Essential oils: are they safe to use during pregnancy?

There’s a strong argument for their benefits when used correctly

Pregnancy is a beautiful time in every woman’s life – when you overlook the morning sickness, the tiredness, the weird-ass cravings that will take you to strange places, and the aches and pains!

It can be a roller coaster of emotions and conflicting advice, and it’s important to find the natural tools you need to get through every part—and feel good while doing it.

Essential oils are a controversial topic in the mum and baby world. Here, we take a deeper look at the argument.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are natural compounds extracted from the bark, leaf, flower, fruit, seed, or root of plants, trees, and shrubs. They are potent medicines from Mother Nature herself, and even one drop of an oil can have powerful results and health benefits. Essential oils are often made through the distillation process, which naturally separates the oil from the water-based components of the plant through steaming. However, some lesser-quality oils are created through chemical processes and high heat extraction.

Essential oils are best known for their aromatherapy benefits, like lavender for sleep and calm. They can also be used to treat specific skin issues and internal concerns, from acne and bug bites, to indigestion and headaches. The potency of any particular oil will often depend on how it was made and whether or not it has been diluted to sell for a cheaper price on the market.

How to choose the best and safest essential oils

Altering essential oils after the distillation or expression process (which may affect the compounds in the oil) can reduce the therapeutic benefits of the oil, and can even put toxic compounds into the body.

Jade Shutes, BA, Dipl. AT., Cert. Herbalist, from NAHA, says to look for an essential oil product that claims to be genuine and authentic. These terms mean that the essential oil is completely unaltered and is from the specified plant only.

How to use essential oils

Essential oils can be used topically, which means on top of the skin, internally (with extra care and prior knowledge about the oil), and through inhalation. Since essential oils have a very small molecule size and a chemical weight of less than 1000m (m = weight of molecule), they are easily absorbed by the skin.

According to Jane Buckle, author of Clinical Aromatherapy, “The use of essential oils in pregnancy is a contentious subject, especially during the vital first 3-month period. It is extremely unlikely that a nightly bath containing a few drops of essential oils will cause any problems for the unborn child. There are no records of abnormal fetuses or aborted fetuses due to the normal use of essential oils, either by inhalation or topical application.

Essential oil safety for pregnancy

The internet is chockablock of conflicting advice telling pregnant mums what’s safe and unsafe for their bodies and growing babes during pregnancy. There are talks of random miscarriages and unexplained abortions, with links back to certain essential oils and their usages.

According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), essential oils are safe for pregnancy and can be a highly beneficial option for mums-to-be who are experiencing nausea, headaches, fatigue, swelling, insomnia, anxiety, and other typical symptoms.

On the NAHA website, essential oil author Ron Guba states that toxicity during pregnancy is almost exclusively a result of a pregnant woman taking large, unsafe doses of essential oils, with a particular emphasis on the oils of Pennyroyal and Parsley Seed, due to their potential unsafe compounds taken at high doses. Guba and other authors have 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.”

The most important potential safety issues to consider

QUALITY: as mentioned, the quality of an essential oil is important as it can affect the compounds and safety of the oil. It’s believed that 100% natural, authentic essential oils present little hazard when compared to synthetic oils and fragrances.

CHEMICAL COMPONENTS: chemical components vary among essential oils, which are what give them their unique smell and therapeutic benefits. There are some that may be too strong for use during pregnancy, especially considering that pregnant skin needs to be treated as sensitive skin. Phenols are a compound generally regarded as not usually suitable for use during pregnancy.

THE PLACENTA BARRIER: being highly absorbable, essential oils have the potential of crossing the placenta barrier and reaching the fetus. However, the amount of oil that can actually access the mum’s skin is so low that the amount that may reach the placenta is tiny. It’s believed that small amounts can be beneficial to babies and fetuses, and there are no known cases where harm was caused to an unborn child due to essential oils.

DILUTION: diluting essential oils is key to making sure they are perfectly safe for use during pregnancy. Use an essential oil dilution that is 1% or less for skin applications. A carrier oil like almond oil, olive oil, or coconut oil can be used to dilute essential oils, and a good rule of thumb is to dilute essential oils 1:4 in the carrier oil, with 1 drop of essential oil for every 4 drops of a carrier oil. Be aware of citrus oils like lemon, lime, and grapefruit when using essential oils topically since they are photosensitive and can cause skin irritation when exposed to sunlight.

