Essential Oils during Pregnancy
AROMATHERAPY is a very nurturing and comforting practice for pregnant women that can promote a feeling of contented well-being, while also helping to ease many of the discomforts that are often experienced during pregnancy.
The uplifting nature of pure essential oils certainly helps restore emotional equilibrium and assuage the sense of heaviness that can prevail during late pregnancy.
We should not disregard how the pregnant woman has a heightened sense of smell; along with her hormonally enhanced, instinctive drive towards safety and wholesomeness for her unborn child.
This more finely tuned awareness can usually be trusted and should not be trivialised or ignored, because the pregnant woman of sound mind will intuitively know what is best for her own, unique gestation with regards to ingestion of different foods and herbs and the use of different products.
This needs to be considered when choosing essential oils for pregnancy and birth. It is most important that the woman herself is not repelled by the smells in any way; rather that she enjoys them, which will increase their efficacy for her on a psychotherapeutic level.
We must respect the gestating female’s innate resilience; she is tougher than we give her credit with her fiercely protective impulses and inner knowing that is quite astounding.
That said, she is also vulnerable with her hormones in flux and her impulses honed to act on behalf of her baby’s welfare - so she will instinctively look for the best advice, which can be quite confusing with the conflicting or controversial issues that seem to surround safety and efficacy of essential oils during pregnancy.
Like a false ‘belief echo’, many incorrect ideas are mindlessly replicated without question and without the solid substantiation of real life experience.
An unwarranted sense of fear and doubt is thus virally spread online to settle into the mass psyche about using a lot of innocuous, natural products such as essential oils, and the over-reaction is proliferated.
It is important that the pregnant woman puts things in perspective to balance out the necessary precautionary principles without getting caught up in the prevalent exaggeration and ‘scare-mongering’.
This would deny her the wonderful and safe assistance that pure essential oils can offer when used appropriately.
There have been very few scientific studies on the subject of using essential oils in pregnancy; not that the seasoned herbalist will deem scientific validation as the necessary stamp of approval for using plants safely and efficaciously.
This scarcity of scientific involvement has prompted prevalent and overly cautious counsel that recommends avoiding using them for somewhat nebulous safety issues.
Herbs and their various extracts have had thousands of years of knowledgeable, safe empirical practice, which cannot be said for most modern drugs and household items, especially for pregnancy concerns.
In more modern times, essential oils have been safely used for more than 25 years by midwives, doulas, nurses and mothers-to-be and have shown no harm to the mother or baby.
There are no records of abnormal foetuses or aborted foetuses as a result of the normal use of essential oils, either by inhalation or by topical application.
The very rare cases of toxicity during pregnancy is almost exclusively due to pregnant women taking large, toxic doses of essential oils, notably pennyroyal and parsley seed, in an attempt to abort the foetus.
A common myth in aromatherapy is that massage oils containing essential oils such as clary sage, rose or even rosemary can cause a miscarriage and hence should be completely avoided throughout pregnancy.
It should be noted that it is actually quite difficult to dislodge a healthy foetus in a healthy pregnancy. Authors such as Ron Guba, Kurt Sch
naubelt, and Chrissie Wildwood have all pointed out that there have been no recorded cases of miscarriage or birth defects resulting from aromatherapy massage using therapeutic applications of any essential oil.
There is even some unnecessary speculation about the use of gentle lavender in pregnancy. Three substantially verified herbal safety texts have concluded that lavender essential oil is safe to use in pregnancy, with a Class 1 rating, meaning generally safe to use, with no contraindication for pregnancy or breastfeeding.
“No increase in frequency of malformation or other harmful effects on the foetus from limited use in women,” according to Mills and Bone (2005).
The Complete German Commission E Monograph for lavender lists L. angustifolia essential oil as officially “approved” and with no side effects and no contraindications. The Commission E Monographs are generally regarded as the most authoritative source on the safety of herbal medicines.
