Eating healthy needs to continue, even when you are breastfeeding. The food you eat can affect your breast milk’s supply and composition, as well as help you recover after delivery.
Flaxseed, also known as linseed, is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and bioactive plant compounds. Consumption of the seed is considered healthy.
In this post, we tell you about the safety of flaxseed when breastfeeding, its health benefits, and ways to include it in your diet.
Is Flaxseed Safe For Breastfeeding Mothers?
Consumption of flaxseed is well-tolerated in adults. Its safety and efficacy during lactation are not well researched (1), but it is considered safe to have them in small quantities. Consult a healthcare provider to know the amount of flaxseed you can consume. Medical consultation is important if you are considering dietary supplements or herbal supplements containing flaxseed oil.
Can Flaxseed Increase Breast Milk Supply?
There is an anecdotal belief that omega-3 fatty acids and phytoestrogens found in flaxseed can increase breast milk supply. Though lactating mothers use flaxseed as lactogenic food, there is no clinical indication of its use to regulate (increase or decrease) breast milk supply. However, their intake in moderate amounts, with a well-balanced diet, can provide some health benefits.
Possible Health Benefits Of Flaxseed When Breastfeeding
Here are some benefits of consuming flaxseeds.
- Supply of nutrients: One tablespoon (10g) of flaxseed seed provides 1.8g of protein. The seed also contains essential micronutrients, such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and selenium (2).
- Source of DHA and EPA: Flaxseeds contain ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), one of the essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, which our body converts into DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Nursing mothers and their breastfed infants need essential fatty acids to perform various body functions important for growth, development, and sustainment (3).
- Essential fiber: The non-absorbable fiber found in flaxseeds helps keep constipation away. The fiber acts as a prebiotic for gut bacteria, boosts intestinal health, and in the long run, helps in weight management, too (4).
- Antioxidant effects: Flaxseeds are a good source of secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG) and lignans that have potential antioxidant effects (5). Antioxidants are essential to combat oxidative damage that occurs due to free radicals.
- Anti-inflammatory properties: Research shows that flaxseed products, such as flaxseed oil, have anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and analgesic properties (6) (7). Its topical use as a poultice to relieve inflammation and soreness in conditions like osteoarthritis is also documented (1) (8).
- Overall health benefits: Regular consumption of flaxseed with a well-balanced diet may help control blood sugar level, improve cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and improve heart health (9) (10) (11). Most of these flaxseed benefits are due to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids, insoluble fiber, and bioactive plant compounds, like lignans.
Besides these benefits, flaxseeds may help in treating health issues, such as bladder inflammation, vaginitis, and gastritis (12).
Precautions To Take While Consuming Flaxseed
Flaxseed should be consumed in moderation and with plenty of water as it could worsen constipation. Follow these precautions to avoid any possible side effects of the dietary intake of flaxseed (12).
- Flaxseed is not a common allergenic food, yet some allergic reactions to flaxseed and flaxseed oil have been documented. Check for possible reactions if you are planning to include it in any form for the first time.
- Avoid flaxseed if you have a gastrointestinal stricture or acute inflammation of the intestine, stomach, or stomach entrance.
- Avoid using flaxseed immediately after taking medicine, as it can delay the absorption time for certain medications.
- Breastfeeding mothers with any bleeding disorders or those on blood thinners should avoid flaxseed as it might slow blood clotting.
- Flaxseed contains phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that may reduce the absorption of micronutrients such as zinc and iron (13) (14). Therefore, excess intake of flaxseed must be avoided.
- Lactating mothers on medications for diabetes and blood pressure (high or low) should consult a doctor before starting the consumption of flaxseeds as they are known to have anti-diabetic and hypotensive effects.
- Avoid consuming partially defatted flaxseed meal as it might increase triglyceride levels in individuals suffering from high triglyceride levels.
- Those with a history of thyroid problems must consult a doctor before ingesting ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and supplements (15).
Ways To Include Flaxseed In Your Breastfeeding Diet
Once your doctor permits you to consume flaxseed, you can explore various flaxseed products. Flaxseed makes for a great egg replacement when baking. Follow the ratio of one tablespoon of flaxseed to three tablespoons of water for each egg you wish to replace.
- Flax milk is considered an alternative to animal milk as it is cholesterol and lactose-free. This unique property also makes it suitable for people allergic to soy, nuts, and gluten.
- Add roasted flaxseed in cereals, porridge, soups, smoothies, and shakes. It can be added to bread or pancakes, as well.
- Cold-pressed organic flaxseed oil is a great addition to salad dressings, dips, and sauces.
- Mothers can add these seeds to their lactation food recipes.
You can also prepare a customized seed and nut trail mix with flaxseeds. Do consult a lactation expert to know the safe intake amount of the various nuts used.
Flaxseed is a healthy seed. Its regular consumption with a well-balanced diet can benefit maternal health. However, consult a doctor before you include it or its products in your regular breastfeeding diet.
2. Seeds, flaxseed, FDC ID: 169414; Fooddata Central; USDA
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids; National Institute of Health; U.S Department of Health and Human Services
4. Flaxseed fiber ferments in gut to improve health, reduce obesity; Science Direct
5. Mihir Parikh et al.; Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health; NCBI
6. Gaurav Kaithwas et al.; Anti-inflammatory, Analgesic and Antipyretic Activities of Linum Usitatissimum L. (Flaxseed/Linseed) Fixed Oil; NCBI
7. Guan-Yu Ren et al.; Effect of Flaxseed Intervention on Inflammatory Marker C-Reactive Protein: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials; NCBI
8. Burcu Babadağ Savaş et al.; Effect of Flaxseed Poultice Compress Application on Pain and Hand Functions of Patients With Hand Osteoarthritis; NCBI
9. Delfin Rodriguez-Leyva et al.; The cardiovascular effects of flaxseed and its omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid; NCBI
10. Kailash Prasad and Arti Dhar; Flaxseed and Diabetes; NCBI
11. Deysla SabinoGuarda et al.; Flaxseed oil during lactation changes milk and body composition in male and female suckling pups rats; ScienceDirect
12. Flaxseed; University of Rochester
13. B. Dave Oomah et al.; Phytic Acid Content of Flaxseed As Influenced by Cultivar, Growing Season, and Location; NCBI
14. Raj Kishor Gupta et al.; Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains; NCBI
15. Carie E. Shealy, Flaxseed oil; University of Colorado Denver