Whether flaxseed is safe or unsafe to consume during pregnancy is complicated. Consult a doctor or registered dietician for their expert opinion.

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While the stereotype of pregnant people wanting ice cream and pickles does hold true for many, other folks prefer to incorporate more nutrient-packed options — like seeds — into their pregnancy diet.

During pregnancy, your diet may include flaxseeds. But there’s a lot we don’t know about the effects this superfood could have on your growing baby.

Flaxseeds come from the flax plant. This flowering plant has multiple functions, including commercial uses, such as fiber spun into linen and in paint production.

You can consume the seeds in several forms. Flaxseeds can be:

  • left whole
  • ground into meal
  • processed into flaxseed oil, also known as linseed oil

Flaxseeds are high in fiber and protein, making them a popular food choice for people who want to eat more nutrients and improve their health.

They’re also a traditional method for easing constipation, according to a 2014 research review. Studies have also suggested that flaxseeds may help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, as reported in a 2019 review.

Likewise, a 2015 review linked flaxseeds to reduced blood pressure, and a 2017 review suggested that it aids in weight loss for people with a body mass index (BMI) higher than 27.

There are conflicting answers to this question. In the United States, pregnant people are often told to avoid consuming flaxseeds in any form.

In Canada, consuming flaxseeds whole or ground is generally considered safe, as long as you do so in moderation. According to Alberta Health Services, experts recommend avoiding flaxseed oil and consuming flaxseeds only in amounts commonly found in food.

If you’re unsure, it’s best to speak with your physician or a dietitian, if you have access to one, for guidance or alternative options.

Much like many other foods and supplements, when it comes to their effects on pregnancy, research into adverse effects is limited due to ethical reasons.

As a result, even the National Institutes of Health (NIH) admits that research into the effect of flaxseeds in pregnant or nursing people is scant. Nevertheless, the NIH states that flaxseeds may be unsafe during pregnancy.

If you consumed flaxseed oil regularly before pregnancy, discuss it with your doctor. According to the NIH, the oil may increase the chances of premature birth, especially when consumed in the final two trimesters.

However, keep in mind that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) does not recommend avoiding flaxseeds or flaxseed oil during pregnancy.

Given that evidence is limited, it’s best to talk with your doctor about your specific situation.

Expert advice on flaxseed is mixed.

ACOG does not recommend avoiding flaxseeds or flaxseed oil during pregnancy. However, the NIH reports that these foods may have mild hormonal effects, and although evidence is limited, flaxseed oil may be linked to pre-term births.

Some of the peer-reviewed studies researching the adverse effects of flaxseeds on pregnancy have looked at rats, rather than humans.

One 2007 study performed on rats found that consuming too much flaxseed while pregnant or lactating may lead to health effects in the rats’ offspring.

In the study, the offspring had lower levels of certain estrogen receptors and an increased risk of developing mammary cancer later in life.

Flaxseeds naturally contain varying amounts of cadmium, a heavy metal that can have toxic effects. A diet high in flaxseeds increased cadmium levels in the rats. According to the researchers, this may lead to changes in estrogen activity and cancer risk.

While we can’t automatically assume that humans will experience the same effects as rats, some researchers advise caution when it comes to consuming flaxseeds during pregnancy and while breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

To be on the safe side, consider talking with your doctor about flaxseed consumption.

One of the biggest benefits of flaxseed is that it’s a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3s found in flaxseeds are known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

While everyone needs omega-3s, they’re especially beneficial when you’re pregnant and a little human is growing inside you. During pregnancy, omega-3s contribute to your baby’s brain development.

Though the omega-3s found in flaxseed differ from those found in most pregnancy-safe fish, it’s not the only plant-based omega-3, or ALA, source available to you if you’re concerned about adverse effects.

Other sources include walnuts, chia seeds, soybean oil, and canola oil. During pregnancy and while breastfeeding or chestfeeding, recommended fish sources of omega-3s include:

  • salmon
  • herring
  • sardines
  • trout

Flaxseed may also help regulate blood sugar levels — a serious concern for some people during pregnancy. In a randomized controlled trial from 2020, flaxseed oil supplements reduced certain markers of gestational diabetes in pregnant women with the condition.

The seeds can also be used as a fiber supplement to help relieve constipation. But it’s important to talk with your doctor before using supplements while pregnant.

If you take fiber supplements, drink plenty of water to reduce the risk of digestive side effects.

Flaxseed can cause digestive issues. This may be more likely to happen if you don’t drink enough water to help your body digest the fiber in flaxseed.

But these side effects can happen to anyone — not just during pregnancy.

Flaxseed oil is used in some omega-3 supplements. Omega-3 supplements should not be taken with some medications because of the risk of drug interactions. This means that omega-3s can negatively affect how certain medications work.

For example, omega-3 supplements can interact with medications used to treat and prevent blood clots, such as warfarin (Jantoven). If you take these medications, taking high doses of omega-3s can increase your risk for bleeding problems.

According to the NIH, raw or unripe flaxseeds are not safe to eat. This is because they may contain toxic substances. Cooked flaxseed is safer to consume.

Not much is known about the potential risks of consuming flaxseed if you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

However, ACOG actually recommends flaxseed and flaxseed oil as omega-3 fatty acid sources during pregnancy and while nursing.

The NIH’s Drugs and Lactation Database also notes that flaxseed oil can be used while breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

But if you’re consuming flaxseed or flaxseed oil on a regular basis, it may be a good idea to talk with your doctor to make sure the amount you’re consuming is safe.

Nutrition is important for a healthy pregnancy. If you’re pregnant or nursing, be sure to discuss your diet with your doctor or a registered dietitian, if you have access to one.

They can help you make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need and help identify foods that may be harmful for you.

Little is known about the potential effects of consuming flaxseed during pregnancy and while breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

Some experts recommend avoiding flaxseed oil during pregnancy because it’s been linked to mild hormonal effects and premature birth. But others, like ACOG, suggest it’s a good choice for boosting your omega-3 intake.

To decide what’s right for you, your best bet is to consult your doctor.