Is Shellfish Safe When Pregnant? Should it Be Cooked?

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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With concerns about raw fish and mercury during pregnancy, it’s no wonder that pregnant women often check if they can eat shellfish. 

Shellfish is safe to eat during pregnancy, as long as it has been thoroughly cooked and responsibly sourced, but some kinds of shellfish should be limited.

I’ll explain the different kinds of shellfish there are, and what to keep in mind so you can safely consume them during pregnancy. You’ll also learn about how to cook shellfish to make it safe, and why where it comes from matters!

Is Shellfish Safe During Pregnancy?

Shellfish are generally safe during pregnancy but there are things to keep in mind. First is that they need to be fully cooked and second, the shellfish should have been safely sourced. 

Shellfish are not actually fish! Any aquatic invertebrate animal with a shell from either the Mollusca, Crustacea, or the phylum Echinodermata families are considered shellfish. However, like fish, there are varying levels of mercury in different types of shellfish, which is something you’ll need to keep an eye on when pregnant.

Clams, mussels, oysters, periwinkles, scallops, shrimp, prawns, lobsters, crayfish, and crabs are considered shellfish. As long as these have all been cooked and responsibly sourced, they should be safe. Click on each to see our dedicated article, including safe cooking temperatures and which dishes to avoid.

assorted shellfish with lemon

Can I Eat Shellfish in Early Pregnancy / The First Trimester?

With morning sickness and nausea being an issue during the first trimester, it’s understandable that women are more cautious about what they eat. Expectant mothers can also be concerned about safety risks during this time. 

It’s safe to eat shellfish during the first trimester of pregnancy, right into the second trimester and through to late pregnancy (the third trimester). As long as you’re monitoring your intake of mercury, practicing good food hygiene, and cooking shellfish thoroughly, then it’s fine to eat at any point of your pregnancy. 

In fact, shellfish can be really nutritious. For example, clams are a great source of vitamin B3, also known as niacin (source: Science Direct). Having low levels of vitamin B3 has been linked with causing nausea, so shellfish may even help prevent this (source: Mount Sinai).

What are the Risks of Eating Shellfish When Pregnant?

The main concern when it comes to shellfish is foodborne illness. 

Shellfish can be contaminated with pathogens causing poisoning. This is because shellfish are filter-feeders, which means they eat algae and marine diatoms which can sometimes contain harmful chemicals or substances. Shellfish can also consume toxins from sewage or stormwater drainage.

The shellfish then contains a high level of poison which is then absorbed when eaten (source: West Jem). This can happen to both saltwater and freshwater shellfish. Unfortunately, cooking shellfish does not completely eradicate the risk of shellfish poisoning (source: BCCDC) and some pathogens aren’t removed by cooking.

The best thing to do is to only consume shellfish from trusted restaurants and vendors. Store-bought shellfish are usually safe. However, shellfish that have been caught from unmonitored areas can be dangerous due to the risk of contamination.

For example, if you’re catching your own shrimp, lobsters or crab – check if there are any marine alerts or advisories in your area. Never eat seafood if you’re not sure where it’s from, or how it’s been stored.

Make sure shellfish have been refrigerated and stored correctly before cooking. 

Aside from poisoning, shellfish needs to be cooked properly to prevent illness from salmonella, pathogenic E. coli and noroviruses (source: Frontiers In Microbiology).

Find Out About Your Favorite Shellfish During Pregnancy

Worried about mercury levels or just want to know the benefits and safety info of a particular shellfish?

Check out our pregnancy guides on crab, crawfish, lobster, mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari, scallops or oysters! You’ll find everything you need to know – including how to order when eating out, too.

Is Cooked Shellfish Safe for Pregnant Women?

Cooked shellfish is safe during pregnancy. However, this only applies to shellfish that have not previously been exposed to toxins. Raw and undercooked shellfish should be avoided while you’re expecting to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination and foodborne illness (source: PMC). 

During pregnancy, shellfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F / 63 C (source: USDA).

If your shellfish is from a trusted source, and fully cooked, you can enjoy it safely. Shellfish is often a good source of lean protein, so it’s also a healthy choice during pregnancy.

To inspire you, here are some healthy meal ideas with cooked shellfish:

Shrimp pasta: Shrimp pasta is delicious in a creamy garlic butter sauce with some greens, just make sure the butter has been pasteurized. 

Crab salad: Many crab salads are actually made from imitation crab meat but real crab salad combines cooked crab, celery, chives, and some veggies and tossing in a bowl with pasteurized sour cream and mayonnaise, lemon juice and mustard

Paella: Paella combines saffron rice and veggies with shrimp, meat. This often includes chorizo. Cooked chorizo should be safe but cold deli meat needs to be heated during pregnancy.

Crab and clam chowder: crab and clam chowder is thick and creamy with cooked bacon, half-and-half, celery, potatoes and broth. 

seafood paella with shellfish and vegetables

How Much Shellfish Can You Eat When Pregnant?

How much shellfish is safe to eat largely depends on the mercury content. 

A low level of mercury is 0.1ppm (parts per million) of mercury, according to the FDA.

While North American lobsters average 0.1 ppm, spiny lobsters average 0.09ppm and the North American lobster averages 0.1ppm. Shrimp and clams contain 0.09 ppm. Crab has a mean of 0.065 ppm (source: FDA). For more on the mercury of different species, check our dedicated guides to each shellfish type, by searching the site.

Non-oily fish can be eaten up to three times a week. Shellfish are a good source of omega-3 but are not considered to be oily fish (source: nidirect).

Shellfish are loaded with nutritional benefits. For example,100 grams of canned oysters contains 606% of the recommended daily amount of zinc and 319% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 (source: Nutrition Data).

The same portion of mussels contains 400% of the recommended daily amount of B12. It will also provide 340% of the recommended daily amount of manganese and 128% of the daily requirement of selenium  (source: Nutrition Data).

Keep in mind that shrimp has much lower levels of zinc, B12, manganese and selenium (source: Nutrition Data). As does, canned blue crab, lobster and clams

It’s always best to eat a variety of shellfish, rather than relying on one kind. 

I hope this article helped you understand how to safely enjoy shellfish while you’re expecting. If there’s a particular fish or shellfish you’re interested in, don’t forget to search for it on the site – we’ve covered most of them, with super in-depth pregnancy safety information.