Can I Eat Ceviche While Pregnant?

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Pregnancy can be quite an exciting time—you are, after all, growing a little human inside you! And while there are many great aspects of pregnancy, there are some downsides. One such downside is that there are some foods you have to give up during the pregnancy. Ceviche, which is made from raw fish and vegetables with a splash of citrus, is a food that should be added to your no-go list.

If you love to indulge in ceviche on a regular basis, it's time to say goodbye for the next nine months. We reached out to experts who explain exactly why ceviche is risky for pregnant individuals and how it can affect your fetus if you do eat it while pregnant.

Eating Ceviche During Pregnancy

Ceviche can be a refreshing dish on a warm day. This Peruvian staple is popular in towns near water because there's easy access to fresh fish. While ceviche is typically a healthful dish, it's not necessarily so while you're pregnant.

It's a low-calorie food that's high in protein, but the fact that the fish is raw is where the concerns lie during pregnancy. There is an inherent risk for food poisoning, especially if the fish used isn't extremely fresh or prepared correctly. While food poisoning is annoying in general, it's especially troublesome if you're pregnant, as it can be harmful to your baby.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about eating ceviche while pregnant.

Is It Safe for Baby?

Expectant parents are advised to avoid ceviche throughout their entire pregnancy. Because it's made with raw fish, there is a chance of food poisoning.

"Dehydration is dangerous to the baby the entire pregnancy," says board-certified OB/GYN Greg Marchand, MD. "Food poisoning from bacteria in undercooked meats and fish can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea that can quickly dehydrate a person. While not particularly dangerous for most otherwise healthy adults, this can be deadly for a baby in pregnancy." 

Why You Should Not Eat Ceviche While Pregnant

The primary concern with eating ceviche during pregnancy is that the fish is raw. Fish, in general, can be part of a healthy diet, as it's rich in protein and omega fatty acids. But when it's left raw, there is a risk of it being contaminated, and as mentioned, leading to food poisoning.

"Ceviche is made of raw uncooked seafood," says Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, who is double board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine, and is the director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in New York City. "Eating such foods during pregnancy can increase the risk of food poisoning," especially if the ceviche is not refrigerated or prepared properly.

She continues: "Most importantly, raw seafood can contain certain pathogens like listeria, which can have devastating [consequences] in pregnancy—resulting in morbidity in the mother, and possibly death in the fetus/newborn."

Risks of Eating Ceviche While Pregnant

Food poisoning and listeria are the top concerns about eating ceviche during pregnancy, as their effects can be dangerous for the developing baby. Dr. Gaither cautions that the listeria itself is what can actually be most scary for pregnant people because it can affect a fetus so severely. "An increased risk of preterm labor/death, CNS (meningitis), renal dysfunction, seizures, paralysis, intellectual disability, blindness, and death [are all potential side effects of listeria]," she says.

Dr. Marchand points out that severe dehydration can have consequences for both parent and baby. "Water is a very small molecule, so it easily passes through the placenta unlike some other drugs and medicines," he says. "As a result, if you become dehydrated, so does your baby. Dehydration can kill a developing fetus."

All that said, Dr. Marchand says that while the effects of food poisoning could be extreme, eating a very small portion of ceviche during your pregnancy—either because you didn't know any better or just wanted a bite to satiate a craving—may very well not do any harm. "Just look out for any signs of vomiting and diarrhea, and be sure to seek medical attention if severe symptoms develop," says Dr. Marchand. That said, it's still best to err fully on the side of caution and avoid ceviche entirely.

When Can I Resume Eating Ceviche?

The good news is that once you give birth, ceviche is fair game once again. "As soon as you deliver your baby the risk is essentially gone," Dr. Marchand says. "A baby cannot catch food poisoning from breast milk."

This means that no matter how you've given birth, you can go back to eating ceviche without much worry. Though your own risk of food poisoning will still be present, you no longer have to be concerned about your baby getting sick if you do. However, as with any dietary restrictions related to pregnancy, speak with your own healthcare provider about when you can resume eating previously off-the-table foods after giving birth.

Pregnancy Safe Alternatives

Fortunately for people who crave ceviche during their pregnancy, there are a number of very similar alternatives to enjoy. Experts recommend any of the following.

Salmon

Salmon is a great alternative to ceviche, as it's a very flavorful fish. It's fattier than the fish usually used in ceviche, but as long as it's cooked, you won't run into the listeria concern. Dr. Gaither notes, "Fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are wonderful for fetal brain development. In addition, they contain other nutrients and minerals like iron, selenium, iodine, zinc, vitamin D, and Vitamin B12."

Shrimp

Cooked shrimp is another seafood option you can feel comfortable eating throughout your pregnancy. This is an especially good alternative to ceviche if you're eating a shrimp cocktail. Both are chilled, refreshing foods that'll satisfy those cold fish cravings.

Pregnant parents should be wary of mercury when eating seafood, but it shouldn't be too much of a concern with shrimp. "Pregnant women who have diets that have high amounts of seafood in them will have to calculate to be sure they are not exceeding the recommended amount of mercury per week, but a normal seafood dinner a few times a week will not likely exceed those limits," he says.

Consuming too much mercury can cause such symptoms as fatigue, dizziness, and organ damage. It's especially a concern for people who are pregnant as it can cause harm to the fetus. However, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, cooking your fish lessens the mercury present by 30%, which makes something like shrimp much less of a mercury concern than something like ceviche.

Caviar

If you're looking for something more on the fancy side of things, caviar is an alternative that Dr. Marchand feels confident recommending. "Almost all cooked fish and seafood are safe in pregnancy," he says. "Caviar that is pasteurized (which most is) is also safe in pregnancy." Caviar is rich in vitamin B12, which is good for your nervous system and the production of red blood cells.

A Word From Verywell

Though you are advised not to eat ceviche during pregnancy, you can resume eating it right after you give birth. In the meantime, shrimp cocktail and baked salmon can help satisfy those fishy cravings you may be having. If you have any further concerns about ceviche or other foods during your pregnancy, speak with your healthcare provider for more information.

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3 Sources
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