Can You Eat Salmon When Breastfeeding? Smoked, Raw and More

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Written by Shandra Williams

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Salmon is one of those things pregnant women take caution with, especially raw or smoked. But can you finally have it raw or smoked after your baby is born? 

Salmon, including smoked and raw salmon, is safe to eat during lactation as long as the fish is prepared properly and fresh, especially when used in sashimi or sushi. Salmon does contain amounts of mercury, but these amounts are low. The FDA considers salmon a great choice.

While it is considered safe, how much can you have and what other factors should you be careful about? Read on!

Can You Eat Salmon When Breastfeeding? 

Salmon is one of the best types of fish to eat when breastfeeding. In fact, the FDA lists salmon in the “Best Choices” list of fish because it is low in mercury (source: FDA).  

Farmed salmon has lower mercury concentrations compared to wild salmon (source: Wiley Online Library). 

Fried fillet of red fish salmon with crispy skin, roasted vegetables, zucchini, pepper

Mercury can be passed on to a nursing baby through breast milk. Even in small amounts, it can affect the baby’s nervous system development, especially the brain (source: CDC). 

Both fresh and frozen salmon have a mercury concentration mean of 0.022 ppm. Canned salmon has a mercury concentration mean of 0.014. Both are considered safe (source: FDA).

According to authorities, mercury levels in the blood should be kept at less than 5 mcg per liter (source: National Academies Press). Therefore, it is best to consume fish with low mercury content like salmon. 

The following table shows the eco-rating and mercury rating of some salmon species:

SpeciesEco-ratingMercury
Wild Alaskan salmon (all species)BestLow
Farmed or Atlantic salmon (indoor recirculating tanks)BestLow
Wild salmonOkLow
Chinook salmon (wild, US Pacific)OkLow
Chum salmon (Wild, US Pacific)OkLow
Sockeye salmon (Washington, Oregon)OkLow
Salmon (canned)BestLow

(source: EDF Food Selector).

Low-mercury fish like salmon are good to have 2–3 times a week, based on servings of 4 ounces each (source: DGA). 

Mercury can be passed onto the breastfeeding mother’s milk. However, breastfeeding benefits still outweigh exposure to mercury (source: CDC). Moreover, salmon has one of the lowest levels of mercury among fish so it is safe.

For uncompromised safety, salmon needs to be cooked at a safe internal temperature of 145° F (63° C). This temperature is also the same when reheating salmon (source: FDA).

If you cook salmon at home, you should make sure it reaches this internal temperature. 

Fresh salmon fillets grilled in a pan with tomatoes and herbs

Having a food thermometer to check the safe internal temperature is best. But if you don’t have one, the salmon should be cooked when it’s opaque and flakes easily with a fork (source: FDA). 

What about sushi or sashimi? This is covered in the last section below.

If you dine at a restaurant or order takeout, ask to have your salmon thoroughly cooked. 

If you buy fresh salmon, you can store it in the refrigerator for 1–2 days at 40 °F (4.11 °C), and in the freezer for up to 2–3 months at 0 °F (-17.78°C) (source: FDA). 

Salmon is one of the healthiest animal protein foods and can be prepared in various ways: steaming, grilling, baking, pan-frying, and any other method you can think of. It’s truly versatile.

Can I Have Smoked Salmon When Breastfeeding?

Nursing moms can eat smoked salmon. However, do remember that this may still be prone to contamination because smoked salmon is raw/cured, and not cooked.

Cold smoking is a common way of preparing salmon (source: Global Aquaculture Advocate). Listeria monocytogenes is a concern, as there is no cooking process. However, it is possible to produce cold-smoked salmon with few amounts of this bacteria through Good Hygienic Practices (GHPs) and Good Manufacturing Practices.

Other factors that could help this are securing the salmon from known and reputable sources, especially with those who have no record of contaminated fish), the use of salt and/or preservatives, and freezing the salmon before cold-smoking it. (source: FDA).  

hot smoked salmon on a plate with lettuce

Cold-smoked salmon also has a great keeping ability because it is dehydrated during the process. Sliced salmon generally has a 21–36 days shelf life while whole fillets have 32–49 days (source: Global Aquaculture Advocate).

With this said, we recommend buying instead of making your own as this process requires not just equipment but also expertise to make it safer for consumption.

Compared to cold-smoked salmon, hot-smoked salmon may be safer in terms of microbiological presence. 

This is because hot smoking involves higher temperatures achieving a safe internal temperature. In fact, hot smoking can reach a temperature of up to 179.6 °F (82° C).

Handle and store smoked salmon like you would fresh salmon (source: Global Aquaculture Advocate).

Both cold-smoked and hot-smoked salmon are cured with salt. This means you have to take it in moderation. 

Research shows that a person with certain diseases was exposed to conditions early in his or her life that led to it. According to a study, a high salt diet can increase the risk of high arterial blood pressure (source: PubMed).

Can I Have Raw Salmon (e.g. Sushi) When Nursing?

During lactation, raw or undercooked salmon, as found in sushi or sashimi, does not have the same dietary restrictions as it does during pregnancy.

Salmon sushi with soy sauce on a black plate

This means that, when properly prepared, it’s fine to eat salmon sushi while on a breastfeeding diet. Salmon should be fresh when eaten raw or undercooked (source: NIH). 

However, do remember that raw salmon is still prone to tapeworm infection, but this is a very small risk that everyone takes when eating sushi.

Smoked salmon and raw salmon are safe for lactating mothers so long as the fish used is fresh and prepared properly. I hope this article helps you out when eating salmon during breastfeeding.