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Shellfish And Pregnancy

Shellfish and Pregnancy: A Comprehensive Guide

Shellfish, a delicacy enjoyed by many, can be a source of concern for pregnant women. While some types of shellfish are safe to consume during pregnancy, others pose potential risks to the developing fetus. This article provides a comprehensive guide to shellfish consumption during pregnancy, discussing the potential benefits, risks, and recommendations to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Nutritional Benefits of Shellfish

Shellfish are a rich source of essential nutrients, including:

  • Protein: Essential for fetal growth and development
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Important for brain and eye development
  • Iron: Prevents anemia, a common concern during pregnancy
  • Zinc: Supports immune function and cell growth
  • Vitamin B12: Essential for the nervous system and red blood cell production

Potential Risks of Shellfish

While shellfish offer nutritional benefits, certain types can pose risks during pregnancy:

  • Mercury: Some shellfish, such as swordfish, shark, and king mackerel, contain high levels of mercury, which can harm the developing nervous system.
  • Seafood Toxins: Shellfish can accumulate toxins from their environment, such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). These toxins can cause severe illness or even death.
  • Listeria: Raw or undercooked shellfish can harbor Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause listeriosis, a serious infection that can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, or stillbirth.

Safe Shellfish to Consume During Pregnancy

The following types of shellfish are generally considered safe to consume during pregnancy:

  • Cooked shellfish: All shellfish should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) to kill harmful bacteria and toxins.
  • Shrimp: A good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Crab: High in protein and zinc.
  • Lobster: A rich source of protein and iodine.
  • Clams: Low in mercury and a good source of iron.
  • Mussels: A good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Oysters: High in iron and zinc.

Shellfish to Avoid During Pregnancy

Pregnant women should avoid the following types of shellfish:

  • Raw or undercooked shellfish: Can harbor harmful bacteria and toxins.
  • High-mercury shellfish: Swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, and marlin contain high levels of mercury.
  • Shellfish from contaminated waters: Shellfish can accumulate toxins from their environment, such as PSP and ASP.

Recommendations for Shellfish Consumption

To minimize risks and maximize benefits, pregnant women should follow these recommendations:

  • Cook shellfish thoroughly: Cook all shellfish to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) to kill harmful bacteria and toxins.
  • Limit high-mercury shellfish: Limit consumption of high-mercury shellfish, such as swordfish, shark, and king mackerel, to no more than 6 ounces (170 grams) per month.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked shellfish: Do not consume raw or undercooked shellfish, such as sushi or sashimi.
  • Choose shellfish from clean waters: Purchase shellfish from reputable sources that ensure proper harvesting and handling practices.
  • Moderate consumption: Limit shellfish consumption to 12 ounces (340 grams) per week.

Additional Tips

  • Check for allergies: Some people may be allergic to shellfish. If you have any concerns, consult with your healthcare provider.
  • Store shellfish properly: Store fresh shellfish in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Frozen shellfish can be stored for up to 3 months.
  • Thaw shellfish safely: Thaw frozen shellfish in the refrigerator or under cold running water. Never thaw shellfish at room temperature.


Shellfish can be a nutritious and enjoyable part of a healthy pregnancy diet. By following the recommendations outlined in this article, pregnant women can minimize risks and maximize the benefits of shellfish consumption. It is important to cook shellfish thoroughly, limit high-mercury shellfish, avoid raw or undercooked shellfish, and choose shellfish from clean waters. By adhering to these guidelines, pregnant women can enjoy the nutritional benefits of shellfish while protecting the health of their developing fetus.

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