You’re trying to eat healthy and get all the nutritional building blocks you and your growing little one need. You know healthy pregnancy nutrition includes plenty of vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein.
And speaking of nutrition: Typically, when we talk about good sources of protein and omega-3s, seafood comes to mind. And sure enough, incorporating fish into your diet is a good idea during pregnancy!
But it’s also important to be especially careful about eating some kinds of seafood. Mussels and other shellfish like oysters are options you need to be careful about because they can be contaminated more easily.
And during pregnancy, your immune system is less active and you may be more prone to food poisoning or an upset stomach. So here’s what to know about eating mussels during pregnancy.
If you’re in your first or early second trimester of pregnancy, you might be more sensitive to strong smells and feel nauseous often; it may be better to avoid eating mussels if that’s the case.
But mussels can be part of a healthy, balanced diet packed with nutrients you and your baby need during all three trimesters.
It’s important to purchase fresh and ready-to-cook or prepared and well-cooked mussels from a reputable supplier. And if ordering in, it’s safest to choose cooked mussels from a restaurant that’s known for fresh seafood.
Mussels and other shellfish can get contaminated by the water they live in. This can happen in both natural water environments and in artificial growing pools. Basically, if the water is polluted, the mussels may also be.
Some harvesting, preparing, or shipping methods can also contaminate mussels. Eating mussels can make you feel sick because they have bacteria or toxins in them. This can be harmful for you and your growing baby.
Raw and cooked mussels can sometimes contain bacteria. One of the most common bacteria found in mussels and other shellfish is Vibrio. It can cause a harmful infection, called vibriosis, in anyone — not only if you’re pregnant. Children, older adults, and people with health conditions may also be at higher risk.
Eating mussels with this bacteria can lead to:
- severe food poisoning
- gastroenteritis (stomach bug)
- nausea and vomiting (which can lead to dehydration)
Mussels can also have other kinds of bacteria or toxins that may lead to serious illness, though it’s rare. For example, the toxin azaspiracid can lead to a poisoning illness that affects the brain and nerves and may even lead to paralysis in very serious cases.
E.coli is another type of bacteria that may cause illness if it gets into mussels. Some kinds of bacteria from contaminated foods like mussels can cross the placenta and affect a growing baby.
To avoid contamination, don’t eat imported mussels or mussels you harvested yourself from waters with unknown health statuses. And always thoroughly cook the mussels you buy from a reputable source.
Raw mussels can contain some kinds of bacteria or germs that can make you sick if they accidentally get in your body. If you must handle and cook mussels during pregnancy (or any time!), it’s important to be careful.
Wear gloves when you handle raw mussels in your kitchen. Wash all utensils in hot, soapy water and disinfect any countertops the mussels touched.
There are several ways to ways to make sure home-cooked mussels are safe and healthy to eat:
- Ensure mussels are cooked to a safe internal temperature of 145°F (62.8°C).
- Purchase fresh mussels only. They’re considered fresh when their shells are closed. If they’re slightly open, tapping them should make them close.
- Throw away any mussels that don’t close or have cracked or broken shells.
- Mussels should smell fresh like the ocean. They shouldn’t smell fishy or have a bad odor.
- Boil mussels for at least 5 to 7 minutes in a covered pot to make sure they are fully submerged. Cook until the shells open. If the shells don’t open, don’t eat them!
- As an alternative to fresh mussels, choose canned or frozen packaged mussels. They’ll likely be safer to prepare and enjoy.
If your meal of mussels meets all the safety requirements, enjoy it! Mussels are rich in lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show can help your baby’s brain development. You can also get the same nutrients from other kinds of seafood, such as:
- Pacific mackerel
- freshwater trout
- canned, light tuna
If you’d prefer to avoid seafood during pregnancy, there are plenty of other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, though these contain less than above list:
- dairy products from grass-fed animals
- omega-3 enriched eggs (not with a runny yolk, though!)
- flax seeds
- prenatal supplements that contain omega-3
- fish oil, if advised by your doctor
You should also steer clear of some seafood during pregnancy or if you’re planning to become pregnant.
Avoid all raw or undercooked seafood dishes, such as sushi and sashimi. Some seafood — particularly large fish — may have high levels of mercury, so it’s also best to avoid:
- King mackerel
- bigeye tuna
You can still enjoy many of your favorite foods — including seafood — during pregnancy. It’s just important to make sure that mussels and other shellfish are safe to eat. Check with your doctor if you have any concerns about what you’ve eaten.