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For pregnant sushi lovers, it’s tough to let go.
But expecting women may want to follow guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and avoid raw fish rolls for the next nine months.
Fish such as bigeye tuna and yellowtail can be high in mercury or contain high levels of industrial pollutants. Cross-contamination can also be dangerous for your developing baby.
After delivery, the dangers of eating sushi while breastfeeding lessen. However, health experts still caution women to be careful about where they eat out.
Here’s a look at what you need to know about eating sushi during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
If you’re breastfeeding, consuming sushi doesn’t pose a risk, assuming that the restaurant or grocery store accounts for the source and quality of fish. You want to make sure that you’re aware of the origin of the product.
While consumption of raw fish may not directly affect the baby through breast milk, be careful. If the fish isn’t cleaned properly, it could make you sick.
As with pregnant women, it’s recommended that women who are breastfeeding avoid fish that’s high in mercury. It could present itself in your milk and, in turn, affect your little one.
Types of fish that are high in mercury include:
- bigeye tuna
- king mackerel
While some types of sushi can be dangerous, cooked fish is a healthy choice during pregnancy. It can also give you a boost while you’re breastfeeding.
Fish (especially fatty fish) is a good source of vitamin D, omega-3s, and niacin. All of these are nutritionally beneficial to your diet and baby.
If you want to eat cooked fish in sushi, beware of cross-contamination at restaurants. They might use the same knives or tools to cut and prepare all the food.
Cooked fish that’s low in mercury is safe in smaller (2- to 6-ounce) servings. Types of fish that are low in mercury include:
The main issue with sushi during pregnancy is that it’s considered “raw food.” Raw food sometimes carries foodborne illness bacteria such as E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria is a type of bacteria found in soil, water, plants, or produce grown near soil and water.
Most people affected by listeria get sick because they’ve eaten contaminated foods. Listeria in a pregnant woman can travel through the placenta and affect the baby. It can cause premature delivery, stillbirth, miscarriage, or serious health problems for the newborn.
Here are some safety tips to help make safe food decisions to avoid contracting bacterial infection during your pregnancy:
- Practice proper safe handling techniques. When transitioning from raw food to ready-to-eat food, first clean surfaces thoroughly with an appropriate bacteria-cleaning solvent.
- Wash your hands. Always wash your hands after touching raw meat, raw fish, deli meats, or lunch meats.
- Note the date and time for refrigerated, perishable items. This can help ensure they’re consumed as soon as possible.
- Always wipe down your fridge and clean regularly. Don’t forget about the shelves that contained raw meat. Areas such as the door handles also contain bacteria.
- Consider using a refrigerator thermometer. Make sure that the refrigerator always stays at 40°F (4.4°C) or below. Shop for a refrigerator thermometer.
If you’re a sushi lover, it’s a hard taste to give up cold turkey. But who says you have to give it up completely?
Transitioning to vegetarian sushi options at reputable restaurants is a great way to get your fix of sushi. For the flavor you crave, top yours with a touch of wasabi and ginger.
Vegetable maki rolls (also known as sushi rolls) made with avocado, cucumber, shiitake mushroom, or pickled daikon are commonly found at restaurants.
Additional menu options include vegetable nigiri pieces and inari. Inari is sushi rice inside of a fried tofu pouch. The tofu is usually flavored using vinegar, soy sauce, and a type of rice wine known as mirin.
You can also make your own pregnancy-safe vegetable sushi at home with just a few tools and ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need.
- sushi rice
- nori, or thin sheets of seaweed
- rice wine vinegar
- flat spatula
- bamboo sushi mat
Try out the recipes below for some inspiration!
4 recipes for vegetable sushi
- Spicy shiitake mushroom roll from Olives for Dinner
- Sweet potato sushi with brown rice from Choosy Beggars
- Vegetable nori rolls with crunchy lentils and turmeric from Food, Fitness, Fresh Air
- Vegetable sushi bowl from A Couple Cooks
While several months might seem like a long time to give up sushi, it flies by. Your food cravings and desires will go away before you know it.
Once you’ve made it to postpartum, consuming sushi is approved. Just make sure to ask about safe handling techniques at restaurants or grocery stores. This way, you’ll know you’re eating safe, good-quality fish while you’re breastfeeding.
Anita Mirchandani, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., received a B.A. from NYU and an M.S. in clinical nutrition from NYU. After completing a dietetic internship at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Anita became a practicing registered dietitian. Anita also maintains current fitness certifications in indoor cycling, kickboxing, group exercise, and personal training.