Many new moms wonder whether you can eat sushi while breastfeeding. The concern around sushi and nursing arises from the common warnings against eating raw fish while pregnant. Thus, it is not unreasonable to question whether the raw fish in sushi can pass toxins through breastmilk, making babies sick.
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Fortunately for seafood lovers, eating sushi while breastfeeding is safe for both mom and baby so long as you follow a few guidelines. Below, we cover everything you need to know about eating sushi while breastfeeding.
Is eating sushi while breastfeeding dangerous?
Eating sushi while breastfeeding is not dangerous if you choose the right ingredients. In fact, eating vegetarian and vegan sushi has many nutritional benefits. Below are four common types of seafood-free sushi, along with their health benefits.
- Kampyo maki: Kampyo maki is a sushi roll that uses stewed calabash gourd in lieu of fish. The calabash gourd is a healthy alternative for moms while breastfeeding because of the high levels of calcium, iron, and folate.
- Avocado nigiri: Avocado nigiri consists of a small portion of rice with thinly sliced avocado placed on top. The avocado provides folate and fiber to help give breastfeeding mothers the energy they need to stay healthy.
- Nasu nigiri: Nasu nigiri is a dish involving a thin slice of grilled or pickled eggplant with a small portion of rice. Eggplant contains fiber, B vitamins, and beta-carotene to help prevent vitamin A deficiency.
- Vegetable roll: Vegetable rolls are a vibrant alternative to seafood-based sushi and contain carrots, cabbage, lettuce, asparagus, and any combination of veggies you like. The health benefits for breastfeeding moms and babies depend on the added ingredients. For example, carrots offer beta-carotene, which is beneficial for vitamin A absorption, and lettuce offers additional vitamin A.
You can enjoy most sushi if you’re a diehard sushi fan who can’t live without seafood, however, it’s essential to stick to certain types of fish. Fish are known to contain mercury, which can be dangerous. Additionally, food poisoning is a common concern for anyone that eats raw fish. Raw fish can be packed with bacteria and parasites that can make you sick. Fortunately, these are not passed to your baby through breast milk. If you get sick from eating raw fish, your baby will not.
Does mercury pass through breast milk?
Yes, small amounts of mercury will pass through breast milk. Mercury exposure can be dangerous for breastfeeding babies. Infants and children exposed to mercury can have developmental problems because mercury exposure impacts the development of the brain and nervous system. Furthermore, high levels of mercury cause damage to the kidneys and liver.
Fish are still an essential part of a healthy diet for their nutrients and healthy fats. They are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, among other vitamins and nutrients. Carefully incorporating seafood into your diet is better than eliminating it.
High mercury types of fish to avoid
Avoid high mercury types of fish. High-mercury fish include the following fish.
- Bigeye tuna
- King mackerel
- Orange roughy
High-mercury fish should never be eaten if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, and you shouldn’t give them to young children.
Low mercury types of fish to eat with caution
You should limit the amount of seafood you eat if you consume low-mercury fish throughout the week. Low-mercury fish should not be eaten more than 2-3 times per week. The FDA recommends breastfeeding mothers should limit themselves to 8-12 ounces of low-mercury fish per week to avoid high levels of the element.
Low-mercury fish include the following.
- Some canned tuna
White albacore tuna has a higher mercury level than other types of canned tuna. You should only eat 4 ounces of white albacore tuna per week maximum. Canned white albacore should be your only serving of fish for the week, to be on the safe side. Due to the elevated mercury levels in some types of tuna and inconsistent labeling, many mothers simply choose to eliminate tuna from their diet altogether. This abstention reduces the risk of accidentally consuming the wrong type of sushi and potentially harming your baby while breastfeeding.
It’s critical to ensure you’re eating fish from a reputable source if you choose to eat fish while breastfeeding. Locally sourced fish may not always comply with government standards although the FDA tests and labels commercial fish sold in stores. Try to check for an area advisory to ensure that local fish are safe to eat.
Can I eat raw salmon when breastfeeding?
Yes, you can eat raw salmon when breastfeeding. Both wild and farm-raised salmon have lower mercury levels than other types of fish due to the fact that they are smaller, shorter-lived fish (as opposed to larger predatory fish like tuna and swordfish).
Besides being a low-mercury fish for sushi, salmon provides real health benefits to breastfeeding mothers. For example, salmon is rich in DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that benefits brain and heart development for both mom and baby. Additionally, salmon has folate, B12, and other B vitamins which support a healthy milk supply. For these reasons, the benefits of eating salmon sushi while breastfeeding outweigh the risks.
What if I ate tuna while breastfeeding?
