Pregnant and nursing mothers told to eat more fish

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat at least 12 ounces (340 grams) of fish and other seafood a week because the benefits for infant brain development outweigh any worries about mercury contamination, a group of US experts said yesterday.

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The recommendations contradict US government warnings that no more than 12 ounces of fish and other seafood should be consumed each week due to concerns that mercury – which can harm the nervous system of foetuses – might exist in trace amounts in this food.

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But the group of 14 obstetricians and nutritionists said the threat of mercury poisoning remains only theoretical, while the warnings have scared many pregnant women into not eating fish at all, robbing them and their babies of vital nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain and motor skill development in children and can help prevent postpartum depression in mothers.

The group cited a study published in February in the Lancet medical journal finding that children whose mothers ate more fish and other seafood while pregnant were smarter and had better developmental skills than those whose mothers ate less or none.

“There are some fish that have been shown to be higher in mercury and in other important trace elements such as shark and swordfish,” Roman said. “Those might be sources of fish women still might want to stay away from. But the vast majority of fish out there present in the U.S. diet, those are generally very healthy fishes.”

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But Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project advocacy group that believes mercury exposure has damaged children, said in a statement, “While it’s recognized that fish is an important source of protein, especially for pregnant women, this new emphasis on eating more than 12 ounces of fish per week, without mention of the need to avoid mercury-contaminated fish, appears to throw the baby out with the bath water.”

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