Can babies eat fish? Security, benefits and more

Introducing your toddler to solid foods is an exciting, sometimes overwhelming time. It can be difficult to determine which foods are safe and which should be avoided for babies under a certain age.

Baby cereals, fruits and vegetables are popular choices for baby’s first foods, but you may wonder if other foods, such as fish, are safe for your baby.

This article explains how to introduce your baby to fish, as well as the related benefits, safety considerations, and precautions.

Parents often start introducing solid foods to their babies around 4 to 6 months of age. Breast milk or formula is the primary source of nutrition for babies under 1 year of age, and all solid foods offered to babies are considered complementary (1).

Babies get almost all the nutrition they need from breast milk and formula. However, vitamin D and iron are two nutrients that breastfed babies may not get enough of, so it is beneficial when the foods they eat contain them.

Vitamin D is crucial for bone health and brain development, and iron is an essential mineral that is important for many bodily functions, including oxygen transport (2, 3, 4, 5).

The formula is fortified with these nutrients, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends iron and vitamin D supplement drops for breastfed babies (6).

Many parents start by offering baby cereal, which is usually iron-fortified. Fish is another great food for your baby as it is a source of iron (seven).

Certain types of fish, such as salmon, are also an excellent source of vitamin D, which breast milk lacks (8).

Plus, fish is an excellent source of protein, an important nutrient that builds and repairs body tissues, supporting healthy growth in toddlers.

Fish also offers a good amount of zinc, another mineral that plays a crucial role in a healthy immune system and cell growth (9, ten).

Certain types of fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fatty acids that provide several health benefits for babies and adults.

In babies especially, omega-3 fatty acids are important for the proper functioning and development of the brain, eyes and immune system (11, 12, 13, 14).

Vitamin B12 and iodine are two other nutrients found in fish that are beneficial for healthy brain and red blood cell development in babies (15, 16).

It is considered safe for babies to eat a wide variety of foods once they start eating solid foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until your baby is 6 months old before introducing solid foods (17).

Fish is one of the most common allergens, known as the “Big 8”, which is a list of foods responsible for most allergic reactions (18).

In the past, experts recommended delaying these foods. However, more recent research has shown that delaying the introduction of allergens is not necessary and that introducing them early, at 4 to 6 months of age, can help prevent an allergy (19, 20).

Most experts recommend introducing fish and other potential allergens when you introduce other solid foods, but it’s best to focus on one new food at a time.

By introducing a potential allergen every few days, you can monitor your baby for a potential reaction and more easily identify the trigger (17, 21).

Not all fish are considered safe for babies, as some types contain high levels of mercury. Here are some safe fish choices to offer babies (22):

Top Picks:

  • Salmon
  • trout
  • herring
  • whitefish such as cod, pollock or halibut
  • canned light tuna
  • sardines

Good choices:

  • bluefish
  • snapper
  • tuna, yellowfin tuna
  • consolidator
  • halibut

Currently, there are no recommendations for how much fish to feed babies. However, the recommendation for children 2 to 3 years old is 1 ounce (28 grams) of fish once or twice a week (23).

Although all fish contain mercury, some types contain higher amounts than others. Too much mercury can lead to toxicity and be a serious health problem. For babies, it is best to avoid fish high in mercury, such as (22):

  • bigeye tuna and bluefin tuna
  • mackerel
  • marlin
  • swordfish
  • shark
  • orange roughy

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines, babies and young children should not consume raw fish, so avoid offering sushi or sashimi to your toddler (24).

There are several ways to offer fish to your baby. If you’re using a baby-led weaning approach, you can simply cook the fish to a soft texture and cut it into appropriately sized pieces.

If you’ve chosen to stick with purees, you can cook the fish and puree it yourself. Alternatively, buy it pre-made.

In order to prepare the fish safely for your baby, remove the skin and debone the fish (watch out for small bones too) to reduce the risk of choking.

Next, be sure to cook the fish to an internal temperature of 145°F (62.8°C). A meat thermometer can help ensure that fish are at a safe temperature (24).

Ideally, the fish will be soft so your baby can chew on it easily. Try cutting the fish into small pieces or flakes before offering, or you can puree it if you prefer to offer the fish by the spoonful.

Canned and frozen fish offer the same nutritional benefits and are often boneless and skinless. They may also be more affordable and easier to keep on hand.

You can prepare them for your baby the same way you would cook fish for yourself. Try baking, grilling or poaching fish. Fish cakes are another popular way to serve fish to your baby.

Sodium and added sugars should be limited for babies, so avoid adding salt, as well as sweet or sugary sauces. Be sure not to add honey to the fish you are preparing for your baby, as babies under 1 year old should avoid honey.

Although there is no specific recommendation for how much fish babies should eat, the CDC recommends adults eat 2-3 servings, or 8-12 ounces, of low-mercury fish per week. .

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving for children 2 to 3 years old, so your baby will likely eat slightly less than that (23. 25).

When offering any type of food to babies, it is important to ensure that it has been handled, stored and cooked safely to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

Fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F (62.8°C) first, then cooled to a safe temperature for your baby (24).

Cooked fish can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Raw fish should only be kept in the fridge for 1 or 2 days before cooking or freezing. Fish should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours (26).

As fish is considered a major allergen, it is good to be familiar with the signs of an allergic reaction.

Call your pediatrician if you notice a mild reaction to fish. This may include swelling around the lips and mouth, diarrhea or vomiting.

Call 911 if you notice a more serious reaction, such as anaphylaxis, which often manifests as drooling, vomiting or diarrhea, scratching, and drowsiness in babies. Other signs may include wheezing, coughing, or hives (27).

Allergic reactions can occur immediately or over time, so it is recommended to introduce a potential allergen every few days so that triggers can be identified.

Fish can be a good source of protein, iron, zinc, omega-3s, iodine and vitamin B12 for your baby, all of which are important nutrients for healthy growth and development.

Be sure to choose fish that is low in mercury and prepare it safely by cooking it to an internal temperature of 145°F (62.8°C) and cutting it into appropriately sized pieces or puréeing.

Before introducing any solid foods, be sure to speak with your baby’s pediatrician, especially if food allergies run in your family.

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