Pregnancy can do some strange things to your body — pregnancy brain (brain fog), bleeding gums, excess sweating, hair growth in new places. And then, of course, there’s the food cravings.
If you’re having food cravings, most items are safe to eat while pregnant — so go ahead, enjoy another pickle slice!
Keep in mind, though, every craving isn’t a safe craving. So if you’re having a stronger-than-normal hankering for oysters, here’s what you need to know before eating seafood while pregnant.
The short answer is: Yes, it can be OK (and even healthy) to eat oysters during pregnancy. But this doesn’t mean it’s OK to eat all types and preparations of oysters.
Oysters are often served raw. And while some people can eat raw oysters without adverse effects, consuming raw oysters — or any type of raw meat or seafood — is dangerous if you’re pregnant.
Pregnancy weakens your immune system. And when your immune system isn’t as strong, you’re more susceptible to illnesses such as food poisoning. This can make you sick after eating raw or undercooked food containing bacteria.
Different types of food poisoning include infections from Listeria and Vibrio vulnificus. These foodborne illnesses during pregnancy can — in rare cases — lead to complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature delivery.
Not only should you avoid raw oysters during pregnancy, you should also avoid smoked oysters. Although technically cooked during the smoking process, they’re not always cooked at a safe temperature.
Since raw oysters carry the risk of contamination and food poisoning, only eat oysters that have been fully cooked — either by frying, broiling, baking, or boiling.
When ordering oysters from a restaurant, confirm that they’re fully cooked before eating. Fully cooked oysters will have a firm texture.
When cooking oysters at home, take steps to avoid cross-contamination. Cooked oysters (and other types of food) should never come in contact with raw seafood. Cross-contamination can lead to food poisoning, too.
It’s also important to wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw seafood. Use warm soap and water, and avoid touching your face until after you’ve cleansed your hands.
Also, only buy fresh oysters. Their shells should be fully closed, and they should smell like salt water. Don’t cook oysters with already-open shells.
To protect yourself, cook oysters immediately after buying. Refrigeration and cooking a few days later increases the risk of food poisoning.
As added protection, boil oysters for about 3 to 5 minutes before frying, broiling, or baking. Boiling help kills bacteria on the shell, and offers assurance that you’ve thoroughly cooked the seafood before consuming.
After boiling, you can fry or broil the oysters for about 3 minutes, or bake for 10 minutes.
So you have the cooked-not-smoked guideline down, and you’re wanting a big plate of fried oysters from your favorite seafood joint. Then you find yourself wondering about mercury.
Fortunately, oysters are on “best choices” list when it comes to eating seafood while pregnant, according to the
Moderation is still key — you’ll want to stick to 2 to 3 servings of seafood on this list a week — but oysters being in this lowest-mercury category should give you some peace of mind.
Consuming too much mercury can be dangerous to a baby in utero and damage their nervous system. So the FDA creates these guidelines to help pregnant people avoid mercury poisoning.
But fish (including shellfish) is also good for you and your growing baby. You should aim to eat at least 8 ounces (and up to 12 ounces) of a variety of low mercury seafood per week. (This equates to about 2 to 3 servings).
Besides oysters, other low mercury options include salmon, sardines, shrimp, scallops, and crab.
Oysters contain several nutrients such as protein, zinc, iron, potassium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. Protein and zinc encourage healthy fetal growth, and potassium helps balance fluid levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids support your baby’s brain development and can help reduce the risk of preeclampsia and preterm birth. Iron decreases your risk of developing anemia, which can be more common in pregnancy.
But what if you’re not a big fan of oysters? Or instead of craving oysters, the thought of eating them makes you sick to your stomach?
Don’t worry — there are other ways to get the same benefits.
Ask your doctor about taking fish oil supplements or flaxseed oil, or increase your intake of other low mercury seafoods. Other options rich in omega-3s include salmon, sardines, herring, and freshwater trout.
Foods containing zinc include peanuts and pumpkin seeds. Be sure to also take your prenatal vitamin daily to receive iron, zinc, vitamin D, and other vital nutrients.
Food poisoning is potentially dangerous during pregnancy. So it’s not only important to avoid bacteria-containing foods, you should also recognize symptoms of a foodborne illness.
Signs of food poisoning include:
- stomach pain
Food poisoning is temporary, usually lasting a few hours to a few days.
However, you should see a doctor if you’re pregnant and develop symptoms. This is especially important if you:
- are unable to keep liquids down
- experience bloody vomiting or stools
- have diarrhea lasting more than 3 days
- develop signs of dehydration
Oysters contain nutrients that are beneficial for you and your baby, but it’s important to eat them safely. Make sure they’re thoroughly cooked to avoid food poisoning, and limit yourself to 2 to 3 servings per week to stay mindful of the amount of mercury you’re consuming.
When eaten safely, oysters can add variety to your plate, while satisfying your cravings and meeting your nutrient needs.