Can You Eat Sushi While Breastfeeding?
The answer is yes. However, breastfeeding mothers should pay attention to the preparation of the sushi they are eating. They should go to restaurants who only use flash-frozen fish for their sushi, and only order sushi and sashimi made of fish low in mercury.
If you are a sushi-lover, the hardest thing about pregnancy will be the diet. Sushi is not encouraged for pregnant women, because of the high amounts of mercury in some kinds of fish that might harm the baby’s growth and development. While you may take some kinds of fish in moderation, the risk is high enough that some doctors still suggest total abstention from sushi during pregnancy.
After the baby is born, then, you might run straight to your favorite sushi restaurant to imbibe all the sushi you were craving for 9 months. Slow down a minute to read this article. As a new mother, you are still responsible for what your baby receives from your breast milk. Now is the time to ask the question: Can you eat sushi while breastfeeding?
The Dangers of Eating Sushi While Breastfeeding
The “health” revolution is all about raw and free-range: raw (or lightly steamed) vegetables, free-range chickens (and eggs), free-range cows (and milk). It was inevitable that sushi would join the revolution. It is certainly raw, and at least the non-farmed fish are certainly free-range. Because of the lack of preservatives and artificial flavoring (except what the consumers add), it is now a traditional fall-back food for consumers who want to eat healthy.
The main danger of sushi is that it is still considered raw food. Because of this, any parasites that get into the raw fish stay in there if the food is not prepared correctly. Sushi is required to be flash-frozen before it is shipped to the United States. Flash-freezing raw fish makes it too instantly cold for parasites to grow, and kills any parasites
However, there are some fish in the market considered sushi-ready because they are “fresh-caught,” and therefore have not yet been frozen. Such fish have more of a chance to become parasite-infested. Slow-freezing in the regular freezer does not kill parasites, and is too slow to prevent their growth. Here are the possible dangers of eating sushi while breastfeeding.
First, anisakiasis is parasite larva that causes similar effects to food poisoning within 24 hours of ingestion. Another is diphyllobothriasis, caused by a tapeworm found in sea bass, salmon, pike, and trout. It can cause lowered levels of Vitamin B12, and anemia (lack of iron). These only occur in fish that have not been flash-frozen, which consumers cannot know without asking.
Besides these parasites, there is a risk of mercury poisoning whether or not the fish has been flash-frozen or not. In other words, the main danger that a pregnant or breastfeeding mother is facing is mercury poisoning. The types of fish most often used to make sushi, such as tuna and marlin, are quite high in mercury content.
Mercury is a neurotoxin (attacks the nervous system) when released into the bloodstream. The person affected may have some difficulty performing simple functions like walking, listening, and seeing. There may be tingling along the nervous system, and lack of coordination. This can get into the bloodstream, and therefore into a mother’s breast milk.
The Debate: Can You Eat Sushi While Breastfeeding?
The majority of studies are on eating sushi while pregnant. Most studies are clear on the fact that pregnant women should not eat sushi at all. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, not only will any mercury intake find its way into the developing baby’s body, the food poisoning it mimics can cause intense vomiting and diarrhea.
This dehydrates the mother, sometimes to dangerous levels. For this reason, sushi must be cooked before eating, or avoided altogether. On the other hand, after the birth, the York Region Health Connection in Canada says that mothers no longer need to avoid sushi. Still, they do advise low intake of fish in general to lower the mercury content.
However, a joint study by the Government of South Australia and Women’s & Children’s Hospital says differently. One of the concerns is the disease listeriosis, and can be passed through breast milk and cause illness in the baby. Because of this, they advise mothers to avoid raw oysters and sashimi altogether, and smoked salmon and oysters. Only well-cooked or canned seafood can be eaten.
The Department of Health in the New York City government released a Guide for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women and Young Children. They advise breastfeeding mothers to lower their intake of fish, and to watch the levels of mercury in the fish they are eating. Mothers, as adults, can eat 4-6 ounces of fish in a single serving. The servings they eat in a week depend on the fish mercury levels.
Who to Consult on Eating Sushi While Breastfeeding
Because of the confusion on the debate and the lack of studies on eating sushi while breastfeeding, mothers need to know who to go to ask the question: can you eat sushi while breastfeeding? The three kinds of people who can be consulted are obstetrician-gynecologists, lactation consultants, and nutritionists.
OB/GYNs, as they are called, would be the first to advise mothers against sushi and sashimi intake during pregnancy. They may also have additional insights and advice for mothers who want to know if the baby’s’ health will be compromised if they eat sushi while breastfeeding. Mothers may easily and quickly consult their OB/GYNs for their advice, or to ask who else they may refer to.
Lactation consultants are breastfeeding experts, and go through a lengthy training process and pass a board exam to become IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants). They can not only help mothers having difficulty breastfeeding, but they can also offer advice to mothers on nutrition and health for their babies as they breastfeed.
Nutritionists are a good back-up source to OB/GYNs and IBCLCs. Their focus is on the nutrition content and servings needed for safe and healthy eating. Mothers can go to them for advice and instruction on how much fish it is safe to eat in a certain period of time, and for knowledge on food preparation and mercury content.