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The great fish debate

Tiernan McKay is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. Her writing has appeared in magazines such as Alive!, Occupational Health and Safety, Restaurants and Institutions, Tampa Bay and Arizona Woman. Right now, she is either ridi...

Should you eat fish while pregnant?

If you are or have ever been an expectant mom, you've probably wondered about eating fish during your pregnancy. Your quest for answers may have left you with more questions, or at least a fuzzy understanding of how you should -- or shouldn't -- proceed.

Salmon dinner on plate

There is definitely a heap of confusion surrounding pregnancy nutrition and the fish debate. Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, a family physician in Lexington, Kentucky, and coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, sheds some light on the issue.

Confusing rules

Many women just steer clear of fish altogether during pregnancy rather than try to figure out what's healthy and what's dangerous. But this decision could leave you with avoidable nutritional gaps. "Consumption of fish before and during pregnancy is very important for the health of mom and her developing baby," says Dr. McAllister. Once you figure out the truth about fish, you'll feel better about eating it during your pregnancy.

The truth

Some fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tile fish, should be avoided during pregnancy. Raw, undercooked (internal temperature less than 145 degrees) and refrigerated smoked fish such such as lox are also no-no's. But "you can enjoy salmon, pollock, catfish and canned light tuna -- with the exception of albacore -- during your pregnancy," says Dr. McAllister.

The Benefits of fish

You know that fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, but you may not realize just how important these nutrients are for a developing baby. "Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, specifically those from fish, have been shown to promote healthy fetal development, particularly in terms of the brain and nervous system," says Dr. McAllister. "Studies show that eating fish during pregnancy appears to boost fetal brain development and reduce the risk of premature delivery."

There could be some serious implications to avoiding fish during pregnancy. "Research has shown that moms who avoid eating fish during pregnancy may have babies with poor verbal skills and other communication problems, as well as trouble with fine motor skills, asthma, behavioral problems and other early developmental issues," says Dr. McAllister.

Helping you through pregnancy

Fish can also help you during pregnancy because omega-3s reduce joint pain, reduce the risk of depression and help improve memory and cognitive skills. "This is all great news, since pregnant women tend to experience aching joints, mood swings and pregnancy-related brain-drain," says Dr. McAllister. "Omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to help normalize blood pressure, alleviate dry skin and problematic skin conditions, lower triglyceride levels and reduce the risk of developing blood clots."

Some women have an aversion to fish, or the smell of raw fish, during pregnancy. If you're one of the them -- or just a busy woman on the go -- opt for high-quality fish sticks and fish fillets. "Make sure you find a brand that is made of 100% whole fish, such as Mrs. Paul's and Van de Kamp's, rather than minced fish," suggests Dr. McAllister.

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