Although women are cautioned against eating sushi and other raw seafood (such as sashimi, oysters, clams, and mussels) when pregnant, there is no need to forgo this type of seafood when breastfeeding. Sushi can be a part of a well-balanced diet. Be sure the sushi, sashimi, or other raw seafood you consume is fresh, and follow the seafood recommendations for breastfeeding mothers issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Be selective about which fish you choose and how much of it you eat.
- Eat 2–3 servings (between 8 to 12 ounces) of a variety of lower-mercury fish per week. Those that are commonly available include salmon, shrimp, Pollock, tuna (light canned), tilapia, catfish, and cod.
- Avoid the seven highest-mercury fish. Bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, and tilefish are not recommended in any quantities for breastfeeding women. (They are also not recommended for pregnant women or young children.)
- Limit white (albacore) tuna to no more than 6 ounces per week. Other canned tuna isn’t limited.
- Do your research before eating local fish. Check for fish advisories issued by the appropriate authority, usually the local wildlife or health department. If you can’t find any information, limit your intake of locally caught fish to 6 ounces a week.
- Eat fish as part of a well-balanced diet that meets your caloric needs. Information for breastfeeding mothers is available on the Choose My Plate website.
- Include low-mercury fish when you add complementary foods to your breastfed child’s diet. For children ages 2 to 6 years, this would be about 2–3 small servings (totaling 3–5 ounces) per week.
- Watch for signs of allergic reaction when introducing fish. Fish, especially shellfish, is a potential allergen, so watch for symptoms (hives, rash or flushed skin, tingling mouth, swelling of the lips or tongue, difficulty breathing, sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, food aversion, coughing, or loss of consciousness) when introducing fish to young children.
Studies have shown that high levels of mercury can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and liver of unborn children, infants, and young children, so some concern is warranted. However, seafood contains protein and omega-3 fatty acids that are important for overall health and neurological development. Stay informed but rest assured that the benefits of these vital nutrients outweigh the risks of consuming limited amounts of low-mercury fish.