Eating fish when you're pregnant will make your baby smarter! Or maybe dumber! It depends on the fish. In a recent study of babies born to fish-eating women, scientists found that "For each additional weekly serving of fish, the babies' intelligence scores increased by 4 points, or an average of almost 7%. But for every increase of 1 part per million of mercury, the babies' intelligence scores dropped by 7.5 points, or 12.5%."
So women should eat good fish but avoid bad fish. Sounds easy enough, sort of. But which fish are good and which ones are bad? It's impossible to get a straight answer. Even the scientists seem confused. This article says that the worst kinds of fish are shark and swordfish, as well as white and albacore tuna. But then it says "Generally, the darker the fish meat, the higher the mercury content." Fine...except that every fish on the bad list actually has white meat.
Are we just supposed to guess which fish will make our babies geniuses, and which ones will give them brain damage? Is it size related? Fat-content related? Does geography play a role? Do some individual fish have more mercury than others? Can we get a little clarity on this issue? Or at least some innovation...pocket mercury detectors, clearly labeled low-mercury fish oil supplements...something?? And don't even get me started on those PCBs.
This points out a painful contradiction of pregnancy. Pregnant women are exhorted, in often moralistic terms, to "make every bite count," to give the baby the "best odds" (I am of course referring to the ubiquitous What to Expect...). Then you encounter the fish dillemma, or the tap water dilemma, or the can-I-afford-organic-for-nine-months conundrum. One of my favorite books about pregnancy is Having Faith by ecologist Sandra Steingraber. She argues, eloquently, that it's unfair to place the burden of all this healthfulness on the expectant mother instead of squarely where it belongs, on polluting industries and on society as a whole. Why should women have to break out in a sweat at the fish counter? Instead, we should take seriously the threat of mercury and other toxins and regulate industry accordingly.
As for myself (35 wks pregnant), I deal with it like this: I take an Omega-3 flax seed oil supplement, I write letters to my congressman about my concerns over the Bush admin's lax proposals on mercury pollution cap and trade rules, and I try to keep up with Environmental Working Group (http://www.ewg.org/reports/BrainFood/pr.html) and US PIRG on the subject. Oh and I indulge in the occasional tuna salad sandwich (after annoying the counter person by asking her to make sure it's NOT albacore). I confess that the conflicting "safe/not safe" fish lists have scared me away.
comment by Amy at June 23, 2005 5:03 PM