Pregnant people need to be careful about which fish they eat to avoid mercury exposure and food poisoning. However, shrimp is safe to eat and can provide beneficial nutrients as part of a healthy diet.

Doctors may recommend that people avoid eating some fish and seafood during pregnancy to protect themselves and the fetus. However, eating some types of fish and seafood, such as shrimp, during pregnancy can be beneficial.

This article looks at the health guidelines and advice around eating shrimp during pregnancy.

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Shrimp is safe to eat during pregnancy.

According to the National Institute of Health, shellfish and fish contain different levels of mercury, which can harm the fetus. Shrimp contains low levels of mercury making it safe to eat during pregnancy.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues advice about eating fish and shellfish during pregnancy. This advice helps people make informed choices about the healthiest types to eat.

Shrimp appears on the FDA chart as one of the best fish choices lower in mercury.

Nutrition plays a vital role during pregnancy and lactation, supporting the health of both the birth parent and child.

The FDA highlights some key nutrients in fish and shellfish, such as shrimp, that support the development of a child’s brain during pregnancy, breastfeeding or chestfeeding, and early childhood.

These nutrients include:

  • omega -3 fatty acids, such as ocosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • omega-6 fatty acids
  • iron
  • iodine
  • choline

Omega-3 fatty acids may improve pregnancy outcomes in some people. According to a 2018 review, compared to those who did not consume omega-3, those who consumed omega-3 fatty acids from food, such as oily fish, or supplements experienced reduced:

  • preterm birth
  • perinatal death
  • neonatal care admission

For people who do not eat fish, such as vegans or those following a plant-based diet, omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are available as algal supplements.

Fish also provides extra nutrients for the immune system and healthy growth and development. For example, a 3-ounce portion of cooked shrimp contains:

  • 20.4 grams (g) protein
  • 59.5 milligrams (mg) calcium
  • 1.39 mg zinc

Moreover, fish can also be a good source of vitamin D, vitamin B12, and selenium.

According to the FDA and EPA, pregnant people should eat 2–3 servings of seafood from the best choices list or one serving from the good choices list. As a guide, they advise that a serving equates to approximately the size of the palm of the hand.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans offers more specific advice about serving sizes for low-mercury seafood for pregnant or lactating people depending on their daily calorie intake:

  • 8 ounces per week for an 1800–2000 calorie per day intake
  • 9 ounces per week for a 2200 calorie per day intake
  • 10 ounces per week for a 2400–2800 calorie per day intake

Best choices of seafood

The following are some examples of the best types of seafood to eat:

  • anchovy
  • clam
  • cod
  • haddock
  • hake
  • herring
  • plaice
  • salmon
  • sardine
  • scallop
  • shrimp

Additionally, good choices to include less often include halibut, snapper, and tuna. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that a pregnant person eats only one serving of albacore tuna a week. This equates to no more than 6 ounces per week.

The World Health Organization notes that methylmercury in fish can be harmful to a fetus’ developing brain and nervous system if a person consumes too much shellfish.

Cleaning or cooking fish does not remove mercury, so people need to choose lower-mercury types. Other contaminants may also be present in fish, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and vary by location and fish species.

People who catch their own fish should check contaminants with advisories before eating them.

Avoid higher mercury seafood

Those who are pregnant or lactating should avoid eating the following types of seafood due to their higher mercury content:

  • king mackerel
  • marlin
  • orange roughy
  • shark
  • swordfish
  • tilefish
  • bigeye tuna

Avoid raw seafood

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise that pregnant people should only eat foods containing seafood that someone has cooked to the safe minimum internal temperatures of 145ºF (about 62.78ºC).

Raw seafood may contain parasites or bacteria, including Listeria, making pregnant people ill and potentially harming the fetus.

Therefore, those who are pregnant should avoid the following:

  • sushi
  • sashimi
  • raw oysters
  • raw clams
  • raw scallops
  • ceviche

Take care with smoked seafood

Foodsafety.gov advises that seafood that manufacturers have smoked and refrigerated may contain Listeria. Pregnant people should avoid smoked seafood unless someone has cooked it in a dish that has a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (about 73.89°C).

Retailers may sometimes label smoked fish as:

  • smoked
  • jerky
  • nova-style
  • lox
  • kippered

Shrimp is safe to eat during pregnancy as it contains low levels of mercury.

Eating 2–3 servings of fish a week can support an unborn child’s healthy growth and development during pregnancy. However, Foodsafety.gov recommends that people only choose types of seafood low in mercury and cook it to the minimum internal temperature that experts recommend, which is 145ºF (about 62.78ºC).

In addition, pregnant people should avoid raw seafood and be careful with fish that manufacturers have smoked and refrigerated. They should only consume smoked seafood if they cook it thoroughly and it reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF (about 73.89°C).