I love prawns. Can I eat them during pregnancy?
Information regarding seafood and shellfish, in particular, may be bewildering. There have been celebrities noted publicly eating prawns whilst the advice was that these shellfish may be potentially harmful. In fact, whilst eating raw or undercooked shellfish is risky and should be avoided, eating well-cooked prawns, lobster, oysters, clams, cockles, scallops or crab as part of a hot meal is now considered to be safe.
Reasons to eat shellfish, as well as really liking them, is that shellfish are very low in fat, high in proteins and rich in minerals. However, they can contain harmful viruses and bacteria1. Filter feeders, such as clams and oysters, may also be polluted by the water that passes through them. Raw oysters can carry a virus called Norovirus which can cause nausea, abdominal pain and dehydrating diarrhoea. Raw or partially cooked shellfish can also contain hepatitis A, which is a virus affecting the liver. This disease can cause fever, jaundice, nausea, abdominal pain and tiredness. For this reason, the Food Standards Agency (www.eatwell.gov.uk) recommends that raw or undercooked shellfish are avoided in pregnancy.
It is imperative that the shellfish has been bought from a reputable source; that they are pre-packaged and date-stamped. If eating at a restaurant, make sure it is reputable and the shellfish are thoroughly cooked2. Cooking the shellfish properly will kill any bacteria or virus. A well-cooked prawn or lobster will turn red and its flesh opaque when it is cooked, whilst a scallop will be an opaque white and firm to the touch. Clams, mussels and oysters open their shells when they are well cooked. Throw away those that don’t open.
1Fraser DM, Cooper MA, eds (2003) Myles' Textbook for Midwives 14th ed. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh.
2 Parmenter K (2001). A Healthy Pregnancy. Bandolier Extra – evidence-based health care. Dec 2001 1-5.
74 - Panay N Dutta R Ryan A Broadbent JAM (2005) Crash course: Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 1st Edn. Mosby, Elsevier Ltd p268