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We have talked a lot already about essential oil safety, including safety with babies and children, but I have yet to cover essential oil safety for pregnant and nursing mothers. Today we are going to go over this topic, and explore the essential oils that are safe to use while pregnant or nursing, as well as ways to use them for specific pregnancy symptoms.
Essential oils have shown to be helpful during pregnancy
The topic of essential oil use during pregnancy is a bit of a controversial issue, mainly because there hasn't been a lot of studies done on the topic ( it can be difficult to find a safe methodology of testing with pregnant women and the infants that they are carrying). Essential oils have been used for over 25 years by midwives, doulas, nurses, and mothers-to-be and have shown no harm to the mother or baby. In fact Jane Buckle, RN (Buckle, 2015) states;
“There are no records of abnormal fetuses or aborted fetuses as a result of the normal use of essential oils, either by inhalation or by topical application.”
When used properly, essential oils are very safe for use during pregnancy and can help the expectant mother through all sorts of pregnancy symptoms, including nausea/vomiting, swelling of ankles and muscle spasms, insomnia, stress, and more! See down below for some suggestions for common ailments during pregnancy.
Essential oil basics when you are pregnant or nursing
If used safely and with care, essential oils have proven to be very helpful at aiding women through the physical and mental trials and tribulations of pregnancy. These are some of the basic rules to follow when using essential oils while pregnant or nursing:
- Ingestion should be avoided during pregnancy and while nursing – While topical applications and diffusion are both safe routes to use essential oils while you are pregnant or nursing, many essential oils can be toxic to the baby if ingested. It is important not to ingest ANY essential oils while you are pregnant or nursing. You can read more here on essential oil ingestion and safety
- Essential oil use should be avoided in the first trimester – Many aromatherapists agree that most essential oils should be avoided during the first three months of pregnancy, especially if you are high risk for a miscarriage (for any reason).
- Less is more with pregnant and nursing mamas – Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil (such as almond, coconut, hemp seed, etc.) before use. It's best while pregnant not to exceed a 1% dilution (6 drops essential oil per 1 oz. of carrier oil), and a 2% dilution (12 drops essential oil per 1 oz. of carrier oil) during labor and while nursing.
- Only run the diffuser for 10-15 minutes – Pregnant mamas noses are much more sensitive to smells and running the diffuser too long can cause headaches and nausea.
- Repeated intense daily use is not suggested – It is best to utilize essential oils for when you really need it like helping with acute issues such as nausea, indigestion, leg cramps/spasms, insomnia, cough/congestion, stress/anxiety, etc.
- Avoid absolutes and other solvent extracted “essential oils” – Not considered true essential oils, absolutes are created using a solvent, often hexane or butane, to retain the fragrance. Though there should be no solvent left in the final product, you can not be sure, and traces of hexane have been found throughout many absolutes.
- DO NOT add essential oils to the birthing pool – Since essential oils are considered oils, they do not mix with water, rather they float on top and will not mix in. Adding essential oils to the birthing pool is dangerous to the newborn and could cause burns, irritation, or other problems from accidental ingestion. Keep the essential oils to inhalation/diffusion during the actual birthing process, if you are in a pool.
Essential oils pregnant and nursing mamas should AVOID
These essential oils have been determined to be unsafe for use during pregnancy and lactation, via ALL ROUTES (i.e. diffusion, topical, ingestion) because they're chemical makeup contains specific chemical constituents that should be avoided during pregnancy. Some of these constituents can cross the placenta and become toxic to the fetus (camphor), are neurotoxic (thujone), teratogenic and cause deformities in the baby (citral), and more. You can read more about the specific chemical constituents to avoid, which essential oils they can be found in, and their possible adverse effects in many of the references at the bottom of this post (Tisserand & Young is the most complete source for essential oil safety information).
- Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum)
- Anise, Star (Illicium verum)
- Araucaria (Neocallitropsis pancheri)
- Artemisia (Artemisia vestita)
- Atractylis (Atractylylodes lancea)
- Lemon Basil (Ocimum x citriodorum) – Can be used at a low dilution, no more than once a day
- Birch (Betula lenta)
- Black Seed (Nigella sativa)
- Buchu (Agathosma betulina, Agathosma crenulata)
- Calamint (Calamintha nepeta)
- Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)
- Carrot Seed (Daucus carota)
- Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)
- Chaste Tree (Vitex ugnus castus)
- Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum verum)
- Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) – This should be avoided during pregnancy because it can bring on contractions, but it has been used quite effectively in the birthing room for just this purpose. It's safe for use during labor (under the guidance of a doula or midwife) as well as postpartum.