It puts things in perspective to know that even ‘scary’ camphor essential oil, completely contraindicated for pregnancy, is neither reproductively toxic nor abortifacient except in almost fatal doses (a lethal human dose is approximately 200mg).
Nasty laboratory rat testing of high dosage revealed that no foetal toxicity occurred at any dose level (source Politano et al 2008).
Again, we should remember that most households already have in their midst many more comparatively toxic chemical substances in the guise of cosmetic, perfume and cleaning products, however scant attention is brought to bear on their safety for pregnant women.
In contrast, aromatherapy and herbal products are too often maligned in the wider media; perhaps this is by those who are threatened by their increasing growth in popularity.
Every thing, botanical or otherwise, can be poisonous if used incorrectly or without understanding how the plant works; it is all a question of choosing the right plant and dosage that should then be aligned with the needs and sensitivities of the individual.
To be realistic, even the relatively more intense oils that are deemed toxic are not used neat and smothered directly over the pregnant belly itself.
If used well-diluted and massaged into distal parts of the body; they would not pose the level of hazard that is often suggested.
Most essential oils are safe when used appropriately during pregnancy and can help the expectant mother through all sorts of pregnancy discomforts.
Essential oil uses during pregnancy
THE TENDER and caring act of massaging the baby belly will be absolutely sensed and gratefully felt by the brand new human being gestating inside and forms the early basis for a loving touch/smell bond that will endure.
This is where aromatherapy beautifully comes into its own; protecting and caring for the skin, increasing its elasticity and resilience while soothing the baby and mother.
The pregnant woman definitely needs a safe and pure blend of essential oils to massage onto her swollen belly as well as other regions of her body to prevent stretch marks and scarring.
The reality for many women is very stretched skin on more than just the obvious tummy; breasts, hips, thighs and even the arms can swell and the poor, stressed skin has to keep up with the rapid rate of growth.
A quality emollient oil blend with high quality and nutrient rich carrier oils, such as almond, jojoba, rosehip and additional oil infusions such as calendula oil, is exactly what she needs to rub all over her extended body regions to pre-empt any skin damage.
Pertinent choice of safe and efficacious essential oils will give her reassurance that her unborn babe will not be disturbed in any negative way, be that physically, emotionally or psychologically.
Neroli oil promotes skin cell generation and may keep your skin glowing during pregnancy while the more expensive everlasting oil (helichrysum) would prove to be a worthwhile investment to intensify skin repair when added to pregnant body rub blends.
Many natural aromatherapy face products that often contain small amounts of essential oils will still be perfectly okay to continue using in skincare routines throughout pregnancy. Remember that the quantities and choice of essential oils that are appropriate for the tender facial skin is well within the range of safe pregnancy aromatherapy; the same may not be true of many chemical cosmetic concoctions with intensive actives.
Stretchmark prevention Belly Rub
60 mL Almond oil
20 mL Rosehip oil
15 mL calendula infused oil
20 drops lavender
10 drops tangerine
10 drops neroli,
10 drops petitgrain
5 drops sandalwood
5 drops chamomile
1 ml Vitamin E (two capsules)
Nausea distresses many women during the first trimester and a simple ginger, lemon balm, peppermint or spearmint tea lightly sweetened with honey is very helpful; a drop or two of ginger, spearmint or a combination of these essential oils could be safely added to the pot to augment the carminative action.
Spearmint is recommended over peppermint, as it is not as intense. This is because it has less pulegone, the constituent found in several essential oils of the mint family, which could in the rare case of excessive use, cause liver toxicity to the mother.
Spearmint oil could be safely taken internally in the case of indigestion or flatulence. Warm and dissolve three drops into a tablespoon of honey and add a teaspoon of this mixture to a glass of hot water or chamomile tea. For heartburn, add two drops of spearmint to a glass of almond milk.
Simple inhalation of the digestive mint and select safe spice essential oils (coriander, ginger or cardamom for example) can also help quell nauseous spells; while the refreshing, citrus scents of lemon, grapefruit, lime or sweet orange can also bring relief from nausea and vomiting.
