WASHINGTON - Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should eat at least 12 ounces of fish and other seafood a week because the benefits for infant brain development outweigh any worries about mercury contamination, a group of US specialists said yesterday.
The recommendations contradict US government warnings that these women should consume no more than 12 ounces of fish and other seafood weekly due to concerns that mercury, which can harm the nervous system of fetuses, might exist in trace amounts in this food.
But the group of 14 obstetricians and nutritionists said the threat of mercury poisoning remains only theoretical, while the warnings have scared many pregnant women into not eating fish at all, robbing them and their babies of vital nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, known to help brain development.
The recommendations were issued in partnership with the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, whose members include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agriculture Department, the March of Dimes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and others.
The nutrients in fish and seafood are important for brain and motor skill development in children and can help prevent postpartum depression in mothers, the specialists said.
The coalition said it received $60,000 from a seafood industry trade group, but the specialists defended the independence of their work.
"There has been no case of fetal mercury toxicity due to fish consumption reported in the United States," said Dr. Ashley Roman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University Medical Center, who is involved in the research.