Essential Oil Use During Pregnancy
In recent years, the interest in essential oils has soared. Many people have heard aromatherapy can work wonders on a number of concerns. They’ve also heard warnings against improperly using essential oils, especially during pregnancy. You may find some of your clients turning to you to help them safely navigate the burgeoning world of essential oils.
While safety is something to be mindful of at all points in the lifecycle, its use during the prenatal period warrants extra caution and attention.
Pregnancy is a time of rapid change for both mom and baby. Because foreign substances can affect fetal development and add an additional burden to a pregnant woman’s already taxed body, it’s wise to be cautious when using essential oils. This doesn’t mean that pregnant women should avoid them altogether. In fact, with proper use, essential oils can be a powerful self-care ally for many pregnant women.
What Does the Research Say?
Truthfully, not a whole lot. At least not for humans. Which isn’t all that surprising when you consider the ethical implications of testing any substance for safety on a pregnant woman. The same is true for most pharmaceutical drugs, over the counter medications, and ingredients found in foods, cleaning products, and personal care items.
Most of our recommendations for essential oil use during pregnancy comes from animal research, educated guesses based on the effect of specific chemical constituents found in essential oils, and anecdotal data.
Essential Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy
Despite the lack of rigorous studies on the safety of most essential oils, there are some essential oils women are advised to avoid because:
- the oil is high in a specific molecule we know poses a danger to an unborn baby or a pregnant woman
- there has been an incident where a pregnant woman intentionally induced abortion by consuming a large amount of the oil
- animal studies have revealed a potential danger lies in using that specific oil
Based on the data we do have, the following oils should be completely avoided during pregnancy:
How to Safely Use Essential Oils During Pregnancy
Avoiding unsafe oils is only one part of aromatherapy safety. Of equal importance is choosing the right dilution and delivery method.
During pregnancy, a 1% dilution is the highest recommended concentration. To dilute essential oils, drops of oils are added to a carrier. A few common carriers are vegetable oils like coconut, avocado, and olive oil, whole milk, hydrosols, and water.
Below is a quick guide to essential oil dilution:
The safest aromatherapy delivery method is inhalation. Only a small portion of inhaled essential oil molecules make it to the blood stream, which greatly reduces the potential chemical effects on both mom and baby.
Inhalation includes diffusion, air spritz, fabric spritz, directly sniffing an oil from an inhaler, piece of fabric, or tissue, and steam inhalation.
The next safest route is topical. Think massage oils, creams, lotions, etc. Again, proper dilution is key. Though topical use is generally considered safe during pregnancy, special care should be taken when using potentially phototoxic oils.
These oils can increase the risk of sun burns. If they’re used topically, the sun should be avoided for 24 hours or the skin should be covered and protected.
The least safe route is internal use. Oral ingestion, rectal, and vaginal delivery are all types of internal usage. They should only be used with great care under the supervision of both a clinical aromatherapist and a physician. This doesn’t include the essential oils found in commercial food or oral care products flavored with essential oils. Eaten or used in normal amounts, these shouldn’t cause a problem.
Essential Oil Recipes for Common Pregnancy Problems
Lower Back Pain
Peppermint Massage Oil
- Add 6 drops of peppermint oil to 1 oz (30 ml, 2 tbsp) of a carrier oil of your choice.
- Massage into the lower back using gentle circular strokes.
Lavender Essential Oil
- Add 1 drop of lavender oil to 1 tsp(5 ml, .17 oz) of a carrier oil of your choice.
- Massage the mixture into the temples and back of the neck.
Lemon + Ginger Inhaler
- Use a small glass tube packed with coarse salt or an essential oil inhaler with a wick.
- Add 10-15 drops of ginger oil and 10-15 drops of lemon oil, or 20-30 drops of either to the wick or tube.
- Waft under nose, taking deep slow breaths to alleviate nausea.
Essential oils can be a wonderful ally for pregnant women. With the proper precautions and information most pregnant women can safely and comfortably use essential oils to find relief from many common pregnancy complaints.
Kendra Tolbert MS, RDN, CDN, CLC is registered dietitian, certified aromatherapist, and certified lactation counselor specializing in women’s health. Her website, Live Fertile, is packed with fertility, pregnancy, and women’s health wellness information. She currently lives in Alexandria, VA where she can usually be found taking a yoga or belly dance class.