Chamomile oil soothes the gut and treats indigestion and headaches safely, while bright mandarin eases bloat and black pepper gets things moving through the gut.
Gentle tummy massage with a tummy settle blend of gentle essential oils can be helpful for treating indigestion or constipation.
Pregnancy Tummy Settle
50 ml Carrier vegetable oil, essential oils
10 drops spearmint oil
2 drops ginger
10 drops orange oil
Should the pregnant woman catch a cold or suffer from congestive bronchial issues, spearmint, niaouli, pine, lemon and cypress would be gentler alternatives to the usual eucalyptus for using in aromatisers or diffusers.
Add a few drops of lavender, manuka, lemon tea-tree or frankincense to up the ante on anti-viral action.
Reflexology is an excellent method to activate the immune-boosting, anti-microbial properties of essential oils within the sensitive pregnant woman. Firmly massage the tips of the toes that are tuned directly into the sinuses with niaouli, litsea cubeba or cypress.
Aromatherapy massage is certainly indicated for the inevitable aching muscles that accompany pregnancy.
The lower back is especially vulnerable to aches, with the extra load-bearing happening during later pregnancy.
It is uncomfortable for pregnant women to lie on their front for back massage, so a good alternative is to sit astride a chair and lean onto a pillow so that the back can be easily massaged.
This is where the partner comes in and participates in the ritual of nurturing and caring for the sacred vessel that the woman’s body has become, carrying new life.
Black pepper, frankincense, ginger and chamomile are great for easing backache and leg muscle pains. Grapefruit eases water retention or lemongrass oil is quite helpful for leg and ankle swelling, as well as leg cramps.
Leg massage with firm pressure up the legs and just very light pressure down the legs eases tired, swollen legs; while circling around the ankle joints also feels good.
For sciatic nerve pain: lavender, manuka, frankincense, black pepper, and chamomile diluted in St John’s Wort oil could be used successfully.
For yeast infections, soak for 10 minutes in bath with a few drops of lavender, tea tree and two tablespoons of bath salts.
Her hormones are in flux; she’s coping with massive physical and emotional changes, so it is normal that anxiety or fears should arise now and then for the pregnant woman.
This can be promptly and safely managed with essential oils to effectively bring calm and uplift by shedding healing, aromatic light on doubtful, stressful moments.
Lavender, rose, chamomile, citrus scents, bergamot, geranium, ylang ylang, petitgrain and neroli are all great options from which to choose. Sandalwood is also an effective anti-depressant as well as helpful for cystitis during pregnancy.
Use massage, reflexology, baths, diffusion or a personal inhaler to allow these essential oils to relieve tensions and stress. They cleverly augment the calming action of the parasympathetic nervous system and assist the woman in learning to control the breath and relax the mind, which will very much help during the birthing experience.
There may be times when sleep is elusive during different times of the nine-month gestation. Again, essential oils are the safe ‘go-to’ that can assist the body and mind to relax and let go.
Light aromatherapy pillow sprays that are not heavy handed with essential oils are a great way to gently encourage sleep. Try lavender and chamomile essential oils and maybe even with a little sweet orange. Alternatively, diffuse the essential oils around your room half an hour before bedtime.
Other oils to consider that work well for sleep and relaxation are ylang ylang, sandalwood, vetivert, patchouli, bergamot, and neroli.
You can also put a couple drops onto a personal inhaler and keep it by your bed, in the case of one of those restless nights.
Massaging the bottom of your feet with lavender oil is another option in the tool kit.
Every so often fatigue can overcome pregnant women and inhaling uplifting essential oils such as bergamot, grapefruit, lime and orange with a personal inhaler can be an easy ‘go-to’ remedy, when a lie down is not possible.
Body changes with the increased load and pressure on key blood vessels can cause uncomfortable haemorrhoids or varicosity in the legs during pregnancy, particularly with those women so predisposed.
