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Pregnancy can be such an exciting time. It can also be a time of many questions as soon-to-be parents seek to navigate the dos and don’ts of baby-growing territory. One area that has many parents seeking to learn more is food; specifically, what can and cannot be safely consumed while pregnant?

Pregnant seafood lovers may be wondering whether it’s okay to continue eating their favorite ocean-sourced proteins, such as shrimp. If you are pregnant and wanting to add some surf to your turf, we have good news! Cooked shrimp is not only safe but it’s also a nutrient rich option.

Crystal A. Terrill, D.O., FACOG, an OBGYN at Longstreet Clinic in Georgia, recommends eating shrimp while pregnant. "Shrimp is safe to consume in pregnancy due to its low mercury content," she says. "It is also...high in protein making it a healthy food choice for pregnant women."

We reached out to nutrition and pregnancy experts to learn more about the health benefits as well as suggested guidelines for safe shrimp consumption during pregnancy. 

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Eating Shrimp During Pregnancy

It is perfectly safe to say yes to those garlic butter shrimp while pregnant. Sauteed, baked, grilled, or chilled? It's up to you. Cooked shrimp is a nutritious protein to consume during pregnancy.

It is rich in vitamin B2 and B12 which are important for overall health while pregnant.1 It also contains DHA, an omega-3 fat that is important to both the pregnant parent's health as well as the health of the baby.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about eating shrimp while pregnant.

Is It Safe for Baby?

Not only is shrimp safe for baby but it's nutrient-rich too. Shrimp is a source of iron which helps pregnant individuals produce the extra blood needed to supply oxygen for the developing baby.2 Shrimp also provides calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium, and choline which are all beneficial for both parent and baby.3

Benefits of Eating Shrimp

Cooked shrimp has numerous health benefits. Not only are they low in mercury, along with freshwater trout, salmon, and sardines, but they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which can support your baby's brain development.4

Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN, LD, a pregnancy dietitian, is a big fan of seafood for pregnant individuals for a variety of nutritional and health reasons.

Shrimp is High in Protein

According to Goldberg, protein needs increase significantly during pregnancy and, because of this some parents might seek to increase their protein intake.5 “Shrimp is an excellent lean protein option during pregnancy, with about 20 grams of protein per 3 ounces of shrimp.” For regular shrimp eaters, this is great news. Not only can you continue to eat a food you already enjoy but you can also meet this increased need for protein during pregnancy. For people who do not already eat shrimp, it can be simple to prepare and fast to cook.

Shrimp is High in Iodine

Shrimp is also a great source of iodine which Goldberg says plays a key role in thyroid hormones for both parent and baby.

Iodine is essential for maternal and fetal thyroid hormone production. These hormones regulate the development of the fetal brain and nervous system6 and, since iodine requirements increase substantially during pregnancy to ensure adequate supply to the fetus,7 shrimp is a great way to ensure these needs are met.

Selenium in Shrimp is Beneficial

Shrimp offers many nutritional benefits, including that it provides selenium which is necessary for a healthy pregnancy. "The selenium found in shrimp may help reduce pregnancy complications, miscarriage, and pre-term labor," says Goldberg.8 For pregnant shrimp-lovers, this is an obvious plus.

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During pregnancy, food safety is especially important. Cooked shrimp is considered a safe, low mercury protein but be sure to buy quality shrimp from a reputable source. When purchasing fresh shrimp, be sure the shrimp is clear with a pearl-like color and little or no odor.9

There are a few additional precautions to consider when adding shrimp to the menu. Keep baby and parent safe with the following guidelines.

Ensure Shrimp is Fully Cooked

Terrill recommends consuming fully cooked shrimp only, during pregnancy, "Make sure when eating shrimp it is thoroughly cooked and not raw while pregnant," she says.

Pregnancy is not the time to eat raw shellfish due to the risk of foodborne illness, says Goldberg. So, even If you've eaten raw seafood in the past, it's best to refrain for now and instead err on the side of caution by ensuring all of your seafood is fully cooked.

Keeping shrimp cold and fresh is essential. Goldberg suggests that pregnant people do not consume anything that has been out of refrigeration for more than an hour.

As with the consumption of undercooked shrimp, eating unrefrigerated shrimp puts you at risk of foodborne illnesses which, when pregnant, places you at an increased chance of lengthier illness, hospitalization, or even death.10

Eat a Variety of Protein Foods

Though it's perfectly safe to eat shrimp while pregnant, it's ideal to eat a variety of foods whether you are pregnant or not. Experts advise consuming up to 340 grams (two to three servings) of low mercury seafood (like shrimp) per week during pregnancy.11

It's always important to consult with a healthcare provider if you have questions about how much shrimp is safe for you and your pregnancy.

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Providing the safest possible environment for the growth of your baby for for feeling good is the ultimate goal. If you can minimize pressure to follow "food rules" (aside from basic food safety), this can make eating during pregnancy and beyond more peaceful, satisfying, and enjoyable.

Goldberg believes in intuitive eating, viewing this approach as a key tool for many pregnant individuals. "If ever there is a time to listen to your body, it’s during pregnancy," she says.

If you enjoy shrimp, eat shrimp in moderation. If not, don't force it! And be sure to speak to a healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions about food safety during pregnancy.