When Can Babies Have Shellfish? Possible Benefits And Side Effects

✔ Research-backed

A shellfish is an aquatic creature with an exterior that resembles a shell and lives in freshwater and saltwater. When can babies eat shellfish–is a question many parents have. Although adding shellfish to a baby’s diet might be beneficial for their health, it can also trigger allergies since they can be contaminated with hazardous materials such as cadmium and mercury.

These creatures are divided into mollusks and crustaceans and are rich in micronutrients, protein, and healthy fats, which can help support a baby’s development and growth.

In this post, we tell you about the nutritional value of shellfish, when to introduce it to your baby, how to safely consume it, and points to consider when feeding it to your baby.

In This Article

When Can Babies Eat Shellfish?

Offer well-cooked shellfish to babies older than six months in age

Image: Shutterstock

Some experts suggest feeding well-cooked shellfish once the baby is older than six months and has started consuming other solids, such as cereals, grains, poultry, and meat. However, some recommend delaying it up to 9 to 12 months due to its potential to cause allergies (1).

A mother and food author shares her experience of how she introduced mussels to her two children, and her daughter couldn’t stop eating them. She recounts, “Our daughter is three years and two months now, our son one year and three months. They both adore mussels. We discovered our daughter’s love for shellfish back in 2010 when testing recipes for my first cookbook. She was one year and eight months old at the time; way too early for enjoying mussels, I thought for some reason. We gave her one just for fun, and she was immediately taken. She had 35 mussels in one go that night. I know, we counted them, amazed. She would have had more if we had let her, but as we could visibly see her tiny belly filling up, we simply said stop at one point (i).”

Consult a pediatrician and know the right age to start feeding shellfish to your baby, especially if you have a family history of food allergies.

Consult a pediatrician and know the right age to start feeding shellfish to your baby, especially if you have a family history of food allergies.

Nutritional Value Of Shellfish

The nutritional value varies across the types of shellfish (crustaceans and mollusks). The commonly consumed crustaceans are crab, crayfish, lobster, shrimp, krill, and prawn, while widely consumed mollusks are clams, scallops, oysters, and mussels (2).

Below is an approximate nutritional composition of various shellfish types (cooked) with a serving size of three ounces (85g) (3).

TypeCALORIES (KCAL)Protein (g)Fat (g)
Scallops140271
Shrimp100211.5
Blue crab100201
Lobster80170.5
Clams110171.5
Oysters100104

Source: FDA

Possible Health Benefits Of Shellfish For Babies And Toddlers

Different shellfish have different health benefits. Some of the common ones are:

  1. Rich in high-quality protein: Shellfish like scallops, shrimp, and blue crab contain protein. Seafood protein is also a good source of digestible proteins, essential amino acids that are important for the development of babies (4).
Shellfish is rich in amino acids.

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Abundant micronutrients: Moderate consumption of shellfish can supply vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins B12 and D, sodium, potassium, copper, zinc, and iodine (2). These micronutrients help regulate several essential physiological functions, like physical and mental growth.
protip_icon Quick fact
Shellfish contains trace nutrients such as vitamin B6 and selenium that may contribute to a baby’s health (14) (15).
  1. Source of healthy fats: Polyunsaturated fatty acids (good fats), such as DHA and EPA, which are types of omega-3 fatty acids (2), are present in good amounts in shellfish. These nutrients help in the brain heart and brain development.
  1. Immunostimulating properties: Shellfish contain carotenoids like astaxanthin, which has immunostimulating properties (2). It also has peptides, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, D, B12, iron, copper, and zinc, which are considered beneficial for the immune system (5). Thus, regular consumption of shellfish may help boost immunity in the long run.
Shellfish can help improve the baby's immunity.

Image: Shutterstock

Regular consumption of shellfish may have cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral benefits, as well.

Possible Side Effects Of Shellfish In Infants

Shellfish allergy in babies

Image: Shutterstock

Just like any other food, shellfish has its share of potential side effects for babies.

  1. Foodborne illnesses: Raw and undercooked shellfish, mostly clams, oysters, and mussels, may contain viruses and bacteria that can lead to poisoning. Shellfish from contaminated water can contain dangerous pathogens, such as norovirus (6). Besides, contaminated shellfish may contain marine contaminants, such as harmful algal bloom (HAB) toxin and brevetoxin, which might be fatal for babies (7) (8).
  1. Chemical contamination: Lobsters, scallops, and crab can be prone to mercury contamination (9). Other shellfish can also be contaminated with lead and mercury, especially when harvested from polluted waters. High levels of mercury can adversely affect the central nervous system (10).
  1. Allergy: The allergic reaction to shellfish depends on the individual and the type of shellfish. Some of the common food allergy symptoms are wheezing, trouble breathing, coughing, diarrhea, stomach ache, red spots, hives, and itchy, watery, swollen eyes. An extreme allergic reaction can cause anaphylaxis (11).

protip_icon Quick fact
Vomiting, indigestion, swollen tongue and lips, and a weak pulse are some more symptoms of shellfish allergy (16).

See a doctor promptly if you notice any allergy symptoms or if your baby seems unwell after consuming shellfish.

The best way to avoid these adverse effects is to follow FDA guidelines and advisories on fish and shellfish selection, storage, and cooking.

Tips To Include Shellfish In Your Baby’s Diet

Shellfish broth for babies

Image: Shutterstock

Here are some suggestions that may help in the safe introduction of shellfish to babies, minimizing its potential adverse effects.

