Flaxseeds and Pregnancy 


Pregnancy is a wonderful yet delicate time in a woman’s life, where utmost care is required in the woman’s diet, as a healthy, wholesome diet is crucial for the well-being of both mother and baby. An important thing to keep in mind though, is to keep a watchful eye on what the mother consumes as some foods, despite being healthy, might not be safe during pregnancy. 

Flaxseeds have been touted for their wide range of benefits in all age groups, and when consumed properly, aid both the mother and baby in pregnancy.

Flaxseeds in pregnancy

Nutrients of flaxseeds  

Flaxseeds, otherwise known as flax/common flax/linseed, are derived from the Linux usitatissimum plant, which grows in abundance in Mediterranean regions. Flaxseeds are not just classified as a foodstuff, but also a fibre crop as they can be used to make linen. 

Its oil is known as linseed oil, which also provides a host of dietary benefits. Linseed oil is obtained from pressing ripened flaxseeds. Aside from its industrial uses, such as being a component of oil paints, resins, varnishes and in putty, it is also used in dietary supplements due to its rich amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (alpha linolenic acid).

100 grams of flaxseeds provide 534 kilocalories, 42% of which are fats, 29% carbohydrates, 18% protein and 7% water. Flaxseeds are abundant in dietary fibre, minerals, as well as B complex vitamins. 

One might look at the fat content in flaxseeds and shy away as a result; but not to worry, as the fat content in flaxseeds are of the good variety and are part of a person’s daily dietary requirements. 

Good fats are known as unsaturated fats, which comprise of omega-3, omega-6 as well as omega-9 fatty acids. Flaxseeds contain a total of 78% unsaturated fats and only 9% of saturated fats, otherwise known as ‘bad fat’.

However, the question arises - which is better? Raw flaxseeds, powdered flaxseeds or flaxseed oil?

Raw flaxseeds contain a small proportion of cyanide compounds, which may lead to cyanide poisoning if consumed in large proportions. Due to this, consuming raw flaxseeds during pregnancy is not recommended by doctors.

Because of this, it is better to roast the raw flaxseeds as that removes the cyanide compounds and increases the nutrient bioavailability (the amount of nutrients available to the body), and powder them (also known as flaxseed meal) so that they can be incorporated into smoothies, shakes etc. 

Flaxseed oil can be consumed in the form of a pill, which is a better alternative for people who do not like the taste of powdered flaxseeds. However, it is best to consult with a physician prior to incorporating flaxseed oil during pregnancy as it can increase the risk of premature birth.

Benefits of flaxseeds in pregnancy:

  • Supports the foetus nervous system 

During the first trimester, omega-3 fatty acids support the foetus's central nervous system development (source: Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology). 

However, it is advisable for pregnant women to continue consuming a varied diet in order to reap all the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. 

These fatty acids can also be found in eggs, fatty fish like salmon and sardines, broccoli, chia seeds, cantaloupe, kidney beans, spinach, cauliflower as well as walnuts. (Source: ACOG)

  • Helps lower blood sugar levels

Gestational diabetes remains as one of the biggest risks to the mother and baby during pregnancy, hence an emphasis is put on the mother’s tight blood sugar control. One particular risk of gestational diabetes is a baby >4.5 kg, which necessitates a C-section, and in some cases, the use of instrumentation to deliver the baby, potentially harming the mother in the process. 

  • Can also help relieve constipation

The dietary fibres found in flaxseeds help relieve constipation, as it draws water into the digestive system and encourages better bowel movements.

  • May help prevent cancers 

Phytoestrogens, otherwise known as plant estrogens, help in balancing oestrogen effects in the body, therefore reducing the body’s propensity to develop ovarian and breast cancers. Flaxseeds are rich in phytoestrogens known as lignans, which also have powerful antioxidant activity, as seen in chia seeds and the açai berry. The omega-3 fatty acids present in flaxseeds also have antioxidant activity and help reduce the incidence of breast cancer. 

  • Lowers the risk of heart disease

Due to the high amounts of unsaturated fatty acids and fibre present in flaxseeds, this helps lower the LDL cholesterol ( the ‘bad’ cholesterol) and increase the HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol), therefore reducing the risk of heart disease.

When and how to use flaxseeds in pregnancy

Raw flaxseeds are not advisable during pregnancy and must be avoided. 

