Can You Eat Sushi when Breastfeeding?

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New mothers often have concerns about how safe it is to consume sushi while breastfeeding. This staple rice dish of Japanese cuisine is traditionally prepared with cooked rice, vegetables, and delicious seasonings. However, it also includes egg or raw seafood, which may be a cause for concern. In addition, since seafood is often exposed to mercury, it can be harmful to the mother and the baby (1).

Read this post to learn more about the risks of eating sushi, its alternatives, and some tips on consuming sushi safely while nursing.

Is It Safe To Eat Sushi When Breastfeeding?

Sushi is safe to eat when breastfeeding unless it is made from fish that have absorbed potentially high levels of mercury (2). Large fish, such as bigeye and yellowtail tuna, swordfish, tilefish and shark are high in mercury and is is dangerous for a developing baby.

Post-birth, a mother’s body provides all the nourishment needed for the baby. While fish is a healthy addition to the mother’s diet, sushi made of raw seafood might not be good for the baby if it contains high levels of mercury which may affect the baby’s health. When having fish or any other seafood, breastfeeding women should make sure that they eat high-quality variety with considerably low levels of mercury.

What Are The Risks Of Eating Sushi When Breastfeeding?

Pregnant women and breastfeeding women should be cautious before having sushi or any other seafood. Most people believe that sushi is a risk for pregnant women and breastfeeding women, as it (1) (3):

  • Contains bacteria: Sushi’s main ingredient is raw fish that may carry bacteria. Bacteria is especially risky for pregnant moms as it can affect the unborn baby. When breastfeeding, a bacterial infection could also hamper the mother’s ability to breastfeed her infant.
  • Increases exposure to mercury: Some fish contain high mercury levels, and intake of such fish can affect a baby’s brain and nervous system.
  • Contains high levels of industrial pollutants: Industrial pollutants containing high levels of germs and bacteria are often dispersed into bodies of water which can in turn contaminate the fish. It is helpful to know where the fish you are eating has been sourced from.

Babies go through phases of rapid development while being breastfed. Therefore, it is better to stay away from food containing mercury when breastfeeding. Not all types of sushi are a risk for breastfeeding women but you should avoid sushi constructed from the following fish:

  • Ahi (yellowfin tuna)
  • Aji (horse mackerel)
  • Buri (adult yellowtail)
  • Hamachi (young yellowtail)
  • Inada (very young yellowtail)
  • Kanpachi (very young yellowtail)
  • Katsuo (bonito)
  • Kajiki (swordfish)
  • Maguro (bigeye, bluefin or yellowfin tuna)
  • Makjiki (blue marlin)
  • Meji (young bigeye, bluefin* or yellowfin tuna)
  • Saba (mackerel)
  • Sawara (Spanish mackerel)
  • Shiro (albacore tuna)
  • Seigo (young sea bass)
  • Suzuki (sea bass)*
  • Toro (bigeye, bluefin or yellowfin tuna)

What Are The Alternatives To Sushi?

If you crave sushi during pregnancy or breastfeeding, the safest alternative is to have vegan sushi with fresh ingredients, including avocado, tofu, carrots, and cucumber. You may also prefer to make it fresh at home. You will need the following ingredients to make vegan sushi (4):

  • Short-grain Japanese rice
  • Rice vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Nori sheets
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Avocado
  • Firm tofu
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame seeds

Which Cooked Fish Is Safe When Breastfeeding?

Most cooked fish is safe to consume during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Fish is a good source of vitamin D and is nutritionally beneficial for the baby too. You may eat between two and six ounces of fish every week assuming they do not contain high levels of mercury. Some acceptable fish choices are:

  • Albacore or yellowfin tuna
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Haddock
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tilapia

Pregnant and breastfeeding women can have two to three servings of a variety of cooked fish. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin D, iron, zinc, iodine, and choline found in fish are important for the mother and the baby. In general, cooked fish is safer than raw fish and breastfeeding mothers should aim to eat wel-cooked fish with a low mercury content (5).

What Are The Best And Worst Fish To Eat When Breastfeeding?

Fish such as bigeye tuna and yellowtail are high in mercury and are dangerous for a developing baby. You may prefer higher quality fatty fish as it contains low-level of mercury. Some fish safe for breastfeeding women are:

  • Wild salmon
  • Sardines
  • Lake trout
  • Canned tuna

Avoid fish with high amounts of high mercury such as:

  • Swordfish
  • Mackerel
  • Fresh tuna

Most restaurants use fresh tuna in sushi, which is high in mercury. Therefore, it is better to dine in restaurants that use selective low-level mercury fish (2) (5).

Pathogens do not pass on to the baby through breastfeeding so there is little risk of a sushi meal causing poor health to the baby. However, your choice of fish should be as safe from large amounts of mercury as possible. It is safer to choose vegan sushi or make it at home when you are craving sushi.

References:

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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and 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 organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more