  1. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends serving an ounce (30g) of fish and shellfish, once or twice a week, to toddlers between two and three years of age (12). However, there are no clear recommendations available for babies. When introducing a new food, start with a small amount to minimize a potential allergic reaction. Therefore, consult your pediatrician on the right amount of shellfish consumption for your baby.
  1. Purchase shellfish from trusted sellers, preferably those approved by the government or the FDA. It can ensure shellfish’s freshness and that it does not contain any contaminants, such as mercury, or has it within the safe limits of human consumption.
  1. Never feed uncooked or under-cooked shellfish to a baby as it can increase the risk of food poisoning (13). The CDC states that seafood should be cooked to at least 145°F (63°C).
  1. Cook shellfish at home and do not feed shellfish bought from a restaurant. Do not feed any leftover cooked seafood to a baby. Cross-contamination from cooking utensils or cooks touching different foods occurs easily in restaurants. So ensure to maintain optimum hygiene during food handling and preparation.
  1. Introduce only one type of shellfish at a time. Follow a “three-to-five day wait” rule to check for allergic reactions.
  1. Feed small amounts, like half to one teaspoon at a time. It could help your baby to adjust to the taste, texture, and digestion of the food.
  1. Babies below the age of 12 months should be fed shellfish as puree, paste, or a mash. Toddlers over the age of 12 months can be served well-cooked small pieces of shellfish as finger food.

Baby-friendly Shellfish Recipe For Babies

Babies above six months of age can enjoy this delectable recipe.

1. Grilled Shrimp Cakes

Grilled Shrimp Cakes

Image: IStock

You will need:

  • 1.5 pounds shrimps (deveined and peeled)
  • 1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
  • 1tbsp lemon zest
  • 1tbsp lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 2tbsp cilantro (finely chopped)
  • ¼ cup almond flour
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

How to make:

  1. Heat a pan on medium-high heat.
  2. Blend shrimp, lemon juice, zest, cilantro, and garlic until you get a smooth, lump-free mixture.
  3. Combine the above mixture with almond flour, beaten egg, salt, and pepper.
  4. Make small patties or cakes using the mixture. Put the patties on the grill and cook them on both sides for four to five minutes until they turn golden brown.
  5. Serve warm with homemade yogurt or guacamole to make a delicious meal for the baby.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What’s the difference between fish and shellfish?

In the simplest terms, these aquatic animals are differentiated by the presence of gills, backbones, and fins in fish, whereas shellfish are marine invertebrates with exoskeleton features.

2. Is shellfish a choking hazard for my baby?

Yes, shellfish is a potential choking hazard for babies due to its chewy, rubbery texture and round shape. Make sure to chop them into small pieces before serving them to your children.

3. Can babies outgrow shellfish allergy?

Yes, about one-third of the babies eventually outgrow their shellfish allergy. An oral food challenge test by an expert can determine if the patient has outgrown their allergy (14).

4. Does Benadryl help with a shellfish allergy?

Benadryl is an antihistamine and a sedative used in mild cases of food allergy. However, in case of severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis, Epinephrine is the first line of treatment before calling 911 (14).

When can babies eat shellfish–you may introduce it along with other solid foods by six months, but it may be safer to start them by 12 months as the harmful effects of allergies, if triggered, may be lesser by that age. Start with small portions of well-cooked shellfish and gradually include them as a part of a balanced diet for your baby. Shellfishes are good sources of proteins, micronutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids that may protect against inflammation and viral infections. Exercise caution while selecting, storing, and cooking shellfish to avoid contaminants and the risk of food poisoning.

Infographic: Tips To Include Shellfish In Your Baby’s Diet

As your baby grows and starts to eat solid foods, it can be a great idea to introduce shellfish into their diet. However, it’s important to avoid raw shellfish, as it can carry bacteria or other contaminants. The infographic below presents tips on feeding shellfish to your little one. Read on!

how to feed shellfish to your baby (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Babies can have shellfish once they start with solid foods, within six to 12 months of age.
  • Shellfish are a good source of protein, boost immunity, and contain essential micronutrients.
  • You can include shellfish in your baby’s diet about once or twice a week.
  • Overconsumption of shellfish by babies might put them at risk of allergies and food borne illnesses.

Explore the numerous benefits of shellfish and how they can improve your health and nutrition. Learn why shellfish can be a great addition to your diet.

Personal Experience: Source

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.

1. Dawn Earnesty,Are there foods my baby should not eat?; Michigan State University
2. VazhiyilVenugopal and KumarapanickerGopakumar; Shellfish: Nutritive Value, Health Benefits, and Consumer Safety; Wiley Online Library
3. Seafood Nutrition Facts; U.S. Food And Drug Administration.
4. RyotaHosomi et al.,Seafood Consumption and Components for Health; CCSE
5. Faye M. Dong,The Nutritional Value of Shellfish; University of Washington
6. Food Poisoning from Marine Toxins; CDC
7. Symptoms of Illnesses Caused by Saltwater Harmful Algal Blooms; CDC
8. Case Definition: Brevetoxin; CDC
9. All About Shellfish; Winchester Hospital
10. EPA-FDA Advice about Eating Fish and Shellfish; EPA
11. Shellfish Allergy; John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital
12. Healthy Fish Choices for Kids; Healthy Children; AAP
13. Foods to avoid giving babies and young children; NHS
14. Shellfish
15. Aaron S. Bernstein, et al.; Fish, Shellfish, and Children’s Health: An Assessment of Benefits, Risks, and Sustainability; National Library of Medicine
16. Shellfish; American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

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Seeemaa Budhraja

Seeemaa BudhrajaDDHE & DNHE

Seeemaa Budhraja is a Delhi-based dietitian and nutritionist. She specializes in weight and lifestyle management. She is a healthy recipe designer, works as a health motivator and wellness coach as well. She has worked as a slimming head with one of the top organizations in India.
Read full bio of Seeemaa Budhraja