Can I Eat Salmon While Pregnant?

Salmon fillet

kajakiki / Getty Images

When you find out you are pregnant, you may begin to wonder which foods are safe to eat and which you need to avoid. Fish is particularly tricky. It has many health benefits and supports a growing baby's brain, but it also comes with some dangers, like mercury contamination.

Salmon is a good choice because it has a fairly low mercury content and it doesn't have a strong fishy taste that may turn you off if you experience food aversions during pregnancy. As long as you eat cooked salmon and limit your total consumption, this fish is healthy and safe while you are expecting.

Eating Salmon During Pregnancy

Eating two to three servings of fully cooked salmon per week is safe and healthy during pregnancy. "Salmon is an excellent source of DHA or omega 3 fatty acids which have many benefits to developing the fetus as well as to the pregnancy," notes Daniel Roshan, MD, FACOG, FACS, a New York City-based board-certified high-risk maternal-fetal OBGYN. "These benefits include possible positive impact on neurodevelopment in the fetus and infant, reduction in preterm delivery as well as a possible decrease in pregnancy-induced hypertension."

British Columbia-based registered dietitian Rachel McBryan adds, "Salmon is filled with omega-3 fatty acids, specifically two types, EPA and DHA, that are extremely important for the development of the fetus’s brain and eyes during pregnancy.

Salmon must be fully cooked to be pregnancy-safe. Dr. Roshan points out, "Smoked and raw salmon is not fully cooked and should not be eaten during pregnancy or while breastfeeding as it can lead to listeria infection."

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

Is It Safe for Baby?

Fully cooked salmon is safe for your baby, and it has many benefits. Raw or smoked salmon is not considered safe unless it is canned and does not need to be refrigerated after opening. Sticking to two to three servings per week also protects your baby against mercury exposure.

Benefits of Salmon During Pregnancy

Salmon has many benefits for an unborn baby because it is rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid. "During pregnancy, there is a natural decline in DHA unless it is being added to the diet. As a result, only one-fourth of pregnant women are consuming adequate DHA for their child’s health," McBryan points out.

Fish is an excellent pregnancy food because it provides DHA, but unfortunately, some fish is not safe to eat when you are expecting because of its mercury content. Because salmon has a low mercury content, you can eat plenty of it without worry about this risk.

Lowers Postpartum Depression

Fifteen percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression (PPD), feelings of sadness and distress that interfere with daily functioning during the first year after giving birth. Hormonal fluctuations play a role in PPD, and eating salmon can help you avoid it. "Omega-3 [in salmon] can...help the mother’s brain health by preventing depression after pregnancy," McBryan explains.

Promotes Neurodevelopment

DHA is necessary for brain growth and development. "It has been found that mothers who consumed more than 12 ounces of fish a week had children with significantly higher IQ scores than those who did not," says McBryan. One study found that infants whose mothers consumed enough DHA during pregnancy had better cognitive skills at age 1. DHA deficiency has also been linked to learning problems.

Reduces Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension

Eating fish during pregnancy has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure. This is important because hypertension can lead to preeclampsia, which is a serious and potentially fatal condition during pregnancy.

Reduces Preterm Delivery

Making sure you eat enough seafood is one way to reduce your risk of delivering early. Salmon is a great choice because you can safely eat two to three servings per week, unlike other types of fish that need to be limited further or avoided altogether because of high mercury content.

Safety Precautions

While salmon is healthy and beneficial to your baby's developing brain, there are a few precautions to keep in mind. It's important to eat your salmon fully cooked and to limit your consumption to two to three times per week.

Listeria

Avoid raw or smoked salmon in favor of fully-cooked dishes to prevent listeria. Listeria is an infection you can get by consuming raw food, and pregnant women are among the most susceptible groups. If an expecting mother contracts listeria, her unborn baby is at risk for premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth, or life-threatening infection at birth.

"The ideal temperature salmon should be cooked to is 145 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any pathogens," McBryan advises. It is OK to eat smoked salmon that has been cooked into a dish like a casserole or a pizza, as well as smoked salmon that is canned and does not require refrigeration.

Mercury Content

It is very important to watch your mercury intake during pregnancy because high levels can cause brain damage and hearing and vision problems in your baby. All fish has some amount of mercury, and while some types need to be avoided completely during pregnancy, salmon just needs to be limited. To keep your mercury intake within the safe range, stick to two to three servings of salmon and other low-mercury fish per week.

A Word From Verywell

Eating salmon during pregnancy is a good way to get the DHA your baby needs for their developing brain. It is important to make sure your salmon is fully cooked to reduce the risk of contracting listeria. You also want to keep an eye on your total seafood intake to avoid consuming dangerous levels of mercury.

Sticking to two to three servings of fully cooked salmon per week will get you and your growing baby its benefits while making sure your baby stays safe. Always check with a healthcare provider about exactly how much salmon is OK for you to consume during pregnancy or if you have any questions about how it can safely be prepared.

Was this page helpful?