Flaxseed powder/flaxseed meal can be incorporated into smoothies and shakes in order to reap all the nutritional benefits. This can be consumed during any time of the day, but it's good to bear in mind that pregnant women need to consume flaxseeds in moderation, and in combination with other foods such as green leafy vegetables, fruits and grains as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Risks and considerations

Despite all the benefits listed above, there is still debate over the safety of consuming flaxseeds during pregnancy. Even the National Institute of Health mentions that consuming flaxseeds during pregnancy might be unsafe due to their mild hormonal effect - however, due to ethical reasons, research in this areais scant.A 2007 study done on female rats indicated that flaxseeds consumed during pregnancy and lactation could potentially have adverse side effects. 

Consuming high levels of omega-3 can potentially interact with blood thinning medications such as aspirin and warfarin, and increase one’s risk for bleeding complications. 

Therefore, it is always advisable to consult with a physician prior to incorporating flaxseeds into a pregnancy diet.

What are the side effects?

  • Digestive issues

As flaxseeds are rich in fibre, which are relatively more difficult for the body to digest, this may cause bloating, diarrhoea and flatulence if not consumed with water. 

Due to this reason, it is advisable to skip flaxseeds during the third trimester of pregnancy and to consume flaxseeds after the baby’s delivery.

  • Allergic reactions 

Pregnant women with nut allergies must exercise caution while consuming flaxseeds as it can give rise to chest tightness, lip swelling and breathing difficulties. It is always advisable to consult with a dietitian prior to consuming flaxseeds while pregnant. 

  • Increased blood pressure levels

Consuming raw flaxseeds can result in a rise in blood pressure levels, hence making it prudent to avoid flaxseeds during pregnancy, especially if the mother is susceptible to high blood pressure. 

  • Cyanide toxicity 

Raw flaxseeds have a small amount of compounds known as cyanides, which when consumed in large amounts can cause poisoning and respiratory distress. Hence, doctors recommend not consuming raw flaxseeds during pregnancy.

  • Premature birth

Flaxseed oil, especially when consumed during the third trimester of pregnancy, can potentially result in premature birth of the baby. 

How much is enough?

The ACOG recommends consuming 1 tablespoon (30g) of flaxseed meal (powdered flaxseeds) per day for pregnant women. 

There is still debate over whether flaxseed oil can be consumed during pregnancy due to the potential risk of premature childbirth, so it is always advisable to consult with your gynaecologist prior to incorporating flaxseed oil in your diet. 


Flaxseeds are a wonderful dietary addition due to their host of benefits; however, due to the risks seen during pregnancy, there persists a lot of debate over the benefits of flaxseeds in pregnant women. 

The bottom line remains that flaxseeds, in combination with other foodstuffs such as vegetables, fruits and grains, can support both the mother and baby during pregnancy. Vigilance must be maintained, however, when incorporating new foods especially during pregnancy. If flaxseeds were consumed regularly before pregnancy, it is always best to consult a physician on how to consume it while pregnant. 


  • Parikh M, Maddaford TG, Austria JA, Aliani M, Netticadan T, Pierce GN. Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health. Nutrients [Internet]. 2019 May 25;11(5):1171.
  • Jamilian M, Tabassi Z, Reiner Ž, Panahandeh I, Naderi F, Aghadavod E, et al. The effects of n-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil on genetic and metabolic profiles in patients with gestational diabetes mellitus: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge University Press; 2020;123(7):792–9.
  • Parikh M, Netticadan T, Pierce GN. Flaxseed: its bioactive components and their cardiovascular benefits. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2018;314(2):H146-H159. doi:10.1152/ajpheart.00400.2017
  • Khan, Galam, Penttinen, Pauliina, Cabanes, Anna, Foxworth, Aaron, Chezek, Antonia, Mastropole, Kristen, Yu, Bin, Smeds, Annika, Halttunen, Teemu, Good, Carolyn, Mäkelä, Sari & Hilakivi-Clarke, Leena. 2007. Maternal flaxseed diet during pregnancy or lactation increases female rat offspring's susceptibility to carcinogen-induced mammary tumorigenesis. Reproductive Toxicology 23: 397-406.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Nandini Menon

MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) - MS Ramaiah Medical College, Bangalore, India

Nandini is a Doctor from India with a passion for artificial intelligence, and has an eye for seeking out what shapes the future of healthcare.
She is currently doing her Masters in Clinical Critical Care at the University of Glasgow, Scotland and is the acting Student Representative for her course. She is actively working towards a future in medical writing to help educate the public on the advancements in the healthcare industry.

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