Can Pregnant Women Eat Scallops?

Eating Scallops During Pregnancy

Pregnancy can cause a lot of changes to your life, including what you put in your mouth. A woman should either be careful about eating or completely avoid certain foods that may pose a risk to her and her unborn baby's health. Seafood is one of the categories of food that women should use care when eating during pregnancy. While it provides nutritional benefits for you and your baby, such as protein and omega-3 fatty acids, it also can cause harm because of its potential for high levels of mercury. High levels of mercury can negatively impact your baby's nervous system. Eating seafood also carries the risk of infection from a foodborne illness that can harm you and your baby.

Recommended Seafood During Pregnancy

Fried scallop  with sesame seeds, balsamic sauce and asparagus

What Seafood Can You Eat When Pregnant?

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Based on their mercury levels, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) have established guidelines as to which seafood is safe to eat during pregnancy. The chart divides seafood into three categories: "Best Choices," "Good Choices" and "Choices to Avoid." According to the FDA and EPA, you can eat two to three servings of seafood a week from the "Best Choices" list. For seafood listed as one of the "Good Choices," limit yourself to one serving a week. Obviously, you shouldn't eat any of the types of seafood under "Choices to Avoid."

Scallops fall under the "Best Choices" list, which means that you can eat two to three servings of them a week. Other types of seafood on the "Best Choices" list include anchovy, clam, cod, oyster, shrimp, salmon, sardine, tilapia and light canned tuna.

The experts recommend that you limit seafood such as Chilean sea bass, halibut, rockfish, snapper and white (albacore) tuna to one serving a week.

Seafood to Avoid During Pregnancy

Since larger forms of seafood are more likely to contain a higher level of mercury than smaller types, pregnant women should not eat fish such as swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish. Other fish that the FDA and EPA recommends that you completely avoid during pregnancy include marlin, orange roughy and bigeye tuna.

A Serving of Seafood

Fried scallop  with sesame seeds, balsamic sauce and asparagus

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For an adult, a serving of seafood is 4 ounces, and for children ages 2 to 7, a serving is 2 ounces. You can estimate a serving by using the palm of your hand, since 4 ounces is roughly the size of an adult's palm. Obviously, since hand sizes vary, the most accurate way to measure ounces of food is with a food scale. Many affordable and small food scales are available on the internet and in retail stores.

Cooking Seafood

Even when you eat from the recommended seafood list, only consume fish that has been cooked properly to avoid harmful bacteria and viruses. During pregnancy, a woman's immune system is weakened, making her and her unborn baby at higher risk of getting infected with a foodborne illness. Foodborne illnesses, such as Listeria and Toxoplasma gondii, can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, serious health problems in the baby or even death. So, avoid raw seafood preparations, such as sushi and sashimi. You also should not eat refrigerated seafood such as those prepared nova style or as lox, kippered, smoked or jerky. Cook seafood until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.

If you don't own a food thermometer, you can judge if your seafood has cooked long enough by its appearance and feel. Fish has typically finished cooking when it has an opaque coloring throughout and separates into flakes when you press down on it. Seafood such as shrimp, lobster and scallops should be cooked until they're milky white and firm. Cook clams, mussels and oysters until their shells open and throw away any with shells that don't open.

Who Should Follow the Recommendations

Note that the FDA and EPA's recommendations regarding seafood aren't restricted to pregnant women. Breastfeeding women should also follow the agencies' recommendations as to which kinds of and how much seafood to eat. Mothers of young children also can use the chart to help decide what to feed their children. Experts recommend that, beginning at age 2, children should eat one to two servings of fish a week.

When to See a Doctor

If you're concerned about possibly having too much mercury in your body, ask your doctor if you should have the level tested. Common methods of determining mercury levels include testing urine or blood. If your mercury level is too high, your doctor may recommend that you eat less of a specific type of seafood.

Also make sure that you contact your doctor if you feel ill. Symptoms of a foodborne illness include diarrhea, an upset stomach, fever, muscle aches and chills. It's important to note, however, that you may have been infected with a foodborne illness even though you don't feel sick. For example, Listeria, which is 10 times more likely in a pregnant woman than in the general population, can infect a fetus even when the mother shows no signs of illness.