Pregnancy is a time when many women become concerned about the use of essential oils.
This is not surprising. When you are pregnant, you are no longer just responsible for your own health & safety, but also that of another living being. So a level of concern is completely normal.
What does cause problems are the contradictory messages women often receive about which essential oils are safe and, indeed whether you should use them at all!
Some of this confusion comes about due to outdated information. After all , essential oils have been around for many years and our knowledge of what they can do and what practices are safe and effective (my 2 watch words!) inevitably evolves over time.
Add to this the fact that little if any research is done directly with pregnant women (it would in many cases be highly unethical to do so, especially if there was a risk of harm to mother or baby) and it is not surprising there is some confusion.
My personal experience, both for my own pregnany and for those of clients, is that essential oils can be enormously beneficial during pregnancy. But at the same time, some caution does need to be exercised.
I would firstly say that if you are concerned about your use of essential oils whilst pregnant, particularly if you have any history of miscarriage, problems during previous pregnancies or any other health concerns, it is a good idea to see an aromatherapist for a consultation. You can get advice specific to your particular situation, ensuring safety for you and for your growing baby.
Whether or not you see an aromatherapist, however, there are some general considerations that will apply.
Are there any essential oils you should not use while pregnant?
Yes there are.
In Essential Oil Safety (2nd edition) Robert Tisserand lists the following essential oils as to be avoided during pregnancy –
Ajowan, aniseed, anise star, araucaria, artemisia vestita, atractylis, birch sweet, buchu ( diosphonol and pulegone chemotypes), calamint, carrot seed, cassia, some types of cedarwood , cinnamon bark, costus, cypress blue, dill seed (Indian), bitter fennel, fennel sweet, feverfew, genipi, hibawood, ho leaf, hyssop, lanyana, lavender Spanish, mugwort, myrrh, myrtle aniseed, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, pennyroyal, rue, sage common (Dalmationa) & Spanish, savin, tansy, thuja, wintergreen, wormseed, wormwood, yarrow, zeodary
Many of these essential oils are not common, and most people will not come across them normally. However the list does include some more common essential oils as well. Note that in some cases it is a certain type of a particular essential oil – another reason to see an aromatherapist who can ensure you are using the right oil!
One factor that many people do not realise, is that essential oils that should not be used during pregnancy should also be avoided during lactation. So if you are breastfeeding, you will still need to avoid these same essential oils.
Tisserand also recommends limiting exposure to another set of essential oils. These essential oils include –
basil(lemon), boswellia papyrifera (a variety of frankincense), champaca (orange)absolute, lemon balm Australian (eucalyptus staigeriana), lemon leaf, lemongrass, may chang, melissa, myrtle (honey), myrtle (lemon), tea tree (lemon scented), thyme (lemon), verbena (lemon)
So can I use any other essential oils?
Most other commonly available essential oils will be generally safe. However remember that safe use of essential oils depends not only on the particular essential oil itself, but also how it is used. The method of use, dosage, frequency of use etc are all equally important.
Some of the essential oils I find most beneficial during pregnancy include -
What are the best ways to use essential oils when pregnant?
Diffusion is one of the most common methods of use and generally very safe. You can use one of the wide variety of vaporisers, diffusers or oil burners that are available. Use only a few drops at a time, and ensure that you take breaks either from the space in which the diffuser is being used or by turning the diffuser off for periods of time (ie don’t run it continuously.)
Inhalation is a another generally safe method of using essential oils. Although it is similar to diffusion, it is more targeted to the individual and can be more intense. Inhalation means breathing in the essential oil aromas directly and is useful in particular for mental and emotional effects. You can inhale directly from the bottle, although I prefer to put a couple of drops of essential oil on a tissue or to use an aroma inhaler. Aroma inhalers are a great portable alternative and useful to have on hand for recurring issues such as morning sickness, anxiety or stress.
Baths are another way to use essential oils. These can be a full bath or just a hand or foot bath for specific conditions. Always use a dispersant to incorporate essential oils as they do not dissolve in water. You can purchase specific dispersants for use with essential oils, or use a carrier (vegetable) oil or a little unscented liquid soap. Mix the essential oil into the dispersant and then add to the water. Limited the amount of essential oil used to a maximum of 4 drops in a full bath or 2 drops in a hand or foot bath.
Body application is another way to utilise essential oils and is particularly useful for skin condition association with pregnancy. Always dilute your essential oils in a carrier oil before applying to the skin. Never use essential oils on the skin undiluted or “neat”. Use a maximum of 3 drops for every 10ml (2 teaspoons) of carrier oil. Applying essential oils in a carrier oil also lets you take advantage of the skin nourishing properties of carrier oils – useful to help to prevent stretch marks.
Anything else I should be wary of?
Whatever method of use that you employ, remember that the amount of essential oil that you use should be less than you may ordinarily use. Most recipes online or in books will (unless stated otherwise) be intended for a normal healthy adult, so be prepared to at least halve the amount of essential oil specified. (Recipes in this blog post will be suitable for use in pregnancy)
Another fact that come as a surprise to many, is how sensitive a pregnant woman’s sense of smell may become. It is not uncommon for women to dislike many scents that they would normally like or simply to be more sensitive to smells generally. Respect this phenomenon and reduce the amount of essential oils used accordingly (or avoid those that you dislike during this time.) The good news is that the normal sense of smell should return after the birth.
Some final things to remember -
- Do not take essential oils internally (orally, rectally or vaginally)
- Always dilute essential oils before applying them to the skin. Never apply them neat.
- Be aware that the sense of smell can change during pregnancy, often becoming more sensitive. Adjust the oils used or amount of oil used accordingly.
- Always ensure that you are using true essential oils rather than synthetic or fragrance oils. See my article on What to Look for When Buying Essential Oils oils for more information.
- If you have a personal or family history of miscarriage or you have been advised that your pregnancy is in any way fragile, please seek advice from a professional aromatherapist regarding your particular situation before using essential oils. Professional advice is a good idea for anyone contemplating the use of aromatherapy but especially so in pregnancy.
- Always let your health practitioner, doctor, midwife or obstetrician know about anything you are using or proposing to use. Ideally your aromatherapist should work with your other health providers to ensure your care is coordinated.
And finally here are some useful remedies for use in pregnancy -
Nausea - put 2-3 drops of ginger or spearmint essential oil on a tissue and inhale. Or add several drops to an aroma inhaler. (An inhaler can be useful to keep by the bed for use first thing in the morning if this is when your nausea hits, or to carry with you during the day.)
Stretch Marks – to help reduce the chance of stretchmarks, mix 5 drops each of mandarin, frankincense and geranium essential oils into 50ml jojoba oil. Apply daily to the abdomen from the breasts to the hips.
The information in the blog is intended for general use only and does not take into account any individual's particular needs, circumstances or risk factors. If you are uncertain whether the information provided in this blog is appropriate for you, please consult a professional aromatherapist or a health practitioner with specific aromatherapy training.
Essential Oil Safety 2nd Edition – Robert Tisserand, Rodney Young
The Complete guide to Aromatherapy – Salvatore Battaglia