Fish – both ones that have shells and others that have fins – represent nutritious food low in saturated (bad) fat and high in protein. Omega-3s (long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids – n3 PUFA) is a key component to fetal brain development. It’s benefits are in both fetal visual and cognitive development. However, is eating fish safe when trying to conceive? It is anticipated that there is additional benefits to consuming the fish itself and not simply the components (omega-3s and DHA). Docohexaenoic acid (DHA) is a supplement to many prenatal vitamins. Women who chose not to consume fish may supplement additionally; particularly, if they have concern for concentrations of methylmercury and other environmental contaminants that be absorbed into the fish flesh itself.
Methylmercury cannot be removed from the fish, cooked out and is readily absorbed in the human gut. Fetal exposure to methylmercury can cause neurologic damage. In high and sustained concentrations, exposure can lead to blindness, deafness and cerebral palsy.
There are clear studies that demonstrate diets enriched with polyunsaturated fats (above), reduced preterm birth in low-risk pregnancies, improved gestational delivery age. But, these advantages must be balanced against risks.
For women seeking or already pregnant or breastfeeding, the advised consumption is one to three weekly servings in n3 PUFA low in mercury. A systematic review demonstrated the benefits to be global: reduced preterm birth, increased gestational size (but not large for gestational age). Overall, there is more benefit than risk.
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