Both servings can be tuna, or you can serve another safe option, such as anchovy, herring, or lobster.

Fish is specifically recommended for children because it contains omega-3 fatty acids that are important for brain development. As long as you stick to the recommended serving size and choose low-mercury fish, the benefits are thought to outweigh the risks. However, if you choose not to serve fish in your household or to your baby, know that there are plenty of other ways your baby can get the nutrients they need.

Tuna Should Be Fully Cooked

Children under age 5 are at an increased risk for food-borne illness, so it's important that you always serve fully-cooked tuna. Fish should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoked or seared tuna is not considered safe. If your tuna is from a can, it was most likely pre-cooked during the canning process, but check the label to be sure.

Watch for Allergic Reaction

Seafood is a common allergen, so it's important to introduce tuna on its own for a few days without mixing in any other new foods and observe your baby. If you see signs of an allergic reaction, such as hives, swelling, or vomiting, stop feeding your baby tuna or any other seafood and contact their healthcare provider. If your child seems to have trouble breathing or if they have multiple allergy symptoms at once, call your emergency phone number.

When and How to Introduce Tuna

You can start feeding your baby tuna once they are 6 months old and ready to try solids. Readiness signs include an interest in table food and the ability to sit up unassisted. Babies will also have doubled their birth weight by this point.

Spoon feed your baby tuna or allow them to pick up flakes of it with their hands and self-feed. The main thing is to offer the tuna to your baby and let them decide whether they want to eat it or when they are finished. If your baby doesn't seem to like tuna, try again later. It often takes several tries for a baby to develop a taste for new foods.

What Amount of Tuna Should I Give My Baby?

Offer your baby about two servings per week of low mercury fish such as tuna. A serving is about an ounce. But do keep an eye on your baby's total fish intake. You can give them tuna twice a week, or you can give them serving one and another type of low-mercury seafood such as salmon or crab the other day.

Amount of Tuna to Give Your Baby, Based on Age
 6 to 12 months  1 to 2 ounces per week
 1 to 3 years  2 ounces per week
 4 to 7 years  4 ounces per week

A Word From Verywell

Babies can safely eat two servings per week of low-mercury tuna. In fact, eating enough fish is recommended because it is full of omega-3 fatty acids that support optimal brain development. The tuna that you feed your baby should be canned light or skipjack tuna, and cooked all the way through.

If you have any questions or concerns about feeding your baby tuna, always reach out to your baby's pediatrician.

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11 Sources
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