Toxic Mercury and Your Baby’s Ability to Learn

By Charlotte Brody, RN
September 29, 2017
Toxic Mercury and Your Baby’s Ability to Learn

It’s not the fishes’ fault. And it’s not the fault of women who eat the fish. But, millions of women of childbearing age who eat mercury contaminated fish have enough of the toxic chemicals in their bodies to harm a developing child. “55% of the global sample of women measured more than 0.58ppm of mercury, a level associated with the onset of fetal neurological damage.” This is the finding of a new, first of its kind report on mercury levels in women of childbearing age in 25 countries by HBBF partner, IPEN: the International POPs Elimination Network

What is mercury?

Mercury is a common seafood pollutant. This neurotoxic chemical can harm a baby’s developing brain in utero, even at very low levels of exposure.

Where does it come from?

There are two primary sources of new mercury contamination: small gold mines and coal fired power plants.

What is the answer?

There are solutions to this problem! First, there are other ways to extract gold from small gold mines. And second, we can move away from burning coal in coal fired power plants to safer sources of clean energy. When we move away from coal to solar, wind and other cleaner energy solutions, we save babies’ brains and we reduce global warming, too. 

What can we do RIGHT NOW?

In the meantime, pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant should choose seafood high in brain-boosting nutrients (omega-3 fatty acid) and low in mercury. Good choices include wild Alaska salmon, sardines from the Pacific, farmed mussels, farmed rainbow trout, and Atlantic mackerel (not trawled).  Avoid shark, swordfish and orange roughy and limit your intake of canned tuna – light has lower levels than white, but scientists found that for both types the potential harm to a baby’s brain exceeds the fish nutrients’ brain-boosting assets.

To learn more, read about IPEN's recent report and the UN’s Minamata Convention on Mercury that IPEN worked so hard to achieve.

For more tips on how to avoid toxic exposures during pregnancy and parenthood, visit HBBF’s Safe Product Finder.