Dr. Greene’s Answer:
The two main concerns regarding feeding seafood to young children are that of potential allergy development and mercury exposure.
For years people suggested waiting to introduce nuts, peanuts, fish, and shellfish because unlike other food allergies, these allergiesusually last for a lifetime. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics reversed their position in January 2008 and declared that there is no convincing evidence that delaying any food beyond 4 to 6 months reduces the risk of developing an allergy to it. In fact, some evidence suggests that starting before the first birthday is better, as described in Feeding Baby Green. I do suggest avoiding the foods that are the most common causes of allergies when a child is taking antibiotics or there is reason to believe the beneficial bacteria in the gut may not be intact. Most food allergies come from just a few sources: eggs, dairy, nuts, peanuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.
Beyond this, certain seafoods can carry a high level of mercury and other industrial contaminants that may affect a young child’s developing nervous system. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have published information on safe seafood consumption for children. The Smart Fish Calculator is another great resource. It calculates the safe amounts of different seafood by the child’s (or parent’s) body weight.
Seafood is an excellent source of nutrition and these concerns should not deter one from feeding seafood to children altogether. Fish are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, as well as protein and vitamin D. Using the information from the EPA/FDA website and others regarding the best choice of seafood for your child will encourage excellent nutrition while avoiding unnecessary exposure to mercury and other contaminants. Resources such as Seafood WATCH can help you find the healthiest seafood, for your family and for our oceans. Their information is available online, as a pocket guide, and as an application for mobile phones.