There’s a good chance that your baby will be okay if you ate tuna while breastfeeding. Remember, only trace amounts of mercury will pass through breastmilk, so a single instance of eating tuna on accident poses little real harm to your breastfed baby. Just make sure not to make a habit of eating tuna, as it does have higher mercury levels than other fish.
If you’re concerned about whether the tuna you ate had a high mercury level, research where the tuna came from and the type of tuna you ate. Some types of tuna (such as bigeye tuna) have high mercury levels, while others have lower mercury levels.
Can I eat crab while breastfeeding?
Yes, crab you can eat crab while breastfeeding. Crab is typically low in mercury and full of wonderful vitamins and nutrients for you and your baby. That said, you should limit crab consumption to 3 times a week or fewer while breastfeeding, and be mindful of shellfish allergy symptoms in your baby.
Are wasabi, nori, and soy sauce safe for nursing?
Yes, wasabi, nori, and soy sauce are safe for nursing. Firstly, wasabi is safe to eat while breastfeeding and no studies have linked spicy foods like wasabi to problems with the development of a baby. However, keep in mind that too many spicy foods can change the taste of your breast milk. If your baby starts refusing to nurse, they probably don’t have the same love for wasabi that you do. Secondly, nori is safe to eat while breastfeeding. Seaweed has a lot of iodine, which is essential for your baby. Low levels of iodine can cause a developmental delay and low IQ. Finally, soy sauce is safe to eat while breastfeeding but you should only avoid soy sauce if your baby is sensitive to soy. You’ll notice a few of these symptoms when you eat soy sauce if your baby has a soy intolerance.
- Difficulty breathing, such as wheezing
- Upset stomach
Contact your pediatrician to determine if your little one has a soy allergy if you notice any of these symptoms after eating soy sauce while breastfeeding.
How often can I eat sushi while breastfeeding?
How often you can eat sushi while nursing depends on the type of sushi you’re eating. Vegan sushi can be eaten anytime and in any amount. Sushi with low mercury seafood (such as salmon or crab) should only be eaten 2-3 times per week maximum. You should make it a habit to avoid all sushi with high-mercury fish (such as tuna).
Can babies have smoked salmon?
Yes, babies can have smoked salmon. Salmon is low in mercury but high in vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and other important nutrients. You can start giving your little one smoked salmon when you start them on solid food, which is typically around six months old. You should only give smoked salmon to babies in moderation due to high amounts of salt. After all, giving your little one too much sodium is unhealthy.
Why can’t you have sushi while pregnant?
You can’t have sushi while pregnant if it has seafood for two main reasons. Firstly, seafood poses a high risk of foodborne illness and bacteria. Pregnant women have weakened immune systems, which makes it more difficult to fight off foodborne illnesses and bacteria that may be present in raw seafood. Infections may lead to preterm labor, stillbirth, miscarriage, and uterine infections. Secondly, seafood has mercury in it, which poses a greater danger in utero compared to the levels found in breast milk. Exposure to mercury in the womb risks birth defects and harm to your baby’s nervous system development. It’s recommended to avoid all high-mercury fish while pregnant to make sure that you don’t expose your little one to mercury. Low-mercury fish (such as salmon), can be eaten in moderation with your doctor’s approval.
Vegan sushi is a great way to get your sushi fix without putting your baby in danger. Sushi rolls with fruits and vegetables, wasabi, and nori are all safe and beneficial to both mother and baby.
Can you eat cooked sushi while pregnant?
Yes, you can eat cooked sushi while pregnant. Cooked sushi you eat while pregnant should be vegetarian, vegan, or contain low-mercury seafood. Although cooking seafood does reduce the risk of foodborne illness from raw fish, it does not eliminate the mercury present. In other words, cooking tuna (a high-mercury fish) sushi will not make mercury levels safe to eat during pregnancy.
How can I tell whether mercury has harmed my baby?
You will need to visit a pediatrician to tell whether mercury consumption during breastfeeding has harmed your baby. While liver and kidney damage is straightforward to diagnose, neurological issues are more difficult to identify. Thus, it is critical to bring the possibility up with your pediatrician for discussion.
You need to keep an eye on your baby for developmental issues, especially if you don’t know how much mercury your baby was exposed to. Be on the lookout for the following symptoms of infant mercury poisoning.
- Physical tremors
Contact your doctor or hospital immediately if you notice the above symptoms.
Sushi while breastfeeding final thoughts
Sushi is a great source of protein and other vitamins, however, the risks often outweigh the benefits when you’re pregnant. Thankfully, you can enjoy sushi again once you start breastfeeding. Simply make sure you don’t eat more than 2-3 servings of 4 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week. Avoid high-mercury fish, and your baby will be fine.
Check out the rest of our blogs for more breastfeeding info!