When and How to Feed Fish to Your Baby

Try these nutritious and delicious fish baby food recipes

a person feeding a baby
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Fish in baby food? While the idea of feeding your baby fish might set off an alarm bell or two, fish is a safe and healthy addition to most babies' diets once they are ready for solid foods.

Overview

Parents are often unsure which solid foods to introduce to their infants and when to start trying them. The uncertainty is compounded by recommendations (around food in general but for babies in particular) that seem to change faster than parents can keep up!

The result is a lot of contradictory and confusing information that can make these decisions more stressful. Here are the facts about feeding fish to your baby to help you make the choice that's best for your family.

Why Feed Your Baby Fish?

While fish is may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of baby food, it's actually a nutritious source of protein that also contains an assortment of micronutrients—depending on the variety of fish and how it's processed.

For example, fish canned with the bones included is rich in calcium. Fatty fish like salmon and sardines are rich in omega-3 fats (which are important for brain development).

Household preferences and customs will determine the food that your family eats. If fish isn't part of your diet, there are plenty of nutritious alternatives.

However, if fish is part of your diet (or even if you don't like it yourself but want to include it in your family's meals) know that it can be a nutritious and safe choice for your baby.

Is It Safe?

Fish was once considered to be unsafe for infants under the age of one year because of the potential for allergic reactions. We often see reports that fish is healthy in general, but does that apply to babies?

After a comprehensive review of new studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) determined that delaying the introduction of potentially highly allergenic foods (such as fish, eggs, and nuts) made no positive impact allergy prevention.

In fact, the reverse might be true. According to the AAP, long delays in introducing potential allergens could increase the likelihood of a child having a food allergy rather than reduce it.

Parents are not advised to delay adding fish to their baby's diet. The exception is if your child is at an increased risk for a fish allergy or if your pediatrician has advised you to avoid adding fish to your child's diet for another health reason.

Risk of Fish Allergy

Fish allergy prevalence is estimated at under 2% in children and under 5% in adults according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). Rates of occurrence have been increasing (and some suspect withholding fish until later in childhood might be a factor), but food allergies are still relatively rare.

Signs of allergy to fish include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, skin rash, hives, and (less commonly) anaphylaxis, which is an acute allergic reaction that can cause difficulty breathing.

Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening response to an allergen, but it is a rare occurrence. According to data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the estimated prevalence of anaphylaxis in children (from birth to age 9) is between 10 and 75.1 per 100,000 people.

That's less than .00001% to .000075% of the population, and that number is for all cases of anaphylaxis. Cases attributed to fish consumption are even rarer.

If your baby exhibits any of these signs of an acute allergic reaction, call 911 or go to your local emergency room.

  • Facial swelling
  • Rashes
  • Trouble breathing
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

Choosing Safe Fish

One concern surrounding fish consumption is limiting potential mercury exposure. This is an important consideration for anyone who eats fish, but particularly for pregnant people, people who are breastfeeding, and young children.

Mercury is a naturally occurring substance that is found in living things and our environment. It's not harmful in very small doses, but industrialization and other drivers of climate change (such as burning coal) are causing water pollution. Water pollution, in turn, causes mercury levels in fish to rise—particularly in larger, predatory fish that eat smaller fish, thereby upping their mercury levels.

Big fish have the highest levels of mercury. These fish are best avoided or eaten in small, infrequent amounts—this is especially true for children and people who are pregnant.

Fish that are high in mercury include:

  • Bigeye tuna
  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish

To get the nutritional benefits of fish without the risks of mercury, choose from the many fish that have lower concentrations of mercury.

Low-mercury fish include:

  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Flounder
  • Freshwater trout
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Scallops
  • Squid
  • Tilapia

When to Introduce Fish

The guidelines for when to introduce fish (and solid foods in general) to a baby's diet has changed quite a bit over time and the readiness of each baby will vary. The current standard (which has been rigorously tested in scientific studies) is that babies can start eating solid foods at around the age of 4 to 6 months.

