Is It Safe To Eat Cod While Pregnant?

Although there are some fish that pregnant women should stay clear of altogether, cod is among one of the species of fish that is considered okay and safe to eat while pregnant.  Many women eat fish during their pregnancy as a way to load up on good nutrients such as protein, vitamin 3 and omega 3 fatty acids, all of which are essential for a baby’s development.  However the downside to eating fish s that almost every single kind of fish often includes traces of Methyl mercury.  This compound is known to be harmful in high doses to an unborn developing nervous system.  Generally it is usually the larger predator fish which accumulate the highest levels of this mercury however.

Eating fish can be quite beneficial for pregnant women and their developing babies.  Just a few of the many benefits that incorporating fish into their diet are as follows:

  • Prevents high blood pressure as well as pre-eclampsia.  (Pre-eclampsia is a combination of symptoms during pregnancy that include high blood pressure, edema, swelling and changes in reflexes.)
  • Enhances the baby’s brain development
  • Promotes the birth of a full term baby with a higher and healthier birth weight

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in past years has issued newer guidelines for how women who are trying to conceive, are pregnant, nursing mothers, or who have young children can help limit their exposure to mercury in fish.  It is also now recommended that these women eat no more than 6-12 ounces a week of canned tuna and other cooked fish.  However some types of fish are safe to be consumed twice a week and include the following:

  • Cod
  • Salmon in all forms (except from the Great Lakes)
  • Farmed trout
  • Rainbow trout
  • Flounder
  • Sole
  • Haddock
  • Herrings
  • Sardines
  • Mahi mahi
  • Perch
  • Farmed cat fish
  • Striped bass
  • Tilapia
  • Pilchards
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Crab
  • Oysters
  • Clams
  • Mussels
  • Crayfish
  • Canned mackerel

Fish that should be avoided altogether include:

  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish (Golden and/or white snapper)
  • Tuna steak (Fresh and frozen)
  • Spanish Mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Grouper
  • Large mouth bass
  • Small mouth bass
  • Walleye
  • Northern Pike
  • Lake Whitefish
  • Bowfin
  • Salmon from the Great Lakes
  • Gar
  • Toxic species such as the puffer fish, blowfish and sea squab

Since these fish are at the top of the food chain, it usually means that they also contain the highest levels of mercury.

A few other ways pregnant women can ensure reducing harm to their babies is to follow these tips when including fish or other types of seafood into their diet:

  • Never eat raw fish or raw shellfish such as oysters, clams, mussels or sushi.  They can harbor several serious viruses.
  • Limit golden or white snapper, tuna steak and albacore tuna (white tuna) to 1 serving per month.
  • Canned tuna should be limited to 1-2 6 ounce cans a week.  This is considered safer than eating fresh tuna.
  • Limit your consumption of fish caught by friends and check local safety advisories for guidelines.  If you cannot find this information try to limit your total fish consumption to 6 ounces per week.

Another risk that pregnant women run by eating seafood is a type of bacteria that is known as Listeria.  This bacterium is found everywhere and can cause a food borne illness known as Listeriosis, which is extremely dangerous for a pregnant woman and her unborn baby.  This food borne illness has been known to cause premature delivery, miscarriage and even fetal death.  A pregnant woman is more susceptible to Listeriosis because of the normal pregnancy changes that affect her immune system during this time.

Furthermore, Listeria is an unusual bacteria in that they can grow at refrigeration temperatures of 40 degrees or below.  Only cooking kills them.  Therefore it is crucial to follow these safety tips:

  • Never refrigerate smoked seafood unless it is cooked in a dish such as a casserole.
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood includes: salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, and mackerel.
  • Canned fish and shelf stable smoked seafood is safe to eat.
  • Clean your refrigerator on a regular basis.
  • Use perishable, ready to eat, and precooked items as soon as possible.

Listeriosis may cause flu like symptoms such as fever, chills, diarrhea, muscle aches, and upset stomach.  It can take a few days or in some cases even a few weeks to appear.  If you think that you may have Listeriosis it is important to contact your health care provider immediately.  Especially if you believe you may have eaten a contaminated product.

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