Which fish and seafood is safe to eat during pregnancy?

Fish and prawns

Generally speaking, fish is good for you and helps your baby's development, so it should be included in your pregnancy diet. However, some varieties of fish should be avoided, and you need to take extra care with how shellfish and seafood, like prawns, are cooked before you eat them.

Fish are an excellent source of protein, minerals and vitamins. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids which will help your baby’s brain to develop, so there are plenty of fish you can, and perhaps should, eat during pregnancy. But there are also some fish that should be avoided.

  • Avoid marlin, swordfish and shark (yes, shark) because they contain high levels of mercury – this can affect your baby's developing nervous system.
  • Shellfish should be cooked properly to avoid the risk of food poisoning.
  • Oysters are out too, unless you like them cooked.
  • Keep your consumption of oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines) to 2-3 portions per week, as it can contain pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
  • Limit your tuna intake as it is an oily fish which also contains more mercury than other fish. Stick to a maximum of two tuna steaks (about 140g cooked) or four medium cans of tuna (about 140g when drained) a week.

You can have as much white fish and cooked shellfish as you like and sushi is fine too, including varieties with raw fish, so long as it has been frozen before serving.

In terms of quantity, eight to twelve ounces of seafood per week will be good for you.

Can you eat prawns when pregnant?

It's worth being extra cautious when eating out. For example, prawns freshly cooked in a risotto are safer than cold ones in a salad.

Prawns (or shrimp) are fine if they're cooked, but you must not eat them raw. Cold, pre-cooked prawns are also safe. If you’re cooking prawns, or you’re concerned about prawns that somebody else has served, you know they’re cooked when they redden and the flesh is pearly opaque.

Can you eat prawn crackers during pregnancy?

File this under foods you've not given a second thought, until you were pregnant. If there's 'prawns' in the name, do you need to be worried? After lengthy discussion and rigorous research, we reckon you’ll be fine. As one Mumsnetter says: “Most prawn crackers haven’t even been in the same room as a prawn. It’s all flavouring.”

Can you eat shellfish when pregnant?

Once again, shellfish should be cooked thoroughly to remove the risk of food poisoning – avoid anything raw or even rare. Raw shellfish can contain bacteria and viruses that are harmful to you and your baby. Cooking will get rid of them. However, if toxins are present, they won’t be completely eradicated by cooking, so you have to ask yourself – is it worth the risk?

On the other hand, shellfish are low in mercury and can be an excellent source of protein. Mussels, for example, are high in mineral zinc and iron – two things from which your baby will benefit. Just make sure you discard the ones that don’t open their shells during cooking.

The cooked-not-raw rule applies for scampi, crab and lobster too, all of which are popular with pregnant women as a nutritious but low-fat food.

Prawn or crayfish sandwiches made up a large part for my diet during both my pregnancies, with no problems, but I always made sure it had been thoroughly pre-cooked.

If you decide you want to eat shellfish then make sure you cook thoroughly. Overcooked anything is no fun but believe us – the frustration of a few charred scallops or chewy mussels is nothing compared to what can happen if you eat them when they’re underdone, and that’s before you even factor in the problems it could cause your baby.

If you want to eat oysters then (you guessed it) they too must be cooked. Slurping down raw oysters from the shell, with a splash of Tabasco, is something you must forgo during pregnancy.

Can you eat salmon when pregnant?

Salmon is safe for you to eat while pregnant, as long as it's cooked – it’s one of the fish with the lowest levels of mercury and is a great source of protein, vitamin B and omega-3 fatty acids – but avoid raw salmon as it can contain bacteria and parasites.

The smoking process in effect cooks the fish and kills off the bacteria. I lived on smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels in my first trimester – yum!

Smoked salmon is fine, as is most smoked fish. Whichever way you want to prepare your salmon, you can find a list of tasty salmon recipes from Mumsnetters.

One word of warning: keep your consumption of oily fish (including salmon, mackerel and sardines) to just two or three portions a week, as it can contain pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Can you eat sushi when pregnant?

You can eat sushi during pregnancy, even raw fish varieties, as long as it has been frozen before serving. This is because wild fish can sometimes contain small parasitic worms (yuck) that give you anisakidosis which involves abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting. Has that put you off? Good. Freezing will kill the worms – as will cooking the fish or smoking it.

I have been eating stacks of cooked and vegetarian sushi. It's wonderful – the soy sauce cures my salt cravings.

As with all shellfish this should also be cooked (so double check sushi with prawns, crab etc) to avoid food poisoning. If you're unsure, you can always avoid the risk altogether by sticking to vegetarian or cooked sushi.

Can pregnant women eat tuna?

Yes, but limit your intake, as tuna is oily and contains more mercury than many other fish. Stick to a maximum of two tuna steaks (about 140g cooked), or four medium tins (about 140g when drained) a week.

If you’re going for canned tuna, try to get one with no added salt. Fresh tuna is much better for your baby and the omega-3 benefits are very good for your baby’s developing brain, so definitely recommended within the limits mentioned above.

Can you eat cod when pregnant – and what about other white fish?

Yes – cod, pollock and other white fish (which includes coley, haddock, plaice, skate, flounder and gurnard) are very good for you and are all safe to eat during pregnancy. The NHS recommend that all adults have a couple of portions every week as part of a balanced diet.

Eating white fish is also recommended when you’re breastfeeding and, at risk of looking too far ahead, if/when you’re trying to conceive again. For now, though, the good news is that you’re free to satisfy any fish and chips cravings.

Find out what else is safe to eat during pregnancy – and which foods to avoid.