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Should you eat fish while pregnant?

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

One fish two fish

Eat fish. Don't eat fish. It can all be pretty darn confusing when you are pregnant. And it doesn't help that every woman with a child thinks she knows the rules and is more than willing to tell you. But the rules have changed, haven't they? Well, researchers are discovering that eating fish in pregnancy - the right fish - has impressive rewards for a pregnant woman's baby. Really.

Fish SignThe Food and Drug Administration suggests that women who are pregnant or nursing should consume up to 12 ounces a week of fish and shellfish that is low in mercury. That includes shrimp, salmon, canned light tuna and catfish. But the FDA says to limit canned white albacore tuna intake to no more than 6 ounces per week though, because it has a higher mercury content then light tuna. The FDA also says to avoid fish that contain a lot of mercury like swordfish, tilefish and shark.

That's pretty clear cut, right? Well with all of the rules and specifications, some moms instead just avoid fish. But that isn't the best reaction, and it can in fact have negative consequences for your child's development, researchers say.

Great benefits

Experts say that despite the confusion that many people -- pregnant or not -- experience when it comes to what fish is safe, it really is a good idea to weed through the information and figure it out. Eating fish during pregnancy is important to a baby's development, they say.

In fact, a recent study by Harvard Medical School's Dr. Emily Oken revealed that expectant mothers who eat fish during pregnancy are more likely to have children better motor and cognitive skills. In fact, women who ate about two ounces of fish a day on average had babies who were 25 percent more likely at six months old to have higher development scores then their counterparts whose moms ate the last fish.

children whose mothers ate fish during pregnancy were more likely to have better motor and cognitive skills. The gap surged to nearly 30 percent more likely at 18 months old.

Why fish?

What is it about fish that can be so nutritionally rewarding? Dr. Ashley Roman, MD, MPH, of the New York University School of Medicine, who is a researcher, obstetrician and mom, says that there are "five powerhouse nutrients" found in fish: Omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, folic acid and iron. Those, she says, are vital to healthy pregnancies but it's important that the fish is low in mercury.

"In previous work in a population of U.S. women, we similarly found that higher prenatal fish consumption was associated with an overall benefit for child cognitive development, but that higher mercury levels attenuated this benefit," Oken said. "Therefore, women should continue to eat fish - especially during pregnancy - but should choose fish types likely to be lower in mercury."

Which fish?

How can you determine which fish and shellfish is best? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a primer on mercury levels, with fish divided into convenient low and high mercury sections. Fish like the budget-friendly tilapia along with clams, scallops and mussels are all among the fish with low-levels of mercury. Herring, crab and cod are also among the fish with low-mercury levels.

What to make

Ready to get cooking? The internet is filled with fantastic resources for good fish recipes. The SheKnows Food section has a feature with three extra-healthy and delicious fish recipes. You can also search by ingredient to find delicious and healthy fish recipes at MyRecipes.com.

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