Is it safe to take Flaxseed oil during pregnancy or while breastfeeding?
Date Posted:21 June 2023
Studies have suggested that Flaxseed Oil may have potential benefits for pregnant and breastfeeding women. For example, it is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for foetal and infant brain and eye development. Additionally, flaxseed oil may help reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and postpartum depression.
Infants have a high requirement for essential fats. During pregnancy, the mother’s diet is the source of essential fats for the developing fetus. After birth, breast milk or infant formula supplies a variety of essential fats for newborn growth.
Omega-3 Fats are needed in utero
During pregnancy, the developing fetus relies on the mother to provide essential fatty acids through the placenta. Therefore, it is crucial for pregnant women to consume a diet rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fats to meet their own needs as well as those of the growing fetus.
As the fetus continues to grow in the womb, essential fatty acids play a critical role in producing compounds called eicosanoids, which help regulate the immune system.
Of particular importance are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and arachidonic acid, which are derived from essential fatty acids and serve as essential building blocks for the development of nervous tissue, including the brain.
In fact, during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first year of life, DHA is rapidly accumulated in the grey matter of the brain and the retina of the eye. In these tissues, DHA can account for more than 50% of the total fatty acids present.
ALA in Infant Nutrition
- ALA is the essential omega-3 fatty acid, being required in our diets because our bodies cannot make it.
- Infants need ALA to grow and develop properly.
- ALA is the main omega-3 fatty acid in human breast milk.
- A unique role for ALA in infant nutrition, other than being needed to prevent an omega-3 fat deficiency, has not been determined, possibly because most research has focused on the role of DHA in infant health.
ALA Is the Main Omega-3 Fat in Breast Milk
ALA is the main omega-3 fatty acid in breast milk.
“ALA constituted 1.2% to 1.9% (% weight of total fatty acids) in breast milk samples taken from women in Canada (1.2%),6 Brazil (1.4%),7 and Nepal (1.9%).8 Breast milk contains 3-10 times more ALA than DHA, depending on the mother’s diet.6-10 The breast milk of vegetarians contains less DHA than that of omnivores." - Flax Council of Canada
Breast Milk is Best
After birth, infants obtain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from breast milk or infant formula.
Experts agree that breast milk is best for preterm and term infants. It provides calories, essential fatty acids, vitamins and other important nutrients.
Infants who are breast-fed generally have greater amounts of DHA in their blood, red blood cells and brain tissue than formula-fed infants.
Some studies found that breast-fed infants performed better on tests of vision and cognitive development than formula-fed ones.
Always consult with a healthcare professional
It is always best to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements or making significant changes to your diet.
For example, Flaxseed Oil may have a mild blood-thinning effect, which could be problematic for women who are already taking blood-thinning medications or have bleeding disorders. Additionally, consuming large amounts of Flaxseed Oil may have a laxative effect, which could be uncomfortable.
Overall, pregnant and breastfeeding women can consume Flaxseed Oil in moderation. It is always best to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about your specific nutritional needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Source: Flax Council of Canada - https://www.flaxcouncil.ca/