The balance of contaminant risk and nutritional benefit from maternal prenatal fish consumption for child cognitive development is not known. Using data from a prospective cohort study of 341 mother-child pairs in Massachusetts enrolled in 1999-2002, the authors studied associations of maternal second-trimester fish intake and erythrocyte mercury levels with children's scores on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) and Wide Range Assessment of Visual Motor Abilities (WRAVMA) at age 3 years.

Mean maternal total fish intake was 1.5 (standard deviation, 1.4) servings/week, and 40 (12%) mothers consumed >2 servings/week. Mean maternal mercury level was 3.8 (standard deviation, 3.8) ng/g. After adjustment using multivariable linear regression, higher fish intake was associated with better child cognitive test performance, and higher mercury levels with poorer test scores.

Associations strengthened with inclusion of both fish and mercury: effect estimates for fish intake of >2 servings/week versus never were 2.2 (95% confidence interval (CI): -2.6, 7.0) for the PPVT and 6.4 (95% CI: 2.0, 10.8) for the WRAVMA; for mercury in the top decile, they were -4.5 (95% CI: -8.5, -0.4) for the PPVT and -4.6 (95% CI: -8.3, -0.9) for the WRAVMA.

Fish consumption of < or =2 servings/week was not associated with a benefit. Dietary recommendations for pregnant women should incorporate the nutritional benefits as well as the risks of fish intake.

PMID: 18353804

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