Sushi, particularly raw sushi, is one of those foods that’s universally recommended to avoid while pregnant. After spending nine (or possibly more) months hyperaware of what food to avoid, it can be a breath of fresh air getting back to your normal eating habits.
But once the baby arrives, if you are breastfeeding or pumping milk for your baby does this mean sushi is still unsafe?
Sushi is usually safe when breastfeeding. Getting back to enjoying sushi during your journey and providing milk for your baby is not only safe, but also a delicious way to meet your DHA needs! If you’re a sushi aficionado, choosing rolls made with lower-mercury fish can help you stay within the mercury guidelines and enjoy fish more often.
Sushi restaurants are notorious for their lengthy menus full of every types of sushi and sashimi roll you could imagine.
So how do you know which types are lower in mercury content and what your best options are? I’ll walk you through the considerations when ordering raw sushi, cooked, sushi, which kinds of fish to look out for, and everything in between. Consider this your official guide to eating sushi while breastfeeding.
If you’re still pregnant and wondering which sushi rolls to order, check out our Guide to Sushi During Pregnancy!
Is Sushi Safe When Breastfeeding? Which Types?
When most of us think of sushi we jump right to fish- but sushi is so much more than fish. From rice and nori (seaweed) to the veggies and sauce on top, there’s no limit to what’s in your next sushi roll.
Throughout your breastfeeding or pumping journey, there is very little that’s unsafe when it comes to food, including sushi.
All of the popular sushi ingredients including fish, rice, nori (seaweed), veggies, cream cheese, tempura, roe, and all of the sauces your heart desires are safe when breastfeeding.
Some women have concerns about nori, which is the seaweed wrapping in sushi. Mother’s consumption of seaweed while nursing has been connected to excess iodine in the breastmilk. However, this was only seen in women taking seaweed supplements or eating excessive amounts of seaweed multiple times daily (source: LactMed).
Enjoying sushi, even frequently, is not likely to cause your milk to be too high in iodine.
Mercury is another concern, especially when it comes to selecting which type of fish you’d like in your sushi. Many of the most common types of fish used in sushi have low to moderate levels of mercury and are perfectly safe to enjoy.
I’ll break down which types of fish are high versus low in mercury in greater detail below.
Can I Eat Raw Sushi When Breastfeeding?
During pregnancy, women are typically advised to stay away from sushi due to the risk of foodborne illnesses that can come from eating undercooked or raw fish and meats.
While anyone has the potential to get sick from undercooked fish and meat, pregnant women have a lowered immune system and are therefore at higher risk.
During postpartum, a woman’s immune system builds back up even if she’s breastfeeding. This means that postpartum and nursing mothers are better able to fight off potential illnesses and are no longer at high risk for foodborne illness.
Luckily for sushi-loving mamas, breastfeeding and pumping mothers can safely start enjoying raw sushi once again!
Anyone, regardless of pregnancy or breastfeeding, can get foodborne illnesses if they eat contaminated raw fish and meats. Purchasing raw sushi from a clean and reputable business is always a bright idea.
Mercury is another concern for many women, as this metal is known to cross from mom to baby in her breastmilk. Nearly all fish contains some levels of mercury, but this doesn’t mean that it is off-limits while you are providing breast milk for your baby.
Knowing which types of fish are higher in mercury is helpful when deciding which rolls to get depending on how often you eat fish.
Tuna Sushi- Tuna is the star of many favorite sushi rolls, including the spicy roll. Typically, sushi and sashimi are made with one of the following: bigeye, bluefin, yellowfin, or albacore tuna.
Both yellowfin and albacore tuna contain moderate amounts of mercury and are safe to eat about once per week. Bigeye and bluefin, on the other hand, have higher levels of mercury and are best limited (source: FDA). Choosing albacore or yellowfin tuna rolls, when possible, is a good way to limit mercury.
For a more detailed look at the mercury levels of tuna check out our guide to tuna while breastfeeding.
Salmon sushi- Salmon is one of the many fish that is typically low in mercury. It is safe to enjoy 2-3 times per week. Not only is it a lower mercury option, but salmon is high in DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid necessary for your baby’s brain development (source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia).
Other fish types- Crab, shrimp, and scallops are also common sources of protein in sushi. All of these are considered to be low-mercury options and are safe to eat 2-3 times weekly (source: FDA).
Do keep in mind that if you are eating locally caught fish, check your area’s fish advisories as your local waters may have more mercury and specific guidelines for what is safe- I know mine does!
What About Eating Cooked Sushi When Breastfeeding?
Many sushi restaurants offer a list of cooked sushi. This can include fried rolls, tempura, rolls made with canned tuna, all types of veggie rolls, and those topped with cooked eggs, roe or grilled eel.
During pregnancy, cooked sushi is the way to go since it reduces the risk of foodborne illness and some postpartum and breastfeeding moms prefer to stick with cooked rolls.
All cooked rolls and typical ingredients are safe to enjoy while breastfeeding.
What about Mercury in Sushi When Breastfeeding?
As I mentioned above, there are still some guidelines on how much mercury is safe while breastfeeding and/or pumping. Out of everything that changes after your baby is born, the mercury guidelines remain the same as during pregnancy.
The FDA has published a wonderful guide that breaks down the different types of fish and shellfish and how often they can safely be enjoyed when pregnant or nursing.
Low mercury fish that are safe to eat 2-3 servings of weekly include:
- skipjack and canned light tuna
- whitefish (typically used to make imitation crab).
Fish with moderate amounts of mercury that should be eaten only once weekly include:
- yellowfin and albacore tunas
- mahi mahi (also called dophin)
Some fish are high in mercury, such as:
- bigeye tuna
These are higher in mercury and should be eaten sparingly or avoided altogether when you’re breastfeeding.
Note that is guide is based on a standard serving size, or roughly 4 ounces. Sushi is often not served in large portions and the amount of fish in the roll may be less than 4 ounces. When dining out, you can always ask your server to find out the amount of fish used in the roll.
Because of its DHA content, an important omega-3 fatty acid that promotes baby’s brain development, it is recommended to eat 2-3 servings of fish weekly. All-in-all, the health benefits of eating fish outweigh the health risks for your baby.
Are There Any Benefits of Eating Sushi When Nursing?
While some foods are best known for being delicious, many mothers want to know if the foods they choose are nourishing both them and their breastfed baby.
Between fish, rice, seaweed, and veggies (not to mention any other less traditional toppings), sushi hits all of the major food groups! Seaweed is known to be a nutritional powerhouse and a good source of fiber, iodine, and vitamin B12 (source: LactMed).
Fish of all kinds is a great way to incorporate brain-building DHA into your healthy diet, and is even recommended to eat weekly when lactating (source: APA)!
Keeping up milk supply is a concern for many pumping and/or breastfeeding parents. While no food magically increases your supply, it is important to be eating enough and a variety of food groups. Making milk is tough work and uses a lot of energy.
Sushi, especially rolls with rice, are certainly filling. Including a fat source like avocado or cream cheese can also up the nutrition to keep you full and producing milk.
With fewer things to look out for compared to during pregnancy, it is certainly safe (not to mention easier) to enjoy your favorite sushi rolls throughout your time breastfeeding.