Flaxseed oil provides vital fats that a developing baby needs, but it can also pose a danger to a pregnancy in progress. Understanding the risks and benefits of flaxseed oil can help you make a decision about whether to include this oil in your pregnancy diet. Consult a doctor before using flaxseed oil or making any decisions about dietary changes during pregnancy.
Flaxseed oil is derived from the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. One major component of flaxseed is the essential omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. Because the human body cannot make omega-3 fats, you have to get them through foods or supplements, such as fish oil, walnuts and flax. Flaxseed oil contains 45 to 65 percent ALA, with the remainder made up of omega-6 fatty acids and small amounts of other fats. The body uses ALA to make two other important omega-3 fats, DHA and EPA.
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Potential Pregnancy Benefits
Flaxseed oil taken during pregnancy might help brain development in the fetus. Babies who do not get enough omega-3 fats during development are more likely to have a low birth weight and small head circumference at birth, and the placenta is likely to be smaller while in the womb, according to The Franklin Institute. DHA in particular has been linked to brain and eye development. A pregnant woman's body can only supply DHA to her developing baby if she ingests it by eating sources such as seafood or if she creates it in her body after consuming ALA.
Potential Pregnancy Concerns
Despite the need for omega-3 fatty acids during fetal development, some concerns have been raised over using flaxseed oil during pregnancy. A 2008 study from the Université de Montréal found that women who consumed flaxseed oil during pregnancy had a 12 percent risk of preterm birth, compared to a normal average rate of 3 percent in healthy women not taking flaxseed oil. The correlation between preterm birth and flaxseed oil only occurred for women who consumed the oil during the second and third trimesters. Eating whole or ground flax seeds does not increase the risk of preterm birth.
Balancing the need for omega-3 fatty acids and the potential dangers of flaxseed oil during pregnancy can pose a problem for mothers-to-be. For the safest course, avoid using flaxseed oil as a source of ALA and concentrate instead on other food sources of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy, such as seafood, walnuts, sea vegetables, whole or ground flaxseeds and leafy green vegetables. If you want to use flaxseed oil during pregnancy, talk to your doctor about how much you can safely use and whether you have specific risk factors that increase your overall risk of preterm birth.