Mercury is a metal that should be avoided – especially during pregnancy. If you come into contact with high levels of mercury, it can damage your heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, and other parts of your body. Being exposed to mercury during pregnancy can cause serious health problems for your baby.
You can be exposed to mercury through:
- Your skin, by touching liquid mercury. This can happen if a product filled with mercury breaks. Products that can contain mercury include fever thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs and some antiques, like clocks, barometers and mirrors.
- The air, by breathing it in. It’s released into the air after it’s spilled or something that contains it breaks. It’s released through industrial processes, like burning waste or burning coal in power plants. Small amounts of mercury from dental fillings made from amalgam can get into the air you breathe. These fillings are safe for adults and children over age 6, but we don’t know their effects on pregnant women.
- Eating or drinking food or water contaminated with it. Once it’s in the air, mercury can settle into water. Fish get mercury from the water they swim in and from eating other fish that have mercury in them. This type of mercury is called methylmercury.
Should you eat fish during pregnancy?
Fish is an excellent source of protein, healthy fats called omega 3- fatty acids , vitamins and minerals. So, it’s good to eat certain fish during pregnancy or when you are breastfeeding. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that pregnant or breastfeeding women eat 8 to 12 ounces each week of fish that are low in mercury. These include:
- Canned light tuna
Some fish are recommended in smaller amounts. If you prefer to eat fish like albacore (white) tuna, yellowfin tuna, Chilean sea bass, snapper, grouper, halibut, or mahi mahi, you can eat 4 ounces of these fish each week. Four ounces is about the size of the palm of your hand.
Fish with high amounts of mercury include swordfish, shark, king mackerel, certain tilefish, marlin, orange roughy and bigeye tuna. Avoid these kinds of fish during pregnancy or when you are breastfeeding.
Other ways to keep yourself safe from mercury
- If you need to get a filling, ask your dentist about filling options. You may be able to have a filling that doesn’t contain mercury. Don’t have any mercury fillings removed unless your dentist recommends it because they’re broken or damaged. Be sure your dentist knows you’re pregnant before you have any dental work done.
- If you break an object that contains mercury, ask an adult who’s not pregnant to help. Contact your local health department or fire department to ask how to throw the mercury away.
- If you may be exposed to mercury at your job (like in a dentist’s office or if you do electrical, chemical or mining work), talk to your boss about safety precautions. Ask if you can switch to a different position during pregnancy.
- Talk to your health care provider if you are concerned about being exposed to mercury during pregnancy.
To learn more, visit marchofdimes.org.