I succumbed to sushi and a glass of wine. Am I the worst pregnant lady ever?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

No way, mama. While I certainly wouldn’t advise downing alcohol and raw fish on the regular without your care provider’s go-ahead, that fish with a side of red wine can actually help reduce anxiety. A plant compound found in red wine, resveratrol, creates anxiety-soothing effects by blocking the expression of an enzyme that controls stress in the brain.

And then there’s the sushi. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS One found that pregnant women who ate oily fish high in long-chain essential n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) had lower levels of anxiety than their vegetarian peers, as these compounds are essential for optimal neurological function and impact mood changes. The study also reported that because baby is taking many of those happy compounds, the mom can easily become depleted, meaning she really needs to stay on top of her fish intake. Two to three servings of low-mercury, fatty fish each week is recommended.

With all that said, there are still concerns about drinking too much alcohol and eating fish raw. So what’s safe, and what should be avoided? Concerning alcohol, there is no evidence proving light consumption (up to two glasses a week) is harmful to the fetus. But because heavy drinking can be incredibly harmful, many care providers recommend abstaining “just in case.” Essentially, the light-drinking-while-pregnant question is still a bit of a grey area, but almost any care provider will tell you that having a few (very spread out) glasses of wine during your pregnancy shouldn’t be an issue.

Now let’s debunk the belief that raw fish is the enemy of a healthy pregnancy.

  • A primary fear about raw fish is that it will expose you to parasites. However, most fish is flash frozen before shipment, which kills parasites.
  • If salmon is your fish of choice, it’s likely farmed instead of wild, making it much less susceptible to parasites.
  • A study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology reported “sushi that was prepared in a clean and reputable establishment is unlikely to pose a risk to the pregnancy.”
    What you want to stay away from, more than that salmon roll at your local sushi spot, are fish dishes (cooked or not) that are high in mercury. King mackerel, marlin, swordfish, tilefish, ahi tuna, and bigeye tuna are all fishies to steer clear of.

According to a study published in Clinical Microbiology Reviews, most seafood-related illnesses are caused by shellfish, not fish.

What to do

If you’re mourning the loss of your vino and rainbow rolls, talk with your care provider about what would be safe for you to consume in your unique situation. You might find that because of certain special circumstances, it’s best for you to stay away from alcohol and raw fish most of the time. But if you’re having a healthy pregnancy, your care provider may surprise you by giving the go-ahead for a glass of wine and some sashimi once a week, for example. The answer you get will likely depend on the research the care provider has been exposed to and how conservative they are. If they give you an answer that feels off, don’t hesitate to dig deeper, asking them about their reasoning for the answer they provide. And if you really want to get a breadth of opinions, reach out to other care providers — making sure to throw some midwives into the mix.

If you’re cleared for intermittent treats, make sure to select the healthiest options. For example, if you can have wine from time to time, opt for an organic brand. Regarding sushi, only go to restaurants that provide super-fresh fish and have glowing reviews. Many cities have a public grading system for restaurants, helping patrons know which eateries passed their food and hygiene inspection with flying colors.

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