Essential oils to use and to avoid during pregnancy

The essential oils believed to be safe for use during pregnancy include:

  • Benzoin
  • Bergamot
  • Black Pepper
  • Chamomile German
  • Chamomile Roman
  • Cedarwood
  • Clary
  • Cardamom
  • Cypress
  • Eucalyptus
  • Frankincense
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Grapefruit
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Mandarin
  • Marjoram
  • Sweet Neroli
  • Petitgrain
  • Rose Otto
  • Sandalwood
  • Sweet Orange
  • Tea Tree
  • Ylang Ylang

The essential oils believed to be used with care during pregnancy (because they contain a high amount of phenols, ethers, and aromatic aldehydes, and they can potentially irritate the skin) include:

  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Savoury
  • Clove
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Fennel
  • Anise Star
  • Sweet Birch

The essential oils believed to be unsafe for use during pregnancy include:

  • Aniseed
  • Basil
  • Birch
  • Camphor
  • Hyssop
  • Mugwort
  • Parsley Seed or Leaf
  • Pennyroyal
  • Sage
  • Tansy
  • Tarragon
  • Thuja
  • Wintergreen
  • Wormwood

Common pregnancy ailments and essential oil solutions

MORNING SICKNESS/NAUSEA: ginger, Peppermint, Lemon, and Cardamom. Dilute 1:4 with one or a blend of these oils with a carrier oil and apply to abdomen, soles of feet, or just one undiluted drop under the tongue.

ANXIETY, WORRY AND STRESS: Frankincense and Lavender. Put a couple drops on bottoms of feet, or simply inhale.

INDIGESTION: Peppermint, Ginger, and Sandalwood. Dilute with a carrier oil and rub blend over stomach and on bottoms of feet.

SLEEP: Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Cedarwood, Vetiver, and Frankincense. Blend oils together to create a relaxing spray, or dilute with a carrier oil and apply to bottoms of feet before bed.

HEADACHES: Lavender, Frankincense, and Peppermint. Dilute with a carrier oil and put blend on bottoms of feet, on temples, and on back of neck.

PAINFUL BACK AND SHOULDERS: Peppermint, Chamomile, Eucalyptus, and Helichrysum. Mix oils in equal amounts with a carrier oil and massage onto areas that feel painful and sore.

ACNE: Cedarwood, Juniper Berry, Spikenard, Oregano, and Tea Tree. Mix a few drops of these essential oils to create a DIY face oil using almond oil and jojoba oil, or simply put a few drops into your cleanser for increased acne fighting properties.

GENERAL SKIN BEAUTY: Frankincense, and Geranium. Mix a few drops of these essential oils to create a DIY face oil.

FATIGUE: Peppermint, Lemon, Sweet Orange, Bergamot, and Grapefruit. Dilute blend and put on bottoms of feet and on temples and back of neck. Diffuse for an energizing, aromatic boost.

STUFFY NOSE AND CONGESTED SINUSES: Eucalyptus, and Peppermint. Mix a few drops of each into a carrier oil and apply to nose and temples to relieve congestion and sinus pressure.

SWELLING OF THE HANDS AND FEET: Frankincense, Cypress, Grapefruit, and Lavender. Dilute in a carrier oil like almond oil, or add to lotion and rub over swollen areas.

STRETCH MARKS: Helichrysum, Frankincense, and Lavender. Mix 4 drops of each oil with coconut oil, or another carrier oil, with six capsules of vitamin E and massage onto stomach, breasts, and thighs.

In conclusion:

While there may be some sources warning mums-to-be of using essential oils while pregnant, there’s a strong argument for their benefits when used correctly.

Please note: This article is intended for general information purposes only. Any suggestions provided do not take into account personal circumstances. Guidance is not intended to be advice, it is not intended to be relied upon and it is not a substitute for professional medical advice based on personal circumstances. Always seek medical advice before proceeding with home remedies, especially for more severe cases. Be sure to check with your paediatrician before use. More in our Business Terms.

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Lauren Spanski

Lauren has studied women’s hormonal health, vaginal steaming, essential oils, and holistic haircare to fulfil her passion for natural health and beauty for women. She is passionate about educating women about nourishing their bodies with natural non-toxic products and traditional food, and in truly taking control over their health. When she’s not writing about women’s natural health topics, Lauren loves spending time out in nature, ballroom dancing, and giving lunar haircuts!

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