Can I Eat Sushi While Pregnant?

Couple eating sushi and smiling

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As soon as you see a positive pregnancy test, you may immediately start thinking about what diet changes you need to make. Sushi is one of the classic pregnancy no-no's, but many people question whether banning this popular dish is really warranted, especially since fish has so many benefits for your baby's development.

You can eat sushi during pregnancy, but you may need to adjust your regular order. Now that you have a baby on the way, you should stick with options that are fully cooked, vegetarian, or vegan, and abstain from eating any raw seafood. And no matter how delicious and beneficial fish is, you can't eat sushi with fish in it for every meal because of mercury contamination.

Eating Sushi During Pregnancy

You need to avoid most options on a typical sushi menu while pregnant. Only sushi with fully-cooked fish or seafood, or vegetarian or vegan sushi, is safe during pregnancy. Additionally, cooked or not, some types of fish need to be avoided during pregnancy because of their high mercury content.

Expecting mothers should avoid any raw, smoked, or seared animal products to reduce their risk of contracting listeria. "Fetal exposure to raw seafood can cause listeria infection which can lead to fetal sepsis, meningitis, preterm or stillbirth, and fetal death," Daniel Roshan, MD, a New York City-based leading board-certified high-risk maternal-fetal OBGYN explains. "There is not a safe way to eat [uncooked] sushi or any other raw seafood, or raw meat, during pregnancy."

All seafood has some level of mercury contamination, and it is important to keep an eye on this when you are expecting. You can safely consume eight to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish, such as crab, salmon, or shrimp, during pregnancy. Other types of fish, like swordfish or ahi tuna, should be avoided altogether, as they have a high mercury content.

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

Is It Safe for Baby?

Sushi rolls that contain fully-cooked fish and vegetarian or vegan rolls are safe for your developing baby. However, any raw or smoked fish, meat, or shellfish poses a risk of listeria. Listeria can pass from mother to fetus and lead to pregnancy loss or preterm labor. Babies born with listeria are among the highest risk groups (along with pregnant women) for dying from it.

Fish supports your baby's brain development but eating too much fish, or any fish that contains a large amount of mercury can lead to birth defects.

Why You Should Not Eat Sushi While Pregnant

Generally, seafood supports fetal brain development and expecting mothers are encouraged to eat fish. Other sushi ingredients, like seaweed or avocado, contain necessary vitamins and healthy fats, Mary Wirtz, a registered dietitian and consultant for Mom Loves Best, points out. However, it is important to refrain from consuming any raw fish until after you've had your baby as it can pose certain risks.

Risks of Eating Sushi While Pregnant

Eating sushi during pregnancy can come with a few risks, but fortunately, you can avoid them completely by making safe choices. As long as your sushi filling is fully cooked and you keep track of your total fish intake, you don't need to worry about endangering your baby.

Listeria

Make sure your sushi filling is completely cooked—not raw, smoked, or seared. "Consuming raw or undercooked food comes with an underlying risk for foodborne parasites or illnesses like listeria," says Wirtz. Fully-cooked fish should reach 145 degrees and separate into flakes.

Pregnant women and newborns are at the greatest risk for contracting listeria. The infection can pass to an unborn baby and may lead to preterm birth, pregnancy loss, or infant death. "If you experience symptoms of a listeria infection during pregnancy such as fever, gastrointestinal distress, nausea, vomiting, and flu-like symptoms, be sure to contact your OB provider [right away]," urges Dr. Roshan.

Mercury Contamination

Although fish has many benefits during pregnancy, mercury contamination is a major drawback. You want to aim for eight to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish each week. Consuming less than this may leave your baby without sufficient omega-3 fatty acids needed for optimal brain development, but consuming more can be problematic.

High levels of mercury exposure in utero can negatively impact cognition during childhoodand cause vision and hearing problems.

"Avoid fish types that have high mercury content, such as marlin, shark, and swordfish," Dr. Roshan advises. "When choosing a sushi roll with cooked fish, consider opting for cooked crab, salmon, lobster, among many others, as these options will be much lower in mercury content." 

When Can I Resume Eating Sushi?

If nine months without your favorite sushi choices has you craving a few salmon avocado rolls, rest assured that you can order them after your baby is born. You can start eating sushi with raw fish in it as soon as you deliver, even if you are breastfeeding.

That being said, this is a personal decision. While you no longer have to worry about passing a potential listeria infection to your baby, you can still get listeria yourself. "There is always an inherent food safety risk when consuming raw or undercooked fish, so it is never 100% safe to eat," Wirtz points out.

Mercury contamination is still a concern while breastfeeding, so you should continue to limit yourself to eight to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish and seafood while nursing. If you plan to get pregnant again within the next year, you should also continue to follow these guidelines.

A Word From Verywell

The only sushi that is safe to eat during pregnancy is sushi that does not contain raw or smoked seafood. This includes sushi with cooked fish and vegetarian or vegan options. You should also stick to a total of eight to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish or shellfish per week during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and if you plan to conceive within the next year.

Fish plays an important role in a healthy pregnancy, but it does come with those two safety caveats. Always reach out to a healthcare provider or midwife if you have any questions or concerns about eating sushi during pregnancy.

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