When Can I Give My Baby Shellfish?

When your toddler starts eating solid foods, it can be overwhelming to determine what is safe to feed them. Introducing different types of solid food should be staggered over the first few months as they master chewing and swallowing. Fish and shellfish are two types of solid foods that parents often have questions about. Take a look at these tips when you’re considering adding fish and shellfish into their diet.

1. Wait until your toddler masters other foods

Fish should not be one of the first solid foods that you give your toddler. Cooked fish is a soft food, but it can pose a choking risk for a toddler that is not chewing the pieces thoroughly and swallowing bigger chunks. Pediatricians usually recommend toddlers master fruit, soft vegetables, and poultry before introducing fish into their diet. Poultry cut from a whole breast is the best indicator as it is the most difficult piece of poultry to chew and swallow.

2. Start cooked, soft flesh fish no younger than nine months old

Adding fish to a toddler’s diet is not recommended for children younger than nine months. There is no nutritional reason that fish should be avoided in the first few months of eating solid food. Fish can be a good source of many nutrients and vitamins, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and vitamin B2. Most types of fish are also rich in minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. It also supplies important nutrients like iodine, magnesium, and potassium. When you do introduce fish, ensure that you choose a soft flesh fish like tilapia or salmon that is fully cooked.

3. Shellfish are a common major food allergy

When it comes to food allergens, there are eight major ones to consider. They are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. These are the most common food allergies, as well as the most dangerous. Shellfish and peanuts, in particular, are the most likely to be life-threatening. Doctors recommend being careful when introducing both peanuts and shellfish into your toddler’s diet for this reason. It is important to note food allergies can develop at any point in a person’s life, but peanuts and shellfish are most likely to be present from the birth of the eight major food allergies.

4. Hold off on shellfish until 12 months

Doctors recommend waiting until about the one-year-old mark before introducing shellfish into a toddler’s diet. Shellfish can cause a severe allergic reaction that is more dangerous the younger the toddler is. At 12 months, a toddler’s immune system is stronger and more able to respond to a potential reaction. It is still a good idea to exercise caution. Shellfish also tend to be chewier and harder to swallow than soft flesh fish, so make sure that your toddler can chew and swallow something as challenging as shellfish before introducing it to their diet. Shellfish should never be served raw to a toddler until they are two years or older.

5. Do allergies run in your family?

When you are preparing to introduce shellfish into your toddler’s diet, you should ask yourself a question. Do food allergies run in your family? Your toddler is more likely to have a major allergic reaction if someone in their family also has food allergies. Look not only at their parents, but siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. If there are any serious food allergies among those family members, then it might be a good idea to hold off on introducing shellfish until later. Some pediatricians advise waiting until three years old to introduce shellfish if there are major food allergies in the immediate family. If there are major food allergies in the family, talk to your pediatrician for their recommendation.

6. Avoid fish with a high mercury content

Some fish are high in mercury. Doctors recommend that adults limit their intake of these fish to avoid ingesting too much mercury. Toddlers and children should not eat any of these high mercury content fish. Major sources of mercury include swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, and some types of salmon. Other types of fish can also have high mercury content, depending on where they were caught. Pacific wild-caught salmon frequently has a high mercury content where farm-raised salmon has less mercury. Do your research on the type of fish you are serving before introducing them into your toddler’s diet.

7. Limit canned fish intact

Canned fish like tuna and salmon can be a good source of nutrients in place of fresh fish. Canned tuna and salmon are both fully cooked and can be eaten straight out of the can without a need to prepare them. Canned fish in a toddler’s diet should be limited to 3 to 6 ounces a week. This is also due to concerns about mercury content in the fish. Canned tuna contains far less mercury than freshly caught fish, which makes it safer to serve to your toddler in limited amounts. Be careful when serving canned salmon as often even precleaned salmon will still have pin bones in the mixture. Thoroughly clean the salmon to remove any bones before serving.

8. Avoid sushi until 12 months or older

Sushi is a favorite food of many parents, and it’s not uncommon for children to develop a taste for it. However, sushi made with raw fish can pose a risk to young children. Raw fish can contain bacteria, usually harmless to adults. Toddlers have much less developed digestive tracts and immune systems and, as a result, may get sick. Check your local and state laws. Some states in the U.S. require all fish to be served raw to be flash-frozen, eliminating most bacteria and potential parasites before it reaches the table. Even flash frozen raw fish should not be served to your toddler until 12 months of age or older. Also, be careful serving a toddler sticky sushi rice and seaweed wrappers that could pose a choking risk.