Can I Eat Tilapia While Pregnant?

Pregnant woman eating tilapia

gilaxia / Getty Images

Pregnancy cravings can come on strong. If you feel a sudden urge to wolf down some fish tacos or sink your teeth into crispy oven-baked fish, you may wonder which types of fish are safe for you to eat.

While eating fish has many benefits for you and your unborn baby, some kinds of fish need to be eaten in limited amounts or even avoided completely. This includes fish that are high in mercury, like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, bigeye tuna, and more. (Curious about mercury levels? Check the Food and Drug Administration's handy table.)

Luckily, tilapia is a safe and healthy fish to eat while pregnant. It is considered one of the best choices for pregnant or lactating people by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can safely enjoy two to three servings of tilapia per week.

Fortunately, tilapia doesn't fall on that list. "Tilapia is low in methyl mercury [and it] is a great choice nutritionally during pregnancy because it is mild in flavor, high in protein, and contains vitamins and minerals such as B12, niacin, selenium, magnesium, and phosphorous," says Bailey Oschman, RD, a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in pre and postnatal exercise and nutrition and the co-owner of Fit Mama In 30.

Let's dive deeper into why tilapia can be a healthy, safe choice for your pregnancy.

Eating Tilapia During Pregnancy

Tilapia is a solid choice of fish throughout your pregnancy. It has a low mercury content, so as long as you stay within the recommended two to three servings each week, this is not considered problematic. "One of the biggest pregnancy myths is that women cannot eat fish during pregnancy, when in fact, fish provide many important nutrients for both mom and baby," notes Oschman.

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

Is It Safe for Baby?

Eating tilapia in moderation is both safe and beneficial for your developing baby. In fact, eating fish while pregnant is recommended for optimal development. You just want to make sure that the total amount of low-mercury fish, such as tilapia, cod, salmon, or sole, does not exceed three servings per week.

Benefits of Tilapia During Pregnancy

Eating tilapia while pregnant has many benefits for both you and your baby.

Contains Vitamins and Minerals

Tilapia contains many essential nutrients for pregnant people. The magnesium in it can help reduce the chance that your baby is born with birth defects. Niacin works similarly, both minimizing risks of birth defects and miscarriage.

The vitamin B12 found in tilapia works to prevent spina bifida, a serious condition where your baby's spine does not develop properly. Selenium, also found in tilapia, helps to reduce your risk of pregnancy-related health complications.

High in Protein

Tilapia is a healthy source of protein that helps support fetal growth and development. During pregnancy, you need to eat more protein than normal so both you and your developing fetus get enough. "This type of fish is also mild in flavor, making it a good choice if you're having food aversions to other protein sources," notes Oschman.

Supports Fetal Brain Development

Tilapia is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which has been associated with improved infant health outcomes and is critical for your baby’s brain and eye development. Getting enough DHA during pregnancy has been found to have a direct effect on an infant's problem-solving skills.

Safety Precautions

Tilapia is healthy and beneficial during pregnancy, but there are a few safety precautions to keep in mind.

Eat Tilapia in Moderation

Fish is one of the best foods to eat while pregnant, but it's just as important to make sure you don't eat too much of it. Mercury exposure is the primary concern when it comes to how much tilapia you can eat. "All types of fish contain mercury, but tilapia contains low levels so it is safe to consume in moderation," notes Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, FACEP, FUHM, FACMT, a medical toxicologist and the co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center.

Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, FACEP, FUHM, FACMT

All types of fish contain mercury, but tilapia contains low levels so it is safe to consume in moderation.

— Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, FACEP, FUHM, FACMT

During pregnancy, you can safely consume up to two to three 4-ounce servings of low-mercury-containing fish each week. "If you don't have a food scale at home, you can use the palm of your hand as a substitute marker of serving size," suggests Dr. Johson-Arbor.

Ensure Basic Food Safety

Food safety and handling are always important, and they are especially crucial during pregnancy. If you are buying frozen tilapia, make sure the package has not been torn or punctured at all. There should be no ice crystals or frost on the package.

When preparing both fresh and frozen tilapia, wash your hands before and after handling the fish. Sanitize your counters and cutting boards after the fish has come into contact with them, and keep the fish well-sealed and separated from other food items while storing it.

Tilapia Should Be Fully-Cooked

Raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided during pregnancy. Eating tilapia that is raw, smoked, or seared increases your risk of food-borne illness such as listeria. You are more susceptible to food poisoning while pregnant, and it can have serious implications, including miscarriage, preterm labor, or stillbirth.

Cook your tilapia to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. "You can tell a fish is done when it separates into flakes and appears opaque throughout," says Oschman.

A Word From Verywell

Tilapia is a safe and nutritious food to eat while pregnant. It has many benefits for your baby, such as boosting brain development and reducing the risk of birth defects. Just make sure that you stick to a total of two to three servings of this fish per week. Tilapia should always be fully cooked if eaten while pregnant.

If you have any questions or concerns about eating tilapia while pregnant, reach out to your healthcare provider.

11 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Advice About Eating Fish. US Food and Drug Administration.

  2. Tilapia. US Department of Agriculture.

  3. Zarean E, Tarjan A. Effect of magnesium supplement on pregnancy outcomes: a randomized control trial. Adv Biomed Res. 2017;6(1):109. doi: 10.4103/2277-9175.213879.

  4. Vitamin B3 supplementation in pregnancy - Maternal and newborn. New South Wales Government.

  5. Roles of vitamin b in pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association.

  6. Hubalewska-Dydejczyk A, Duntas L, Gilis-Januszewska A. Pregnancy, thyroid, and the potential use of selenium. Hormones. 2020;19(1):47-53. doi: 10.1007/s42000-019-00144-2.

  7. Elango R, Ball RO. Protein and amino acid requirements during pregnancy. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(4):839S-844S. doi: 10.3945/an.115.011817.

  8. Braarud H, Markhus M, Skotheim S, et al. Maternal dha status during pregnancy has a positive impact on infant problem solving: a norwegian prospective observation study. Nutrients. 2018;10(5):529. doi: 10.3390/nu10050529.

  9. Meat, Poultry, and Seafood from Food Safety for Moms to Be. US Food and Drug Administration.

  10. People at Risk: Pregnant Women and Newborns - Listeria (Listeriosis). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  11. Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart. US Department of Agriculture.

By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.