In the past, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have recommended maximum amounts of fish that pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who might become pregnant, and young children should consume. Now, these agencies are recommending a minimum amount of fish these populations should eat in order to gain important developmental and health benefits.

What’s more, in the draft updated advice the FDA and the EPA have issued, they recommend pregnant women eat at least eight ounces and up to 12 ounces (two to three servings) per week of a variety of fish that is lower in mercury to support fetal growth and development. The draft updated advice is consistent with recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., the FDA’s acting chief scientist, said in a press statement, that for years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children. “But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health,” said Ostroff.

Alissa Rumsey, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in New York, told Healthline,”Fish provides an important source of many nutrients needed by pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children, including protein and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s fantastic that the FDA is recommending increased intake of fish for these populations. With higher consumption it is important to choose lower mercury fish to avoid toxicity, especially in these high risk populations.”

Angela Bianco, M.D., associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, told Healthline,“I agree with the findings and I am very pleased to see these new recommendations from the FDA. Fish is the best source of essential fatty acids, which are necessary for fetal development, among other things. No other source of food provides nearly the amount of fatty acids as fish does, so this is a very big deal.”

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An FDA analysis of seafood consumption data from more than 1,000 pregnant women in the U.S. found that 21 percent of them ate no fish in the previous month. Those women who ate fish consumed far less than the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends. In fact, half of these women ate fewer than two ounces a week, and 75 percent consumed fewer than four ounces a week.

Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Water, said in the press statement that eating fish with lower levels of mercury provides numerous health and dietary benefits. “This updated advice will help pregnant women and mothers make informed decisions about the right amount and right kinds of fish to eat during important times in their lives and their children’s lives,” Stoner added.

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The draft updated advice cautions pregnant or breastfeeding women to avoid four types of fish associated with high mercury levels: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. In addition, the draft updated advice recommends limiting consumption of white (albacore) tuna to six ounces a week.

Fish that are lower in mercury include shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish, and cod.

The FDA and the EPA advise people to follow fish advisories from local authorities if they are going to eat fish caught from local streams, rivers, and lakes. If advice isn’t available, people should limit their total intake of these fish to six ounces a week, and one to three ounces for children.

Before issuing final advice, the agencies will consider public comments and the advice of the FDA’s Risk Communication Advisory Committee. They also plan to conduct a series of focus groups.

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