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Is It Safe to Eat Tuna While Pregnant?

By Valerie Goldberg
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Eating tuna while pregnant can be safe when done in moderation. Many types of fish contain mercury that, in large amounts, can be harmful to an unborn baby. Tuna consumed in small portions does not contain enough mercury to harm a pregnant mother or her baby. Incorporating a little bit of fish into a diet during a pregnancy can actually be beneficial, though knowing what types are safe to consume is important.

The concern with eating tuna while pregnant is that many fish have been shown to contain mercury. Different elements that can be found in the ocean contain mercury, which builds up in some fish that absorb it through their gills. Shark, tilefish, swordfish and mackerel all have very high mercury levels and it is suggested that pregnant women do not eat these varieties of fish.

Fish is a generally healthy food and, when eaten in moderation, may help a developing baby to have better cognitive skills after birth. This suggests that a woman who consumes tuna while pregnant can actually be helping her baby. The key to eating tuna while pregnant is moderation. Two servings of tuna a week is appropriate for a pregnant woman.

The variety of tuna eaten also plays an important factor in the tuna-and-pregnancy equation. Tuna steaks contain more mercury than canned tuna. Pregnant women who wish to eat tuna are best off having one or two sandwiches made from canned tuna each week and to avoid eating tuna steaks until after the baby has been born.

Raw tuna used for sushi and sashimi dishes should be avoided completely during a pregnancy. Uncooked fish, in general, can contain higher mercury levels than cooked fish. Most sushi is made using yellowfin tuna, which contains a higher amount of mercury than some other varieties of tuna. Albacore tuna, from which most tuna in a can is made, contains a much lesser amount. All raw sushi should be avoided during pregnancy, even rolls made with less mercury-potent fish, because uncooked fish also can be contaminated with other types of bacteria that can be dangerous to an unborn baby.

Over-consumption of tuna while pregnant can cause brain damage or nervous system issues in a baby. As a general rule of thumb, a pregnant woman enjoying canned tuna once or twice a week should have nothing to worry about. Concerned mothers to be should always consult a doctor to help decide which foods can be enjoyed during pregnancy.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By goldenbears — On Jun 21, 2011

@Testy - Congrats on your pregnancy! I hope it goes well for you and your baby is born beautiful and healthy. You are wise to want to limit your mayo intake, and other fatty foods in general.

I have found that most recipes for tuna that call for mayo are just as delicious with out it. So, don't be afraid to leave it out, it won't compromise on taste.

Mashed up, hard boiled eggs can be a good substitute for mayo. Just eat them with caution, as they are high in cholesterol.

Hope this helps!

By Testy — On Jun 20, 2011

Thanks so much for this article! I have recently become pregnant, and I love seafood. Crab, fish, lobster, shrimp, tuna, I enjoy it all.

I was concerned that I would no longer be able to indulge myself with fish because of the potential risk of exposing my baby to mercury. But, as with anything, tuna in moderation can be healthy.

I will need to, however, come up with new recipes on how to prepare tuna. Mine is usually smothered in mayonnaise, but I don't want to eat too much fatty food while pregnant. Does anyone out there have any ideas?

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