Essential oils have been used by many professionals such as aromatherapists, doulas, midwives, and nurses for decades to help treat all sorts of pregnancy symptoms. These include nausea, back pain, insomnia, stretch marks, and stress. They can also be helpful during a woman’s birthing time and in postpartum care. It is important, however, to know how to use essential oils properly while you are pregnant or nursing.
Essential oils are very potent and can be more irritating for pregnant women, as they can have more sensitive skin and olfactory systems. Some oils can also stimulate the uterus and encourage the onset of contractions. Essential oils can also cross the placental barrier, thus having the potential to affect a fetus. That said, according to the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapy (IFPA) “the amount of essential oil that actually accesses the mother’s skin is very tiny and therefore the amount that reaches the placenta is miniscule if proper dilutions are being used.” Also, according to many authors including Ron Guba, Kurt Schnaubelt, and Chrissie Wildwood have all pointed out that there have been ‘no recorded cases of miscarriage or birth defect resulting from aromatherapy massage using therapeutic applications of any essential oil.
All of that means it is important to know which essential oils are safe to use, when to use them, and how they should be applied. When using essential oils while pregnant or breastfeeding, here are some basic guidelines from the IFPA and other authors to follow:
- Avoid ingesting essential oils – instead, apply essential oils topically or use a diffuser.
During the first trimester, avoid using essential oils unless recommended by a health professional. This is particularly important if you are at a higher risk for a miscarriage.
- As always, dilute your essential oils with a carrier oil. Generally, a maximum 1% dilution rate is recommended for pregnant and nursing mamas. As the sensitivity of a pregnant woman’s skin can change over time, you may need to adjust the concentration of some essential oils that are more potent. Examples of essential oils that can be more irritating during pregnancy include chamomile and tea tree.
- Add no more than 4 drops of essential oil to a bath.
- Only run the diffuser for 10-15 minutes – when you are pregnant, your nose can also be much more sensitive to smells and running the diffuser too long can cause headaches and nausea in some women.
- Less is more – Try not to use essential oils intensely on a daily basis. Essential oils are most effective 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” – These are not true essential oils. They are created using a solvent, often hexane or butane, to retain the fragrance, and traces of these solvents can remain in the absolutes.
- Do not add essential oils to the birthing pool – Adding essential oils to a birthing pool can be dangerous to a newborn and could cause burns, irritation, or other problems from accidental ingestion. Instead, use essential oils with an inhaler or diffuser during your birthing time.
Essential Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy and/or Nursing
Below is a list of commonly used essential oils that should be avoided when you are either pregnant or breastfeeding, unless specified otherwise.
- Anise, Star (Illicium verum)
- Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum)
- Araucaria (Neocallitropsis pancheri)
- Artemisia (Artemisia vestita)
- Atractylis (Atractylylodes lancea)
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- 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) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it may cause photosensitivity.
- Chaste Tree (Vitex ugnus castus)
- Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum verum) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it may cause photosensitivity.
- Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) – Can be used in birthing room to encourage contractions. Safe for use during labor (under the guidance of a doula or midwife) as well as postpartum. Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it may cause photosensitivity.
- Cypress, blue (Callitris intratopica)
- Dill Seed (Anethum graveolens) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it may cause photosensitivity.
- 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)
- Genipi (Artemisia genepi)
- Hibawood (Thujopsis dolobratta)
- Ho Leaf (Cinnamomum camphora)
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
- Lanyuna (Artemisia afra)
- Lavender, French/Spanish (Lavandula stoechas)
- May Chang (Litsea cubeba)
- Mugwort (Artemisia arborescens, Artemisia vulgaris)
- Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
- Myrtle (Backhousia anisata)
- Myrtle, Honey (Melaleuca teretifolia) – safe for nursing
- Myrtle, Lemon (Backhousia citriodora) – safe for 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) – safe for nursing
- Thuja (Thuja occidentalis)
- Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)
- Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
- Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium, Achillea nobilis)
- Zeodary (Curcuma sedoaria)
Essential Oils Safe to Use During Pregnancy and Nursing
Here is a list of essential oils commonly used and are safe for pregnant and nursing mamas. Further below, you will find a list of essential oils that can be used to treat common conditions experienced by women during prenatal and/or postpartum periods.
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it causes photosensitivity.
- Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
- Cedarwood, Atlas (Cedrus atlantica)
- Chamomile, German/Roman (Chamaemelum nobile, Matricaria recutita)
- Cinnamon Leaf (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
- Clove Bud (Eugenia caryophylatta)
- 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)
- Frankincense (Boswellia papyrifer) – At a low dilution, no more than once a day.
- Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it may cause photosensitivity.
- Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi)
- Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum)
- Juniper berry (Juniperus communis)
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Lavender, Spike (Lavandula latifolia)
- Lemon Balm, Australian (Eucalyptus staigeriana) – At a low dilution, no more than once a day.
- Lemon Basil (Ocimum x citriodorum) – At a low dilution, no more than once a day.
- Lemon (Citrus x limon) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it causes photosensitivity.
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus)
- Lime (Citrus x aurantifolia) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it causes photosensitivity.
- Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it may cause photosensitivity.
- Marjoram, Sweet (Marjorana hortensis)
- Neroli (Citrus x aurantium)
- Orange, Sweet (Citrus sinensis) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it may cause photosensitivity.
- Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it may cause photosensitivity.
- Peppermint (Mentha piperita) – Could decrease milk supply in the postpartum period.
- Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium)
- Pine, Scots (Pinus sylvestris)
- Rose, Otto (Rosa damascena) – Avoid using first and second trimesters.
- Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora)
- Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum)
- Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
- Spruce, Norway (Picea abies)
- Tangerine (Citrus reticulata) – Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it causes photosensitivity.
- Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- Thyme ct linalool (Thymus vulgaris) – At a low dilution, no more than once a day.
- Thyme, Lemon (Thymus x citriodorus) – At a low dilution, no more than once a day.
- Verbena, Lemon (Aloysia triphylla) – At a low dilution, no more than once a day. Avoid using on skin that will be exposed to sun, as it may cause photosensitivity.
- Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides) – At a low dilution, no more than once a day.
- Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
Conditions that can be Treated with Essential Oils
|Back and leg muscle pain||Black pepper, sweet marjoram, and chamomile|
|Chest Congestion / Cold / Flu||Fir needle, cypress, frankincense, bergamot, lemon, lavender, thyme, tea tree, sweet orange, pine|
|Fatigue||Spearmint, grapefruit, lime, sweet orange|
|Frequent urination||Sweet marjoram, cypress, neroli|
|Hemorrhoids||Cypress, sandalwood, peppermint, sweet orange, lavender, frankincense, chamomile (topical application or in sitz bath)|
|Heartburn||Sandalwood, roman chamomile, petitgrain (use in an inhaler or diffuser)|
|Insomnia||Lavender, chamomile, sweet orange, sweet marjoram, ylang-ylang, lime, bergamot, neroli, lemon|
|Morning sickness||Petitgrain, sweet orange, mandarin, ginger, peppermint, spearmint|
|Sciatic nerve pain||Sweet marjoram, lavender, cypress, black pepper, and chamomile|
|Stress/anxiety/fear||Lavender, chamomile, citrus scents, geranium, ylang-ylang, petitgrain, and neroli|
|Stretch marks||Lavender, frankincense, rose, roman chamomile, sweet orange|
|Varicose veins||Cypress, sandalwood, sweet orange|
|Water retention||Petitgrain, geranium, bitter orange|