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Crawfish During Pregnancy: Yay Or Nay?

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Eating any shellfish including crawfish during pregnancy is a debated subject. Experts believe that, if had in moderation, shellfish are in fact beneficial to the health of the mother and the growth of the fetus. Overindulgence can result in risky childbirth, low birth weight of the child and adverse neuropsychological and behavioral effects in the child from mercury poisoning. Cooking takes care of the bacterial contamination in shellfish but not the toxins. While it is beneficial to consume shellfish during pregnancy, stay away from it if you are unsure about the source.

Pregnancy comes with a list of do’s and don’ts that it can often get overwhelming, especially if you are expecting for the first time. The doctor’s visits, the blood tests, nausea, and sonograms can be a little too much to get used to in the first few weeks… or months. It’s a major life change in every way. And not just physically. One of the most challenging parts of pregnancy is often watching what you eat. Your favorite foods may be banned and you might struggle with managing your cravings, morning sickness and providing nutrition for your baby.

If one of the foods that have been bothering you during pregnancy is crawfish, you are not alone. Seafood is a tad controversial during pregnancy owing to the mercury content which can harm the growing fetus. According to a study, high mercury content in the blood of pregnant women is associated with poor child cognitive development at three years. The test measured the children’s picture vocabulary and wide range assessment of visual motor abilities before coming to this conclusion.1

Another study points out that human exposure to mercury and therefore methylmercury (that forms when mercury mingles with bacteria in water) happens mainly via seafood. This methylmercury is absorbed by the placenta and transferred to the growing baby when the mother eats foods contaminated with mercury. Prenatal exposure to methylmercury is linked to low mean birth weight, adverse neuropsychological and behavioral effects and risk of preterm delivery.2

No wonder then that so many women are reluctant to include seafood, especially shellfish like crayfish in their meals. In a study that observed 2398 women from Brittany, France, it was found that those who consumed shellfish had a higher risk of fetuses that were considered small-for-gestational-age (SGA). The risk of SGA birth was 1.33 and 2.14 times higher respectively for women eating shellfish one to four times per month and those eating it two times a week or more, compared with those eating fish less than once a month. This risk was doubled among women who ate large crustaceans more than once a month compared with those eating this type of seafood once a month or less.3

Can Pregnant Women Eat Crawfish?

Crawfish or crayfish is a type of crustacean fish relished the world over. If you love crawfish, you do not need to deprive yourself of it during pregnancy. It is safe to eat shellfish during pregnancy as far as they are thoroughly cooked because most harmful bacteria die during the cooking process. But the flipside is, cooking cannot remove toxins if they are present in the shellfish. So if you are having crawfish, you should be absolutely sure about the source. 4

Maternal seafood intake not only provides the fetus with important fatty acids (great for your baby’s brain) but also provides an important pathway for fetal exposure to mercury. It must be noted that a little bit of mercury exposure does no harm to mother or baby.5

Research suggests that maternal seafood consumption of more than 340 g per week during pregnancy has beneficial effects on child development. It suggests that the commonly passed advice to limit seafood consumption could actually be detrimental for the fetus. The risks from the loss of nutrients that seafood has to offer like Omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for the neural development of the fetus were greater than the risks of harm from exposure to trace contaminants found in seafood.
6

Another good reason to have crayfish every now and then is that it offers DHA to the growing baby. However, on an average, levels of DHA in fatty fish are several times higher than those in shellfish.7

Fish of any kind, when not contaminated and consumed moderately during pregnancy is actually beneficial for the fetus. Children whose mothers consumed more seafood during pregnancy had better comprehension scores than those who didn’t.
8

A Little Goes a Long Way

The USFDA suggests that pregnant women or women trying to conceive limit their seafood intake to two servings per week. They can eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in methylmercury. Fish and shellfish that contain higher levels of mercury like swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark are very likely to cause damage to a fetus’ developing the nervous system.9

While shellfish may be controversial, it is okay for you to indulge in crayfish every now and then during pregnancy.

References   [ + ]

1. Oken, Emily, Jenny S. Radesky, Robert O. Wright, David C. Bellinger, Chitra J. Amarasiriwardena, Ken P. Kleinman, Howard Hu, and Matthew W. Gillman. “Maternal fish intake during pregnancy, blood mercury levels, and child cognition at age 3 years in a US cohort.” American Journal of Epidemiology 167, no. 10 (2008): 1171-1181.
2. Drouillet-Pinard, Peggy, Guy Huel, Rémy Slama, Anne Forhan, Josiane Sahuquillo, Valérie Goua, Olivier Thiébaugeorges et al. “Prenatal mercury contamination: relationship with maternal seafood consumption during pregnancy and fetal growth in the ‘EDEN mother–child’cohort.” British journal of nutrition 104, no. 08 (2010): 1096-1100.
3. Guldner, Laurence, Christine Monfort, Florence Rouget, Ronan Garlantezec, and Sylvaine Cordier. “Maternal fish and shellfish intake and pregnancy outcomes: a prospective cohort study in Brittany, France.” Environmental Health 6, no. 1 (2007): 33.
4. Can I Eat Shellfish During Pregnancy. NHS
5. Drouillet-Pinard, Peggy, Guy Huel, Rémy Slama, Anne Forhan, Josiane Sahuquillo, Valérie Goua, Olivier Thiébaugeorges et al. “Prenatal mercury contamination: relationship with maternal seafood consumption during pregnancy and fetal growth in the ‘EDEN mother–child’cohort.” British journal of nutrition 104, no. 08 (2010): 1096-1100.
6. Hibbeln, Joseph R., John M. Davis, Colin Steer, Pauline Emmett, Imogen Rogers, Cathy Williams, and Jean Golding. “Maternal seafood consumption in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood (ALSPAC study): an observational cohort study.” The Lancet 369, no. 9561 (2007): 578-585.
7. Mahaffey, Kathryn R. “Fish and shellfish as dietary sources of methylmercury and the ω-3 fatty acids, eicosahexaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid: risks and benefits.” Environmental research 95, no. 3 (2004): 414-428.
8. Daniels, Julie L., Matthew P. Longnecker, Andrew S. Rowland, Jean Golding, and ALSPAC Study Team. “Fish intake during pregnancy and early cognitive development of offspring.” Epidemiology 15, no. 4 (2004): 394-402.
9. Food Safety for Moms-to-Be: Medical Professionals – Fast Facts (http://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/peopleatrisk/ucm091671.htm”Food Safety for Moms-to-Be: Medical Professionals – Fast Facts”)FDA