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 baby is born, and when you’re nursing?

Salmon, including smoked and raw salmon, are 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 mercury but in low amounts. Salmon is considered a great choice by the FDA.

While salmon is considered safe and allowed, 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 fishes 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 the baby through breast milk. Even if the amount is smaller, it could still affect the baby’s nervous system, especially his or her 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 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).

It is recommended that low-mercury fishes like salmon are good to consume 2–3 times a week for a serving of 4 ounces each (source: DGA). 

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 reach 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 want to be super careful.

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 sources of animal protein and could be prepared by steaming, grilling, baking, pan-frying, and others you can think of across the board, really. 

Can I Have Smoked Salmon When Breastfeeding?

Nursing moms can eat smoked salmon. However, do remember that smoked salmon may still be prone to contamination because it is raw or undercooked.

Cold-smoking is mainly done on salmon (source: Global Aquaculture Advocate). For cold-smoked salmon, there is a greater risk of contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. 

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 these 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 it’s a good idea to watch your sodium intake, and eat it in moderation.

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

Raw or undercooked salmon during lactation, for example in sushi or sashimi, does not have the same restrictions as is the case during pregnancy. 

Salmon sushi with soy sauce on a black plate

This means that breastfeeding people can safely eat raw salmon and sashimi/sushi when prepared properly. Salmon should be fresh when eaten raw or undercooked (source: NIH). 

However, do remember that raw salmon is still prone to tapeworm infection. 

One study found that some people in Japan and Europe had a Diphyllobothriasis spp (tapeworm) infection linked to eating raw Pacific salmon sushi (source: NIH). 

When eating at a restaurant, ask if the salmon in your sushi is fresh, or choose a reputable restaurant.

Smoked salmon and raw salmon are safe for lactating mothers so long as the fish used is fresh and prepared properly.