It seems like there is a lot of pill popping during pregnancy.  We faithfully swallow our prenatal pills in hopes that any nutritional diet deficiencies will be offset.

Fish oil is usually part of this pill-popping regimen. Most doctors recommend pregnant women and women trying to conceive take a daily prenatal that contains a specific type of fish oil, DHA. Fish fats help the growth of baby’s brain cell neurons. Studies show that the children born of women who ate at least 2 servings of fish per week during pregnancy perform better on cognitive tests and have better fine motor and social communications skills. While the focus tends to fall on developing baby, let’s not forget mom! Fish oil fats also support mommy’s good mood and mental health.

It’s important to note that these findings only occurred in women how ate fish, not those who took fish oil supplements. In fact, the research supporting fish oil pills is sparse. In addition, most pre-natal vitamins only provide the DHA component (important for baby), but leave out the EPA type of fish oil (important for mom).

In all cases of supplementation, you can’t supplement your way to better health; foods must come first.  This is particularly important in pregnancy.

For many women, fish oil supplements are more appealing for a few reasons: 1) she doesn’t like fish, 2) family members don’t like fish, 3) she is fearful of potential contaminants in fish, 4) she isn’t comfortable cooking fish.

Let’s address #3 first: current advice for women who might become pregnant along with pregnant and breastfeeding women is to eat at least eight ounces and up to 12 ounces weekly, which is two to three servings! While there are definitely fish to avoid during pregnancy (tilefish, mackerel, grouper, swordfish, shark and tuna), there are still many more fish in the sea to enjoy! Some of my personal favorites include: salmon, mahi mahi, cod, shrimp, tilapia, trout, barramundi, sea bass, halibut, and cobia.  The concern with the six fish mentioned above is the higher level of mercury.  Fish like shark and grouper are BIG fish, and therefore consume a larger amount of smaller fish, increasing the amount of mercury in their bodies.

If you think you are a “fish hater”, I encourage you to try a few different varieties and cooking methods.  While fattier fish, like salmon are higher in healthy fats, lower fat fish (with milder flavor) also offer benefits. Cooking techniques that might tempt your tastebuds (and make fish more palatable) include: breading and baking; baking in taco seasonings for fish tacos; baking in foil or parchment paper with other ingredients like tomatoes, olives, and basil; grilling and topping with fruit salsa; incorporating salmon into a salad with mayo, Greek yogurt, lemon and dill.  For family-friendly fish, try breading and baking, grilling with fruit salsa, or serving with a dipping sauce.

Don’t give up offering fish to your family, and certainly don’t cut your own (and babies) needs short by leaving it off the menu!

For a summer seasonal fish recipe try this Grilled Tilapia with Pineapple Salsa recipe from “Taste of Home”.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.