- Cypress, blue (Callitris intratopica)
- Dill Seed (Anethum graveolens)
- Dill Seed, Indian (Anethus sowa)
- Eucalyptus, ALL (Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus maidenii, Eucalyptus plenissima, Eucalyptus kochii, Eucalyptus polybractea, Eucalyptus radiata, Eucalyptus autraliana, Eucalyptus phellandra, Eucalyptus smithi)
- Fennel, bitter and sweet (Foeniculum vulgare)
- Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
- Frankincense (Boswellia papyrifer) – Can be used at a low dilution, no more than once a day
- Genipi (Artemisia genepi)
- Hibawood (Thujopsis dolobratta)
- Ho Leaf (Cinnamomum camphora)
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
- Lanyuna (Artemisia afra)
- Lavender, French/Spanish (Lavandula stoechas)
- Lemon Balm, Australian (Eucalyptus staigeriana) – Can be used at a low dilution, no more than once a day
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) – Avoid use during pregnancy, OK for use while nursing
- May Chang Litsea cubeba – Avoid use during pregnancy, OK for use while nursing
- Mugwort (Artemisia arborescens, Artemisia vulgaris)
- Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
- Myrtle Backhousia anisata)
- Myrtle, Honey (Melaleuca teretifolia) – Avoid use during pregnancy, OK for use while nursing
- Myrtle, Lemon (Backhousia citriodora) – Avoid use during pregnancy, OK for use while nursing
- Nutmeg (Mysristica fragrans)
- Oregano (Origanum onites, Origanum smyrnaeum, Origanum vulgare, etc.)
- Parsley, Leaf/Seed (Petroslinum sativum)
- Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
- Plectranthus (Plectranthus fruticosus)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Rue (Ruta graveolens)
- Sage, Dalmatian (Salvia officinalis)
- Sage, Spanish (Salvia lavandulaefolia)
- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
- Tea Tree, Lemon (Leptospermum petersonii) – Avoid use during pregnancy, OK for use while nursing
- Thuja (Thuja occidentalis)
- Thyme, Lemon (Thymus x citriodorus) – Can be used at a low dilution, no more than once a day
- Verbena, Lemon (Aloysia triphylla) – Can be used at a low dilution, no more than once a day
- Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)
- Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
- Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium, Achillea nobilis)
- Zeodary (Curcuma sedoaria)
Essential oils SAFE for use while pregnant or nursing
This is not a complete list, as many essential oils really have never been clinically tested for use during pregnancy. Other essential oils not mentioned here may be OK for use if properly diluted and used sparingly.
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) – Do not use topically before going out in the sun, diffusion and wash-off products are safe
- Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
- Chamomile, German/Roman (Chamaemelum nobile, Matricaria recutita) –
- Copaiba (Copaifera langsdorfii, Copaifera officinalis)
- Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
- Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
- Fir Needle (Abies alba, Abies sachalinensis, Abies sibirica)
- Frankincense (Boswellia carteri, Boswellia frereana, Boswellia neglecta, Boswellia rivae, Boswellia sacra, Boswellia serrata)
- Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
- Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi) – Do not use topically before going out in the sun, diffusion and wash-off products are safe
- Juniper berry (Juniperus communis)
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Lavender, Spike (Lavandula latifolia)
- Lemon (Citrus x limon) – Do not use topically before going out in the sun, diffusion and wash-off products are safe
- Lime (Citrus x aurantifolia) – Do not use topically before going out in the sun, diffusion and wash-off products are safe
- Marjoram, Sweet (Marjorana hortensis)
- Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
- Neroli (Citrus x aurantium)
- Orange, Sweet (Citrus sinensis)
- Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)
- Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium)
- Pine, Scots (Pinus sylvestris)
- Rose, Otto (Rosa damascena) – is safe for use during the third trimester
- Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora)
- Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum)
- Spruce, Norway (Picea abies)
- Tangerine (Citrus reticulata)
- Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- Thyme ct linalool (Thymus vulgaris)
- Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) – Use sparingly as this is very pungent, even to the nose of someone who is not pregnant
Essential oil uses for common pregnancy symptoms
Morning Sickness, Nausea/Vomiting, Heartburn: I prefer to try either ginger, peppermint, or spearmint tea for nausea, but when I do use essential oils for nausea, I like to keep a drop or two of ginger, spearmint or a combo of two on a personal inhaler, in my purse. Spearmint is preferred over peppermint, as it is not as intense and has less pulegone (a constituent found in several minty essential oils that can cause liver toxicity to the mother if used in excess). Some mothers also find relief with the refreshing scents of lemon, grapefruit, lime, and sweet orange when experiencing nausea and vomiting.
