Pregnant women are often aware that they have to include fish and oily fish in their maternal diet.
However, the recommended quantities are not always clear, and nor is other information about whether salmon can contain mercury or other toxins.
I’ve put together this guide on everything you’ll need to know if you want to eat salmon whilst pregnant.
As a low-mercury content, nutritious fish, salmon is a good choice for pregnant women and is usually safe to eat.
However, some countries advise pregnant women to limit their intake to no more than two portions a week. It’s also important to avoid certain types of salmon when pregnant, particularly raw or cured.
This article covers many aspects of the consumption of salmon that pregnant women want to know, including examples of dishes that are safe (or unsafe), and an explanation on levels of mercury content and salmon nutrition.
If you’re specifically looking for advice on smoked salmon, then there is a separate guide here you may be interested in.
How Much Salmon Can Pregnant Women Eat Safely?
Salmon is a popular choice for pregnant women, so I’m often asked how often, or how much, can be safely eaten whilst pregnant.
What might surprise you is that the advice on how much salmon you should eat during pregnancy is not the same in every country!
In the US and Australia, there is no restriction on how many portions of oily fish like salmon that pregnant women can eat per week. In Australia, pregnant women are told to limit ANY types of fish to 2-3 times a week (source: Food Standards Australia).
However, in the UK, Pregnant women are advised that they should have no more than two portions of oily fish intake a week, and this includes salmon (source: NHS).
This is because salmon sometimes contains pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), covered later in this article. Even if you’re not in the UK, you might want to restrict your salmon intake for this reason.
To vary your maternal diet, you could eat salmon once per week at the most, and choose a different oily fish for your other option.
How Much Is One Portion of Salmon?
As a basic guideline, one portion of salmon is approximately 65-80g, or 3-4oz.
A salmon steak should be no bigger than the palm of your hand.
Canned / tinned portions of salmon should be around the 3oz mark, so check the (drained) weight and size of the can.
Bear in mind that portions sold in restaurants are often much bigger, so this is something to watch out for if you’re eating out.
Types of Salmon That are Safe to Eat in Pregnancy
Happily, there are many types of salmon dishes that pregnant women can eat safely. These include:
Canned or Tinned Salmon
Canned salmon is safe to eat during pregnancy as it’s pasteurized or sterilized during the canning process (source: Science Direct).
Bear in mind that canned salmon usually contains bones, so be careful to remove the larger ones.
You can eat the smaller bones to boost your calcium intake, but this is a personal preference.
“Ready to eat” Pouches of Salmon
Cooked/flaked salmon pouches are safe to eat during pregnancy. The fish is cooked and sterilized in a different way, similar to the canning process.
However, “ready to eat” smoked salmon may not be safe for pregnant women. I wrote a separate article on smoked salmon here.
Cooked, Fresh or Frozen Salmon Steak
Salmon steak is safe when pregnant if it’s cooked, and this applies to both fillets and steak cut across the fish, too.
As long as the fish has been thoroughly cooked, any cooking method will make salmon safe to eat. This includes grilled, broiled, BBQ, pan-fried, oven-baked or poached salmon steaks.
The internal temperature of the fish should reach 145F or 63c in order to kill any potential pathogens or bacteria (source: USDA).
Fully cooked salmon is opaque all the way through. If there are any translucent or jellyish areas (particularly towards the middle of a thick steak) then it needs more time to cook.
If you didn’t cook the steak yourself, check it right through to the middle to ensure it’s cooked all the way through, especially if it’s a thick piece.
Cooked, Cold Salmon
If stored well in a refrigerator, cooked salmon can be eaten cold (e.g. in a salad) within a couple of days of it being cooked, or when it’s purchased already cooked and cooled.
Cold, cooked salmon is safe in pregnancy if it’s been wrapped and stored properly – you can find some tips on food storage and prep here.
Salmon Skin Rolls (or Crispy Salmon Skin)
Salmon skin is safe in pregnancy if it’s been fully cooked, just as you would salmon steak.
If it’s served ‘crispy’ or fully cooked, then it’s safe to eat. If, for example, your salmon steak is pan-fried and you want to eat the skin, you can.
Crispy salmon skin also turns up in some sushi rolls and wraps – if you’re a sushi fan, then you’ll need our complete guide to safe sushi in pregnancy, too!
Salmon Dishes and Pregnancy Safety
All these common salmon dishes are safe in human pregnancy if they’re fully cooked. If you’re heating them up from cold, then make sure the internal temperature reaches 145F / 63 before eating it and you should be fine.
