Eating Shrimp During Pregnancy: Safety, Benefits & Precautions

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Shrimp is a soft-textured shellfish rich in vital nutrients, such as lean protein, selenium, and several B vitamins, such as vitamin B12. It also contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which can benefit a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. But while shrimp is generally considered a healthy choice for seafood lovers, you might want to know — can pregnant women eat shrimp? Knowing this is crucial as certain types of fish and shellfish may contain high amounts of mercury.

Keep reading to know about the safety, possible health benefits, and necessary precautions pregnant women should follow to eat shrimp while pregnant.

Safety Of Shrimp In Pregnancy

Eat only well-cooked shrimp during pregnancy

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According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), shrimp is low-mercury seafood rich in protein and low in saturated fats, making it a healthy choice for pregnant women (1). Pregnant women should consume well-cooked shrimp since raw or undercooked seafood can contain harmful pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses.

The US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) advises pregnant and breastfeeding women to consume 8-12 ounces per week of a variety of low-mercury seafood (2). Consuming seafood can provide you with vital nutrients that promote your health and support the baby’s growth and development.

Besides shrimp, some other types of seafood that are low in mercury and you can safely consume when pregnant are fish, such as pollack, catfish, salmon, trout, canned light tuna, cod, and tilapia.

Nutritional Value Of Shrimp

Shrimp is a nutritious shellfish that you can prepare in several ways. Here’s the presentation of approximate amounts of different nutrients a pregnant woman aged between 19 and 30 years can get by consuming three ounces (85g) of cooked shrimp (3) (4).

NutrientAmountRDA
Water63.2g
Energy84.2kcal
Protein20.4g
Total lipid (fat)0.238g
Calcium, Ca59.5mg1000mg
Iron, Fe0.433mg27mg
Magnesium, Mg33.2mg350mg
Phosphorus, P201mg700mg
Potassium, K220mg2900mg
Sodium, Na94.4mg2300mg
Zinc, Zn1.39mg11mg
Cholesterol161mg

Source: USDA and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025

Possible Health Benefits Of Eating Shrimp During Pregnancy

Shrimp contains omega-3 fatty acids and iron

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Shrimp contains significant amounts of high-quality protein and other nutrients, such as iodine, magnesium, zinc, and calcium. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids and some iron. Pregnant women need these nutrients for the healthy progression of pregnancy and proper growth and development of the babies.

For instance, consuming sufficient omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy ensures the baby’s proper eye and brain development (5). In addition, it can prevent preterm labor and delivery and lower the risk of preeclampsia. Furthermore, it may prevent allergies in infants and reduce the risk of postpartum depression (6). Iron in shrimp can also contribute to your increased iron needs and prevent anemia.

Tips To Cook Shrimp At Home

Below are some simple steps you can follow to safely cook shrimp at home and mitigate the risk of foodborne infections.

  • Clean your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Use clean utensils and kitchen essentials, such as knives, to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Clean the shrimp under cold running water before shelling or deveining the shrimp. Then, quickly peel off the skin and devein them using a sharp knife. It’s vital so that they don’t get warm. Keep the shrimp in a bowl of ice whenever possible.
  • Dispose of shells and veins as soon as possible so that they don’t contaminate clean shrimp at any point while preparing the shrimps (7).
Dispose of shells and veins while cooking shrimp

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  • Thoroughly cook shrimp and check its internal temperature using a food thermometer while preparing seafood at home. Experts recommend cooking seafood to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C).

You may boil, steam, fry, bake, and grill shrimp. To ensure shrimp is cooked well, monitor its color. The US FDA advises cooking shrimp until they develop an opaque (milky white) color (8). Also, as the shrimp cooks through, its flesh becomes firmer and clearer (9).

Precautions To Take When Eating Shrimp During Pregnancy

Here are certain precautionary measures you should follow to ensure the safe consumption of shrimp during pregnancy.

  1. Buy seafood from a reputable supplier or store. Experts advise buying refrigerated seafood or the one displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice, preferably under some cover.
  1. Check the skin color and odor of shrimp. Fresh shrimp has a clear, pearl-like flesh and has little or no odor.
  1. Ask for an ice bag to keep the shrimp chilled while buying shrimp from the counter. If possible, keep a cooler with you to store shrimp until you reach home and refrigerate them. Doing so is crucial as bacteria thrive at temperatures above 40°F (4°C).
  1. While buying frozen shrimp, look for the one packed in close-fitting, moisture-proof packages. Pick packages that have no damage and no melted ice leaking. Double-check that the shrimp has no signs of freezer burn, such as discoloration or drying on the surface, and has no objectionable odor.
Buy frozen shrimps packed in close-fitting

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Don’t eat raw or undercooked seafood, such as shrimp, sushi, sashimi, oysters, ceviche, as it may contain harmful pathogens, such as listeria and salmonella. These microbes can cause food poisoning, adversely affecting your and your baby’s health.
  1. Ensure the safety of seafood while eating outin a restaurant or hotel. Enquire about the dish and its ingredients. Check if the shrimp used in a dish is well-cooked or raw.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is shrimp bad during pregnancy?

Shrimp is not bad for pregnant women. It is, in fact, one of the seafood with low mercury content that is considered healthy during pregnancy.

2. Can shrimp cause birth defects?

Well-cooked shrimp is considered healthy during pregnancy when taken in the recommended amount (10). Hence, it is not believed to cause any congenital disabilities.

Expectant mothers often wonder if eating shrimp during pregnancy causes any harm to their unborn baby. However, shrimp is safe to consume during pregnancy. Moreover, this seafood is high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein and low in mercury, making it an ideal source of nutrition for pregnant women. If you are consuming locally sourced seafood, make sure to check your local fish advisories. It is also important to check the label for mercury levels and consume only well-cooked shrimp to avoid any pathogenic diseases during pregnancy.

Infographic: How To Select Shrimp To Ensure Its Safety

Selecting good shrimp is essential to ensuring its safety for pregnant women. Our infographic lists simple tips that can help you make a good choice. Read through them and use them the next time you go out to buy shrimp.

tips to select healthy shrimps [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Shrimp contains high-quality lean protein and essential nutrients such as vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc for pregnant women.
  • You may clean your hands with soap and water, clean and devein the shrimp before cooking, and ensure its cooked as per recommendations.
  • Preventing preterm labor and reducing the risks of postpartum depression are a few benefits of consuming shrimp.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different...
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Jennifer House

(MSc, RD)
Jennifer House is a Registered Dietitian and owner of First Step Nutrition in Calgary, Alberta. Whether dealing with picky eaters or starting a baby on solids, Jennifer helps parents decrease food overwhelm through online programs. She is the creator of the Solid Steps to Baby-led Weaning e-course, End Picky Eating group coaching program, and author of  "The Parents' Guide to...
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