Are mackerel, sardines, herring and pilchards safe when pregnant?

What are the risks of these oily fish, plus anchovies, kippers, whitebait and sprats, during pregnancy?

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In a nutshell

Mackerel, sardines, herring, pilchards and other oily fish are safe – but limit to two portions a week.

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The expert view

Oily fish is great for baby’s development, says expert pregnancy nutritionist Dr Rana Conway. But portions should be limited because it contains pollutants such as dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).

A portion is about 140g when cooked, or about 170g before it is cooked.

“Oily fish such as anchovies, herring, kipper, mackerel, pilchards, sprats, sardines and whitebait are great for your baby’s brain and eye development,” she explains. “You can’t get these fatty acids from any other foods so eating oily fish once or twice a week is recommended.”

Oily fish that is safe to eat but should be limited to two portions a week includes:

  • salmon
  • trout
  • mackerel
  • herring
  • sardines
  • pilchards

What about smoked mackerel and kippers?

Smoked fish such as kippers and smoked mackerel are also considered safe in the UK. But bear in mind the salt content is usually much higher than fresh fish.

According to the American Cancer Society, an increased risk of stomach cancer is seen in people who eat large amounts of smoked foods. However, the amount you’d have to eat would be at least twice the UK recommended amounts on a regular basis.

What do mums writing on our forum say?

“Smoked Mackerel is fine, as long as you cook it properly, and limit it to 2 portions a week (they only say to avoid smoked fish, if the “smoking” is the only cooking it gets).

“I love mackerel and eat it every week. (hubby makes me a lovely cooked brekkie of mackerel and scrambled egg every weekend!)” – nickiandneil

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“I cant go near fish, smell it or even look at it! I use to love fish … i know everyone said its good to eat in pregnancy but I’m not going to put myself through feeling ill for it!” – SammyJayden

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