Chest Congestion/Cold: For chest congestion and stuffy noses, I like to treat pregnant women with my Cool Vibes Vapor Rub Jr. (the 6+ months blend). Fir needle and cypress are two of my favorite alternatives in place of Eucalyptus, for breathing and chest congestion. You can add a few drops of Frankincense or bergamot to help combat illness, chest congestion, and germs if needed.
Back Pain/Sciatic Nerve Pain: While black pepper, sweet marjoram, and chamomile are great for back and leg muscle pains, cypress is great for leg and ankle swelling and leg cramps. When it comes to sciatic nerve pain, I find that sweet marjoram, lavender, cypress, black pepper, and chamomile are all great choices. My personal favorite for nerve pains of any kind is sweet marjoram. BONUS – if you combine any of these with rosehip seed oil (6 drops eo to 1 oz. rosehip seed oil), and massage this into your lower back, hips, and thighs; this doubles as a stretch mark oil that also helps soothe your lower back at the same time!
Stretchmarks & Dry Skin: For stretch marks and scars, dilute 2 drops (Roman or German) chamomile essential oil and 2 drops sweet orange essential oil into 1 oz. rosehip seed oil, and massage all over. I used a body butter for myself, during my pregnancy. I used it daily, and found no stretchmarks postpartum! (Hallelujah! Not everyone is so lucky with stretch marks!)
Stress/Anxiety/Fear: Lavender, chamomile, citrus scents, geranium, ylang-ylang, petitgrain, and neroli are all great options to use when calming and uplifting moments are needed. Massage, diffusion, or a personal inhaler are all great ways to use these oils. I also like to suggest meditation and yoga to EVERYONE stressed out, pregnant or not. Learning to control the breath and to relax the mind will even help during the birthing experience. I also enjoy a good cup of chamomile tea!
Insomnia: My first suggestion is always lavender and chamomile, maybe even with a little bit of sweet orange. Others that work well for sleep and relaxation are sweet marjoram, ylang-ylang, lime, bergamot, neroli, and lemon. I like to either make a spray and spray the room or my pillow or diffuse the essential oils around your room 30 minutes prior to bedtime. You can also put a couple drops onto a personal inhaler and keep it by your bed, just in case you have one of those nights that you just can't get any sleep.
Fatigue: For fatigue, I love to combine 1 drop spearmint with 1 drop each grapefruit, lime, and sweet orange in a personal inhaler. This is my favorite option because then you can bring it with you and take a sniff when needed. You can also use this blend in the diffuser too! All the citrus oils have wonderful uplifting properties and can be interchanged her.
References for essential oil safety during pregnancy
This post, combined with these great references, you are sure to enjoy a safe and aromatherapeutic pregnancy, labor, and postpartum! These resources have been combed through by me, for school and while writing this post!
The Complete Guide to Essential Oils for Mama and Baby (Anthis, 2017)
Essential Oil Safety 2nd edition (Tisserand & Young, 2014)
Clinical Aromatherapy – Essential Oils in Healthcare 3rd edition (Buckle, PhD, RN, 2015)
The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy 2nd edition (Battaglia, 2003)
Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art 2nd edition (Keville & Green, 2009)
NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy) Pregnancy Guide
The beautiful nursing photos in this post were generously provided to me by a very old friend Jennifer from Natural Grace Photography! Isn't she gorgeous? I couldn't help but ask her if I could use a couple of her photos for this post!