Can I Eat Tuna While Pregnant?

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When you get pregnant, there are a lot of confusing messages about whether you should eat fish. You may have heard that fish offers essential nutrients for a baby's developing brain. That's true. You also may have heard that fish can be dangerous because of mercury contamination. That is also true.

All fish has some level of mercury in it, so it's important to limit the amount of fish you eat, including tuna. You should also avoid fish with high mercury content altogether. That being said, abstaining from fish—or tuna specifically—during pregnancy is not recommended.

Even though tuna often gets a bad rap when it comes to mercury, it's important to remember that there are actually different types of tuna. For instance, canned light tuna, which is usually skipjack tuna, is safe and beneficial to eat during pregnancy, just stick to no more than 12 ounces per week.

"Light canned tuna will likely have the lowest mercury level of the various canned tunas available," notes Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD, a Texas-based registered dietitian nutritionist, and licensed dietitian.

Eating Tuna During Pregnancy

Eating tuna has many important benefits during pregnancy and consuming some fish when you have a baby on the way is recommended. In fact, despite the dangers of mercury contamination, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend eating a limited amount of fish because it is so beneficial to fetal development.

That being said, not all types of fish are safe, and this includes some types of tuna. You also need to limit the total amount of tuna you consume each week.

Keep in mind that while tuna is good for your baby's development, all tuna contains some amount of mercury. What's more, some types of tuna contain too much mercury to consume safely during pregnancy, while others should simply be limited. Here are the amounts of tuna you can safely consume when you have a baby on the way:

  • Canned, light tuna (skipjack): Up to 12 ounces per week
  • Albacore or yellowfin tuna: Up to 4 ounces per week
  • Big-eye tuna: Avoid

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

Is it Safe for Baby?

Eating tuna might not be safe for your baby if you consume too much or if you eat certain types. In fact, high-mercury tuna, like big-eye tuna, is not safe because it contains elevated levels of mercury.

Tuna also should either be canned or fully cooked. Raw, smoked, or seared tuna can lead to listeriosis, a rare but serious infection that can have dire consequences for an unborn baby. Although listeria is uncommon, it can have serious consequences for an unborn child if you contract it.

This infection could cause you to have a miscarriage—especially during the early part of pregnancy. Listeria can also lead to premature labor, low birth weight, serious developmental problems, and even infant death.

Benefits of Tuna During Pregnancy

Both you and your developing baby could benefit from you adding tuna to your diet. Eating tuna not only provides you with omega-3 fatty acids, but it also is a good source of iron, protein, and vitamins.

Plus, consuming tuna can impact your baby's brain development in a positive way. Here is a closer look at the benefits of eating tuna while pregnant.

Iron

Eating tuna is one way to get the iron you need during pregnancy. Iron is an essential nutrient for both the expecting mother and her baby.

Meanwhile, low iron can result in iron deficiency anemia, which increases the risk of fetal death and can cause many problems, including preeclampsia (pregnancy-related high blood pressure), fainting, and difficulty breathing.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Tuna is a plentiful source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These omega-3 fatty acids are the critical building blocks of fetal brain development and retinal development. Additionally, these vital acids play a role in determining the length of gestation and can even play a role in preventing perinatal depression.

Unfortunately, research indicates that pregnant women in the United States often do not eat enough fish like tuna due to concern about the adverse effects of mercury and other contaminants on their developing baby.

Protein

Both your baby's brain and your own body require plenty of protein during pregnancy. Eating tuna is a good way to add protein to your diet.

Vitamins

Tuna contains vitamins that are essential during pregnancy. In particular, fish is an excellent source of both vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

Safety Precautions

Tuna offers many important benefits for fetal development, so eating some tuna while pregnant is definitely a good idea. That said, there are some important safety precautions to take into consideration.

Keep in mind that certain types or amounts of tuna can be dangerous to your baby. So, be mindful of what type of tuna you are eating as well as how much you are consuming each week. Here is what you need to know about eating tuna while pregnant.

Steer Clear of Big-Eye Tuna

Always pay attention to the type of tuna you eat when you're pregnant. Big-eye tuna is not safe to eat during pregnancy because of its high mercury content.

Sadly, our oceans are polluted with mercury, a toxin that is especially dangerous for unborn babies. Because of this, mercury accumulates in a tuna's body.

Larger fish, fish with longer lifespans, and fish who live in certain geographical regions tend to accumulate higher levels of mercury. In addition to avoiding big-eye tuna while pregnant, you also should avoid mackerel, swordfish, and tilefish.

Eat a Limited Amount of Mercury-Safe Tuna

Although mercury contamination is certainly a concern for pregnant women, it is not recommended to abstain from all fish, including tuna, when you are pregnant. The benefits of eating tuna outweigh the risks when you stick to fish with low mercury content in limited amounts.

Canned light tuna (skipjack), albacore, and yellowfin tuna are typically safe to eat when you are pregnant. Limit your consumption of canned light tuna to 12 ounces per week and albacore or yellowfin to 4 ounces per week.

Ensure Tuna Is Fully-Cooked or Canned

Tuna must be canned or fully cooked to be safe for you to consume. Eating raw or undercooked animal products puts you at risk of being infected with listeria.

"If you’re not having canned tuna, you should always cook it to avoid bacteria and parasites that can make you sick," says Bruce K. Young, MD, an internationally-known leader and innovator in obstetrics and gynecology.

A Word From Verywell

If you enjoy eating tuna, you can rest assured that eating canned light tuna, albacore tuna, and yellowfin tuna are safe and beneficial for you and your baby during pregnancy, as long as you limit how much you consume. Besides, abstaining from fish completely as a way to avoid mercury contamination is not recommended. You and your baby need those omega-3 fatty acids.

Just be sure your tuna is fully cooked. Raw, smoked, or seared tuna are not safe because of the risk of being infected with listeria. And, if you have additional questions or concerns about eating tuna while pregnant, talk to a healthcare provider.

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