Is It Safe to Eat Shrimp While Pregnant or Breastfeeding?

Safety guidelines for eating this tasty seafood treat.

There are a lot of questions and concerns surrounding pregnancy, many of them regarding which foods are safe to eat.

Food is life, but throughout my pregnancy, a shroud of suspicion has been cast on many of my favorites. Some of them have been outright banned, and it’s enough to make a foodie like me cry.

The latest food in the scope of doubt is shrimp.

Don’t worry; I’m not about to list all the wonderful things about shrimp, à la Forrest Gump.  I could, because shrimp is awesome, but I’ll spare you. Needless to say, I would find it very sad if shrimp, like tuna, was blacklisted from my pregnancy diet.

So, for all you gumbo lovers out there, let’s get to it and answer the question: is it safe to eat shrimp while pregnant or breastfeeding?

Is shrimp safe to eat while pregnant?

The short answer is yes, as long as it’s cooked.

When it comes to seafood, the problem is mercury. Mercury is a metal which can cause a lot of problems for you and your baby if you come into contact with high amounts of it.

Fish absorb mercury from the water they swim in and the other sea creatures they eat. All fish contain at least traces of mercury, but it’s only those with high levels that need to be avoided.

Shrimp has low levels of mercury, making it a safe option for your pregnancy diet. In fact, the FDA places shrimp, along with salmon, cod, tilapia, and others, in its “best choice” category of seafood for pregnant women.

There are a whole lot of reasons why shrimp is such a good choice besides its low mercury content.

  • Shrimp is high in protein, which is important for the growth of your baby.
  • It is also high in iron, another positive for us pregnant ladies, especially those who may have anemia.
  • Like most seafood, shrimp contains omega-3 fatty acids which help the development of your baby’s brain. There is also evidence to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of postpartum depression.
  • It is also likely that eating a moderate amount of shrimp can help reduce the risk of premature delivery.

The FDA recommends pregnant women eat 2-3 servings of low-mercury fish a week, which translates to 8 to 12 ounces. According to a survey conducted by the agency, 50% of pregnant women consume fewer than 2 ounces a week. So, if you’re looking for a way to boost your seafood consumption, the versatility of shrimp makes it a good choice.

To see the FDA’s chart of “best, good, and avoid” choices for seafood, click here.

If you do decide to add shrimp to your diet, make sure that it is thoroughly cooked, as any raw seafood can be dangerous to pregnant women.

Shrimp is one of those tricky things to cook; you have to make sure you’ve cooked it long enough to kill all the bacteria and parasites, but if you cook it too long, your shrimp will end up rubbery and gross.

A good rule of thumb is that shrimp should turn pink and milky white. Straight shrimp is undercooked, C-shaped shrimp is perfectly cooked, and shrimp that curls into an O-shape is overcooked. The internal temperature should be 120F/50C.

Is it safe to eat shrimp while breastfeeding?

Once your pregnancy is over, a lot of foods can come back on the menu, but it’s important to remember that anything you eat, baby also eats. Because of that, it is a good idea to continue to avoid seafood with high levels of mercury such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, and others.

Shrimp is still a good choice and, bonus, you can also add raw fish back into your diet. That’s not my cup of tea, but if you are a sushi fanatic, rejoice and have at ‘er.

Just don’t go crazy.

The FDA recommends that breastfeeding women continue to limit the amount of seafood they eat to under 12 oz per week. This is because, even though shrimp is low in mercury, excessive consumption can lead to too much mercury passing through your breastmilk to baby.

It is important to note, too, that your baby may be allergic to some of the foods you are eating.

Keep an eye out for these signs that your baby may be allergic to something you are eating:

  • Frequent vomiting and spitting
  • Apparent pain in the belly
  • Bloody stool
  • Hard stools
  • Swelling and rashes
  • Diarrhea
  • Congestion

If your baby develops any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. If the problem persists, cut out all common and potential allergens: seafood, nuts, eggs, peanuts, soy,  heat, or keep a list of what you’ve eaten and discuss the list with your doctor. This can help your doctor pinpoint the culprit.


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