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? Is that really OK? While the idea of feeding your baby fish might set off an alarm bell or two, the answer is a resounding "yes." Contrary to conventional wisdom, fish is a safe and healthy addition to most babies' diets once they are ready for solid foods—and it's highly recommended.

New (and veteran) parents are often unsure which solid foods to introduce and when to introduce them. This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that recommendations (around food in general and for babies in particular) seem to change faster than many of us can keep up.

Parents can end up with a lot of contradictory, confusing information, which makes these decisions all the more stressful. We're talking about your baby's health, so the stakes are understandably high. We're here to set the record straight.

Why Feed Your Baby Fish?

While fish is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of baby food, it's actually one of the most nutritious, sources of protein full of micronutrients like iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for optimal heart health and brain development. Fish are also packed with a slew of essential vitamins and minerals, including potassium, vitamins B and D2, iodine, and zinc. 

Of course, parental preference and customs in terms of the types of foods served in your household and eaten by your children are paramount. Just know that if you enjoy fish (or even if you personally do not) and want to share it with our baby, that it is a healthy, scientifically approved and encouraged choice.

What About the Risk of Food Allergy?

While it's clear that fish is healthy in general, how about for babies? Fish was once not considered "safe" to eat for babies under one year old due to the potential for allergic reactions. But after a comprehensive review of new studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has determined that delaying the introduction of potentially highly allergenic foods such as fish, eggs, and nuts makes no impact on allergy prevention.

Plus, the reverse may be true, according to the AAP. In other words, long delays in introducing these potential allergens could actually increase the likelihood of food allergy rather than reduce it. Therefore, it's not advised to delay adding fish to your baby's diet unless you know your child is at increased risk for fish allergy or has some other contraindicating factor.

How Common Is 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.

While anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening response to an allergen, its occurrence is rare. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the estimated prevalence in children from birth to age 9 is between 10 and 75.1 per 100,000 people, so less than .00001% to .000075% of the population—and that's for all cases of anaphylaxis; the cases attributed to fish consumption are even rarer.

Facial swelling, rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, and trouble breathing are all signs of an acute allergic reaction. If your baby exhibits any of these signs, seek emergency assistance immediately.

Choosing Safe Fish

One worry surrounding fish consumption is limiting potential mercury exposure. This is an important consideration that every fish-eater (and particularly pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and young children) should be mindful of, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Mercury is a naturally occurring substance, 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 the burning of coal) are causing mercury levels to rise in fish, particularly in larger, predatory fish, as they eat the smaller fish, upping their mercury levels. As a result, the fish with the highest levels of mercury are the bigger ones such as marlin, swordfish, and orange roughy. These fish should be avoided or eaten in smaller quantities and with lesser frequency.

The simple solution is to choose one of the many fish with lower concentrations of mercury. There are many great, safe options, including cod, catfish, salmon, sardines, butterfish, squid, scallops, tilapia, and freshwater trout.

When to Add Fish to Baby's Diet

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 now been rigorously tested in scientific studies) is that babies can start eating solid foods between 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). In most cases, babies will start with other solid foods before adding fish or other meats. The AAP recommends introducing your baby to fish after they have been introduced to other less allergenic foods, like fruits, vegetables, and grain cereals. Grain cereals are a common choice for many babies' first solid meal but this is really up to your preference.

Furthermore, it is recommended that fish be introduced between 6 months and one year, even if your family has a history of food allergies. (As explained above, delaying beyond a year could actually increase your baby's chance of developing a fish allergy.) Once your baby is ready for table foods and can self-feed, and your baby has already successfully tried a range of other less allergenic foods, you can try serving them cooked fish. (Raw fish, such as sushi, can harbor pathogens and should be avoided until later in childhood.)

Introducing Fish to Baby

Most likely, your baby will do just fine with the new foods you introduce, but it's always recommended to watch out for any signs of allergy or intolerance as you incorporate each new food. The recommended approach is to introduce one new food at a time and space out adding new foods (three or more days apart is ideal). This method is key to isolating, ruling out, and tracking any potential allergic reactions.

As with any diet change, discuss any concerns or questions you have with your pediatrician and tailor a food introduction plan to your child's specific needs. Additionally, you'll want to use extra caution (including specifically consulting your pediatrician) if your baby has ever experienced any of the following:

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

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 for your baby. You should deskin and debone the fish, cook it until soft (again, raw fish is not safe for babies), and cut it into small pieces or flakes. Fish can be prepared on its own or be mixed with other foods your child already eats. Below is a step-by-step primer on choosing the best 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.

  • Use fresh fish only.
  • Choose mild, white fish (such as flounder, haddock, cod, or sole).
  • Make sure the fish has been properly deboned and deskinned.
  • Choose fish with lower levels of mercury.

Simple Fish Baby Food Recipes

A great place to start with is simply combining fish with the liquid of your choice. Once you've tried a plain fish preparation, the sky's the limit on incorporating vegetables (or even fruit) into that basic recipe.

Fish Baby Food

Ingredients

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

Directions

  1. Place cooked fish and liquid of choice in a blender or food processor.
  2. Blend to reach 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 fish, mixed vegetables, and liquid of choice in a blender or food processor.
  2. Puree 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 fish in a microwavable safe dish, pour orange juice over top and sprinkle with cheese.
  2. Cover dish with plastic wrap and microwave on high for about 2 minutes or until fish flakes easily with ​a fork.
  3. Place ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree to 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.)

Stick with it and expose your child to many diverse meals, of which fish can be an excellent addition. When introduced, selected, and prepared with care, cooked fish is a very nutritious meal 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 policy 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. About mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish (1990-2012). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published 2012.

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

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