Massage cypress, lemon, litsea cubeba, grapefruit and geranium diluted appropriately according to safe pregnancy aroma protocols will assist in peripheral blood flow.
So long as you do not have any specific health sensitivities or complications with other allopathic medication, you could sparingly add rosemary or juniper oil that is well diluted to a blend to increase circulation and bring energy to the legs and feet. Consult your health practitioner if you have concerns.
This list is not complete because other essential oils not mentioned here might also be fine to use if properly diluted and used judiciously.
Many essential oils really have never been ‘clinically tested’ for use during pregnancy.
When deciding about the risks and benefits of using essential oils during pregnancy, the woman’s medical history, obstetric history, weeks of gestation and current health need to be considered.
* Use sparingly
** Exercise more caution, or seek professional advice
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
**Cajeput (Melaleuca leucadendron)
**Carrot seed (Daucus Carota)
Chamomile, German/Roman (Anthemis nobile, Matricaria recutita)
Champaka (Michelia champaka)
Citronella (Cymbopogan nardus)
*Clary sage (Salvia sciaria)
**Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
**Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
Frankincense (Boswellia carteri)
*Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) Cautious use in first trimester
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi)
*Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum)- for the last week and during childbirth
**Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Everlasting (Helichrysum italicum)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lemon (Citrus x limon)
Lemon Tea tree (Leptospermum citratum)
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Lime (Cirtus aurantifolia)
May Chang (Litsea Cubeba)
Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
Manuka (Leptospermum Scoparium)
Neroli (Citrus x aurantium)
*Niaouli (Melaeuca quinquinervia)
**Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
Orange, Sweet (Citrus sinensis)
Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens)
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)
Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium)
**Peppermint (Piperita mentha)
**Pimento (Pimenta officinalis)
Pine, Scots (Pinus sylvestris)
Rose, Otto (Rosa damascena)
**Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum)
Tangerine (Citrus reticulata)
*Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)
Verbena (Lippia Citriodora)
Vetivert (Vetivera Zizanoides)
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
If your particular health condition and intolerances mean that you must circumnavigate most of the useful essential oils, don’t forget about the scented hydrosols. These flower and herb waters are a by-product of steam distillation and deliver an ever-so gentle form of aromatherapy, as subtle donors of the smell and the very essence of the plant, in highly diluted, safe form.
Spray orange flower water to refresh the skin and uplift your mood during a sensitive pregnancy or enjoy tender, comforting rose during onerous times.
The following essential oils should be avoided, because of the theoretical risk that tiny amounts of potentially toxic molecules will cross the blood/brain barrier or affect the liver or kidneys of the foetus.
Most of these oils are uncommon, quite pungent and unsuitable for aromatherapy in most circumstances.
Bitter almond, boldo, broom, buchu, calamus, brown & yellow camphor, cassia, chervil, costus, deer tongue, elecampane, fennel, horseradish, jaborandi, melitotus, mugwort, mustard, oregano, pennyroyal, rue, common sage, santolina, sassafras, savin, southernwood, savoury, tansy, tarragon, thyme, Texas/Virginian/Atlas cedar wood, thuja, tonka, wintergreen, wormseed, wormwood.
Hormone mimicking oils
It is wise to avoid some essential oils that may disturb the natural balance of hormones during pregnancy or trigger a miscarriage if the foetus is not viable.
The stronger spice essential oils especially have hormone–like properties such as fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and anise (Pimpinella anisum), due to the main active, anethole.
Cumin, caraway, basil and hyssop should also be avoided because they contain phyto-estrogens reputed to increase milk secretion, promote menstruation, facilitate birth and increase libido.
Certain oils may be useful in a normal pregnancy to strengthen the uterus for birth such as jasmine, geranium, juniper, myrrh, marjoram and rosemary; but should be avoided in early pregnancy because of mild emmenagogue properties.
This means that they are capable of stimulating uterine contractions so just prior and during the delivery, they will be valid options to consider using to augment the body’s own efforts in labour.
