Is Haddock a Good Choice During Pregnancy? Mercury, Smoked and More

Photo of author

Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

Published on

BabyFacts logo

Fish is often recommended as one of the best lean sources of protein for pregnant women. Haddock is a popular choice, but is it safe or beneficial for pregnant women?

Haddock is a good choice of fish during pregnancy. In fact, the FDA lists haddock as one of the best choices of fish for pregnant women. Haddock is also lower in mercury than many other types of fish, but it should be fully cooked to be safe.

In this article, we explain what qualities of haddock to look for, proper handling and cooking to make it safe, the mercury content, and how much and how often you can eat it.

Is Haddock a Safe Fish to Eat When Pregnant? 

Haddock is a safe fish for pregnant women, provided it is cooked properly. 

The FDA regards haddock as one of the best choices of fish for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Fish is great not just for you, but also for your little one’s brain development (source: FDA).

Pregnant women should opt for a variety of foods, and that includes a variety of fish in the diet. However, it is also recommended that you stick to fish that have low levels of mercury and that is prepared safely.

With all kinds of fish and seafood, it is important to consider different factors when buying, storing, thawing, and cooking fish like haddock, especially the cooking temperature. Here are some tips on safely prepping and cooking haddock: 

fresh haddock fish with rosemary on a cutting board

When buying haddock, make sure it has a mild fishy smell and not a strong one; clear, bright, and shiny eyes, firm gills and flesh; and has no signs of any discoloration or drying. Frozen haddock should also be firm and not have signs of crystallization or freezer burn. 

If using fresh haddock, put it on a bed of ice, or if you don’t plan to cook it immediately, store it in the fridge freezer. To thaw, transfer it from the freezer to the refrigerator overnight, place it in a sealed plastic bag and soak it in water, or put it in the microwave and defrost it.

Defrosting frozen haddock at room temperature (by leaving it sitting out) is not recommended as this may cause bacteria to grow.

Haddock Cooking Safety

Haddock is safe during pregnancy when fully cooked. According to the USDA Food Safety Information, the safe minimum internal temperature of all fish and shellfish should be 145 °F (62.8 °C) (source: USDA Food Safety Information). This is also the case for pregnant women (source: FDA). 

While you can tell if the food is cooked by eye, it is always best to use a food thermometer if you can. 

Telling if your haddock is cooked depends on the cooking method. Haddock is a popular fish for fish and chips in the UK, where it’s deep-fried It is also popular as fish cakes, fish sticks, and casseroles in New England.

To see if it’s done when you don’t have a food thermometer, first check the flesh. It should be opaque, with no translucent or jellyish bits. Next, it should separate or flake easily with a fork.

For example, if you were eating fish and chips, you could check the doneness by cutting into the thickest part of your haddock and checking to see if it is fully cooked. You can also simply twist your fork. When the haddock is cooked, it should flake easily.

If you notice an ammonia-like smell in your haddock, it’s best not to eat it  (source: FDA).

Hot haddock dishes should be kept hot and cold dishes cold. Place hot dishes under a heat source and keep cold seafood chilled before serving, or serve under ice. (source: FDA).

How Much Mercury is in Haddock? 

Food sourced from the sea or any body of water contains mercury. You can’t trim it off like you would the skin of the fish because it is embedded within the flesh. 

When pregnant, the unborn baby can get exposed to mercury through the placenta. This can negatively affect the brain and nervous system of the unborn child (source: CDC). Pregnant women are often aware that they have to avoid high mercury fish for this reason.

Haddock is a low mercury fish. Haddock has a mercury concentration mean of 0.055 PPM which is considered low by the FDA (source: FDA).

By Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) standards, the U.S. haddock (Gulf of Maine), Icelandic haddock, and U.S. haddock (Georges Bank) have a mercury rating of “moderate”. U.S. haddock (Gulf of Maine) has the best Eco-rating, while the other two rate “okay” if you also want to check sustainability (source: EDF). 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends pregnant women consume 4 ounces of low-mercury fish per serving, 2–3 times a week. (source: DGA). This includes haddock – so you can safely eat haddock a couple of times a week when you’re pregnant. It’s also a beneficial fish, as we’ll cover next. 

haddock fish cakes with dipping sauce on a plate

What Are the Benefits of Haddock for Pregnant Women?

Lean fish, specifically cold-water fish such as haddock, has very little amount of fat and is abundant in top-quality protein (source: UC San Diego Health). 

A 3-ounce (85 grams) of dry cooked haddock contains significant amounts of nutrients:

  • 76.5 kcal
  • 17 g Protein
  • 0.468 g Fat
  • 236 mg Phosphorus
  • 26.9 µg Selenium
  • 3.5 mg Niacin
  • 0.278 mg B6
  • 1.81 µg B12

(Source: USDA)

In pregnancy, these nutrients are important for both mother and baby. 

Haddock is considerably high in protein and has almost no fat per gram. Protein is an essential nutrient for the growth and development of the unborn baby, as well as tissue repair of the mother if she needs it. 

Haddock also contains the minerals phosphorus and selenium. Phosphorus helps calcium in building your baby’s bones while selenium helps fight free radicals that cause stress and possible damage to DNA (source: Eprints)

Niacin, or vitamin B3, helps metabolize carbohydrates and fat from what you eat so you can use them as energy. Niacin also plays a role in nerve health.

Vitamin B6 helps support the brain of your baby and produce red blood cells. Like vitamin B3 and B6, vitamin B12 also helps with nerve and brain health (source: Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology).

Overall, fish is a good source of various nutrients during pregnancy, which makes it a go-to protein to add to your pregnancy diet. 

Can I Eat Smoked Haddock During Pregnancy? 

The safety of smoked haddock during pregnancy depends on whether it’s hot or cold smoked, and how it’s been stored or heated. 

Traditionally, haddock is smoked cold. However, it can also be smoked hot. 

When haddock is cold smoked, the temperature used does not qualify the needed safe minimum internal temperature because cold smoking uses 86°F (30 °C) to 109.4°F (43°C) temperatures, even when the process dehydrates the fish.

This is not a high enough temperature to kill bacteria and other pathogens, so pregnant women should avoid eating cold-smoked haddock unless it’s fully cooked through.

smoked haddock fillet, tomato and chive in a cutting board

Hot smoked haddock can reach the safe minimum internal temperature when it is smoked. However, the smoking process only takes a short time. The fish still has significant moisture which can be a breeding ground for harmful microbes (source: Global Aquaculture Alliance).

Heating hot smoked haddock until piping hot is one way to make it safe during pregnancy.

Listeria bacteria, the most common pathogen in undercooked seafood, can be present in smoked fish. This bacteria can cause serious permanent harm to babies such as organ problems, paralysis, cognitive ability, and more (source: Food Safety). Eating fully cooked, hot smoked haddock greatly reduces the risk of listeria bacteria contamination.

It’s also worth mentioning that smoked haddock also contains 649 mg of sodium per serving of 3 ounces (source: USDA). Therefore, if you’re going to eat hot smoked haddock, it’s best to stick to moderate amounts during pregnancy. A High Salt Diet (HSD) can affect the baby’s urine excretion and renal functions (source: NIH). 

While some smoked haddock, like this one from Greendale in England, gets its color from turmeric, others are dyed yellow.

Dyeing smoked haddock is done to achieve the color of smoking. However, only dyes approved by a jurisdictional body should be used (source: Recommended International Code of Practice for Smoked Fish). Eating dyed smoked haddock is probably best in moderation, too.

Overall, haddock is an excellent low-mercury fish that pregnant women can enjoy safely if it’s fully cooked. Cold smoked haddock is best avoided unless cooked, and hot smoked should be eaten only when served hot. I hope this article helped you with the safety and health benefits of haddock!