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What Fish Pregnant Women Should Eat And Why

flickr / Victoria Reay

Fish are supposedly terrific for pregnant chicks and the fetuses occupying them. Black fish. Blue fish. Probably not old fish. Definitely new fish. This one has a little star … beside it on the menu indicating it’s high in Omega-3s that could be great for your baby’s brain. That one is possibly high in lead which makes deciding whether or not to eat it a real … chore.

So how do you and your partner find the right balance between eating fish that will (maybe) make your kid super-duper smart, and avoiding the mercury commonly found in fish that will (definitely) make your kid sickly and weird? The first step is knowing what you’re actually consuming.

flickr / Naotake Murayama

flickr / Naotake Murayama

Meet Your Omega-3s, Man
An Omega-3 is an unsaturated fatty acid that is commonly found in fish and some plants. The biggest issue? The human body is really crappy at making this stuff itself, so it has to be ingested (much like Cheetos), and a few of them are absolutely essential to human growth and development (again much like Cheetos):

  • Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA: Sounds like it should be a party drug, and it is if you happen to be a nerve cell trying to get your membrane on. DHA, in fact, is pretty necessary in building your kids wiring. It’s also crucial in eye development.
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA: Sounds like it should be a government agency, and it is when it comes to the processes governing what makes blood clot. EPA is essentially like a blood thinner and is great for lowering blood pressure and helping with pain relief.

Pregnant women should be taking both Omega-3s, and they’re both found in fish and fish oil. Scientists recommend DHA for the healthy prenatal development of a a kid’s brain. EPA is recommended for fending off preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy) and promoting a bit more bodily comfort. It’s also a building block for DHA. The FDA recommends pregnant women get 200mg of DHA a day. A gal can easily do that through a couple of 6-oz. servings of fish per week, which you will have to prepare out of the house because that smell is totally going to make her barf right now.

flickr / Liz West

flickr / Liz West

Some Acid Makes You Smarter
But will DHA actually make your kid smarter, as some might suggest? Facts are mixed. One study found up to a 4-percent point increase in kids scores on the Kaufman Assessment Battery For Children (obviously created when battering kids wasn’t considered awful), when their moms took fish oil supplements during pregnancy. But another randomized study published in 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found no increase in cognitive skills among the 18-month-old children of women with high DHA intake.

But taken as a whole, the research does lean slightly toward giving the unborn kid a mental advantage. On other side it leans waaaay towards kids being messed-up without DHA during pregnancy. The conclusion? Eat fish.

Yeah, But Mercury is Crazy Dangerous
So here’s the thing about Mercury. It can pass from mom to kid when she ingests it. And it is super bad for the baby, but it’s only a risk when consumed in large-ish amounts. The fish that are the biggest culprits of carrying that ol’ quicksilver? The big, long-lived ones. Because, let’s face it, you live long enough, you’ll probably get a little dirty at some point.

eating fish during pregnancy

Flickr / Quinn Dombrowski

What happens is that little predators are eaten by bigger predators and those by even bigger predators, with any mercury in the ecosystem concentrating in the apex predators. Much like any Freddie Mercury in the ecosystem will ultimately concentrate into you humming We will Rock You to yourself for, literally, days.

So the trick in eating fish is to not eat the big old predatory ones. Here’s a basic do not eat list list:

  • Shark (because, also, they pee through their skin)
  • Swordfish (overcompensate much?)
  • King mackerel (or presumably Holy Mackerel)
  • Tilefish (whatever that is)

What should you eat? Short lived and smaller fish. Here’s a basic do eat list:

  • Shrimp (because who doesn’t like shrimp?)
  • Canned light tuna (in sandos, obvs.)
  • Salmon (because it makes you feel like a grizzly, man)
  • Pollock (what did you just say?)
  • Catfish (meeeeeow)

In the end, moderation is key. So yes, totally make her an amazing planked salmon steak with butter and a bit of lemon. But maybe hold off on that shark smorgasbord you were planning (pee skin, remember?)

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