- Salmon fishcakes
- Salmon in a casserole
- Salmon fish pie
- Salmon en croûte (though check any sauce it contains too)
Which Types of Salmon Are Unsafe For Pregnant Women?
Pregnant women should avoid raw or undercooked salmon. The advice for this is the same across the board, in all countries.
This is because undercooked or raw salmon has the risk of containing parasites, or listeria stemming from improper storage or cross-contamination (source: Journal of Food Protection).
Raw salmon includes some sushi and sashimi dishes, and many smoked or cured varieties including lox, gravadlax, and nova. You can find our complete guide to smoked salmon during pregnancy here.
Farmed salmon, or salmon that has been deep frozen, usually contain fewer parasites than wild salmon. If the fish has been commercially frozen, the parasites won’t have survived that process (source: FDA).
However, pregnant women are generally advised to avoid raw salmon, more due to the cross-contamination/storage risk of listeria rather than a parasitic infection.
In the UK, raw salmon (including sushi) is considered OK for pregnant women to eat (source: NHS), whereas in the USA women are usually advised against raw salmon consumption (source: FDA).
In Australia and New Zealand, pregnant women are also advised to avoid raw fish, including raw salmon (source: NSW Food Authority).
How Much Mercury is in Salmon? Are There Other Toxins?
Mercury content is one of the primary factors that pregnant women have to consider when eating fish. Salmon is one of the fishes with the lowest mercury concentrations.
The FDA calculated that, on average, canned salmon contains an average of 0.014ppm (parts per million) of mercury, and fresh salmon an average of 0.022 (source: FDA).
To put this into perspective, scientists consider a fish to be ‘low in mercury’ if it contains less than 0.1ppm of mercury.
Salmon, however, is also known to contain dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCB levels aren’t consistent in salmon because it depends on its origin and, if farmed, the standards and practices used (source: Harvard).
In general, wild salmon has fewer PCBs, but also a greater risk of parasites. If a pregnant woman follows the guidelines of no more than two portions of salmon (or other oily fish) a week, then the risk of a PCB build-up is low.
Since salmon is nutritious and low in mercury content, it’s often a good choice for pregnant women to eat.
If you are concerned about PCBs or other toxins, then bear in mind that these are usually more concentrated in the fattier parts of the fish, such as the belly and under the skin.
Grilled, oven-baked or broiled fish tends to let the fat drain away, whereas fried or deep-fried dishes retain more fat. For a healthier choice, eat skinless baked, poached or broiled salmon.
Nutrients in Salmon for Pregnant Women
There are differences in nutrients depending on the type of salmon consumed, which is addressed below, but in general, salmon is a nutritionally good choice of fish in pregnancy.
The two most significant health benefits are that salmon is high in protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for pregnant women to include in their maternal diet (source: Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology)
Salmon also contains a number of B vitamins, selenium, and potassium (source: NutritionData).
Combined with other healthy options such as wholegrain rice or veggies, it’s a nutritious and balanced meal. Plus it’s super versatile and tasty!
Wild (Atlantic, Alaskan) vs Farmed Salmon in Pregnancy
Much of the salmon we eat is farmed, and fish farming practices have continued to improve worldwide over the past few years. Wild salmon is becoming more scarce (and subsequently, expensive).
If you have the choice between eating wild or farmed salmon when you’re pregnant, you may want to consider the pros and cons of each type.
This isn’t to say that you should avoid one or the other, but to make a more informed choice based on what’s available.
Each can vary depending on where the salmon was caught or how it was farmed, but in general:
Wild salmon (usually from Alaska or the Atlantic) is generally leaner and higher in minerals, but this can also mean it contains more mercury.
Studies have not established a consistent pattern on whether all wild salmon contains more mercury, so the jury is still out on this.
Wild salmon also has a greater incidence of parasitic infections, but these are killed in the cooking process (source: Journal of Aquaculture).
Farmed salmon is almost always fattier than wild salmon. It has lower incidences of parasites, but this is due to antibiotics used in the farming process, which are tightly controlled in countries such as Norway, Canada and Scotland (source: Journal of Marine Policy).
Other countries producing cheaper salmon (Chile, China or Nigeria, for example), tend to use more antibiotics.
Some farmed salmon may be higher in PCBs as discussed earlier, but again, there has not been an established trend as it depends where the farm is located.
Overall, if you have the budget and the availability, cooked wild salmon may be preferable throughout your pregnancy.
However, much of the farmed salmon we eat is produced in a highly regulated, safe way and is perfectly fine for pregnant women to eat.
As a nutritious, versatile and tasty fish, salmon should definitely be part of your healthy pregnancy diet if you enjoy it!