Go easy on the spices
To maintain the pregnancy precautionary principle, the other strong spice oils such as cinnamon and clove should be handled with caution by the mindful pregnant woman.
Avoid using them on the skin and keep the diffusion of them to a minimum by adding it sparingly to a blend for piquancy.
In all honesty; many pregnant women may be already unknowingly ingesting these common food additives in different medicinal and food preparations so there is no need to be too worried about circumventing them completely. Fortunately this extra caution doesn’t apply to useful digestive ginger oil.
YOU CAN’T go past rose or jasmine oil for use during birth in the delivery room to elevate the experience to a more spiritual level.
Rose assists emotionally in the letting go and evokes feelings of joy, peace and self-confidence, while jasmine deeply calms the nervous system and strengthens the contractions. Both oils enhance endurance and minimise anxiety for the mother.
Rose essential oil for labour is so relaxing and helps soften ligaments that must release to allow the pelvis to expand for the baby to pass through. Use it with a massage for the lower back or abdomen.
Lavender, clary sage, neroli, ylang-ylang and geranium are all very suitable options to choose for the birthing blend, to use for massage of the feet, back and wherever the woman so desires. The blend may be applied with a warm compress to the lower back during transition.
Clary Sage is a versatile essential oil for labour that encourages more effective contractions, so you can put a few drops on your inner ankles to keep labour progressing normally and soothe the discomforts.
Frankincense works well for women in labour by relieving pain, encouraging the woman to focus and breathe steadily.
Some doulas or midwives use a drop of myrrh on the baby’s umbilical cord stump to help it to dry and fall off faster; it is best to dilute this resinous oil in a calendula tincture for this purpose.
Inhaling the aroma of myrrh can also encourage the progression of natural labour.
Any one or combination of suitable essential oils can be volatised in an aromatiser to scent the room and create a gorgeous, uplifting environment into which the baby greets the world. It is wise to experiment prior to the birth to find a blend that the woman enjoys the most.
Observe the themes of the root chakra (Muladhara) - which is situated at the base of the spine and governs the birthing process - to determine those grounding and earthy oils that will empower the birth process not only physically but in an energetic way.
Include patchouli, sandalwood, vetivert, ginger and benzoin essential oils to connect and balance this chakra, which relates to our basic needs and our sense of security and survival.
When a baby is born, the first few weeks relate to the first chakra as the new child adjusts to its environment, so these scents will create a stabilising and reassuring backdrop for the baby’s birth and the home.
The perineum is the bridge of skin that is susceptible to extreme stretching during childbirth.
Early pre-emptive massage with an emollient essential oil blend will be most supportive to enhance its own elasticity and resilience. Such a blend will continue to help post birth to help the over-stretched and stressed skin recover.
If you can afford it, everlasting (helichrysum) essential oil is great to rub it on the perineum during delivery to increase skin elasticity; only a small amount diluted at one per cent with a carrier oil is necessary. Frankincense will be extra helpful should there be a tear during birth and to aid the torn skin in recovering more quickly.
50mL Carrier Blend (use a hardy base blend such as hazelnut, rosehip and macadamia oils)
1mL vitamin E (the contents of two vitamin E capsules)
5 drops lavender
5 drops frankincense
(5 drops geranium after first trimester).
The range of essential oil choices is greatly increased after the birth as their nurturing qualities continue to be very useful to help with recovery for the body and mind.
They are uplifting on those ‘down’ days and holistically help the new mother deal with the inevitable exhaustion.
Rose oil, a star mediator for the heart chakra, broadens its reach and capacity to love, bond and nurture.
It can be particularly kind and helpful to assuage the sense of bodily loss after birth, intensifying the heart’s loving focus on the new externalised responsibilities that come with the baby.
Of course essential oils also offer gentle and safe baby care, being mindful of a new sensitive little nose.
More great references for essential oil safety while pregnant or nursing