The general rule of thumb is that babies who still seem "hungry" after bottle-feeding, show an interest in solid foods (often by opening their mouth to a spoon), can hold up their heads, and can sit up unassisted in a highchair are likely ready to try solids.

For most babies, fish is fine to introduce at around 6 months (and potentially earlier for babies who start solids at 4 months).

It is recommended that fish be introduced between 6 months and one year—even if your family has a history of food allergies. As noted above, delaying the introduction of the food beyond a year could actually increase your baby's chance of developing an allergy.

Feeding Fish to Baby

Your baby will likely do just fine with the new foods you introduce, but it's always important that you watch out for signs of allergy or intolerance.

Talk to your pediatrician about the best approach to introducing new foods to your infant. Some will recommend that you space out new foods, while others feel that this constrains the number of new flavors and textures a baby can be exposed to at a time when they are developing preferences.

As with any diet change, discuss any concerns or questions with your pediatrician and tailor a food introduction plan to your child's specific needs.

Additionally, use extra caution (and specifically ask your pediatrician) if your baby has ever experienced any of the following:

  • A diagnosed a food allergy
  • An immediate allergic reaction to another food
  • Moderate to severe eczema

How to Prepare Fish for Baby

Once you're ready to incorporate fish into your baby's diet, you'll need to learn to prepare it. Start by deskinning and deboning the fish. Then, cook it until soft (again, raw fish is not safe for babies). You'll want to cut it into small pieces or flakes.

If you are using a baby-led weaning approach, this is all the preparation you need. If you are using purées, there are a few more steps to the process. From here, you can prepare fish on its own or mix it with foods that your child already eats.

Here is a step-by-step guide to choosing the first fish to try and how to prepare it.

Pick the Right Kind of Fish

There are many healthy fish options for your baby. Here are some guidelines to help you choose.

  • Choose a fish that everyone in your household enjoys so that you can all eat together (fish like salmon and sardines are popular choices and are also the richest in omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Choose fish with lower levels of mercury
  • Choose fresh or frozen fish
  • Make sure the fish has been properly deboned and deskinned

Simple Recipes

Simply combining fish with a liquid of your choice is a great starting place. Once your baby tries a plain fish preparation, the sky's the limit in terms of incorporating vegetables (and even fruit) into the basic recipe.

Fish Baby Food

Ingredients

  • 1 cup boneless, cooked white fish (deboned)
  • 1/4 cup breastmilk, formula, or water

Directions

  1. Place the cooked fish and liquid of your choice in a blender or food processor.
  2. Blend until it reaches your desired consistency.

Fish With Mixed Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked white fish (deboned)
  • 2 tablespoons breastmilk, formula, or water
  • 1 tablespoon cooked peas
  • 1 tablespoon cooked carrots
  • 1 tablespoon cooked sweet potato

Directions

  1. Place the fish, mixed vegetables, and liquid of your choice in a blender or food processor.
  2. Purée to your desired consistency.

Fish With Carrots

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces uncooked whitefish (deboned)
  • 2 tablespoons breastmilk, formula, or water
  • 1/2 cup carrots (peeled, diced, and steamed to softness)
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup grated mild cheese

Directions

  1. Place the fish in a microwavable safe dish.
  2. Pour orange juice over the top and sprinkle with cheese.
  3. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and microwave on high for about 2 minutes or until fish flakes easily with ​a fork.
  4. Place the ingredients in a blender or food processor and purée to your desired consistency.

A Word From Verywell

Introducing your child to the wonderful world of solid food is one of the great joys of parenthood—although it does come with its challenges. We promise you'll laugh later when that lovingly prepared bowl of fish and carrots lands on the floor or a spoonful of healthy mashed fish gets spit right out!

Even with the frustrations, stick with it. Continue to expose your child to diverse meals—to which fish can be a great addition. When introduced, selected, and prepared with care, cooked fish is a safe, nutritious, and tasty food for babies.

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Article 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. Fish AllergyAmerican College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Updated March 21, 2019.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Advice About Eating Fish. Updated July 2, 2019.

  3. About mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish (1990-2012). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published 2012.

  4. Starting solid foods. HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. Updated January 16, 2018.

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