Aromatherapy can offer so much to help ease the physical and emotional discomfort of pregnancy. Topically in even very small doses, some oils can assist with dry skin, stretch marks, preparing breasts for feeding and the scent can help to offer a natural remedy for stress and relaxation. So why all the concern around using essential oils during pregnancy?
There is so much contradictory information out there about the safety of essential oils during pregnancy, that many women choose to avoid them altogether. And it is completely understandable that mums-to-be don't want to risk the health of their growing baby.
The main concern around using essential oils during pregnancy, is the risk of it's constituents crossing into the placenta. It's not that the oils themselves are necessarily toxic to the baby, but if there are high levels in the Mother's blood, it may be passed through the placenta and be toxic to the baby. Additionally, some oils are known to cause contractions or raise blood pressure. However there are no recorded cases of miscarriage or birth defect resulting from aromatherapy massage using therapeutic applications of any essential oil (1).
There is so much mis-information available online, often written by untrained people, making unfounded claims or suggest using unsafe quantities, that it can be a bit of a minefield trying to figure out what is safe!
I wrote this article to help provide some guidance for you on which oils are safe to use topically and which to avoid. It is by no means definitive, hopefully it can provide a little peace of mind.
So what exactly are essential oils?
Essential oils are the volatile aromatic compounds derived from plants. In their pure form, they are a highly potent extract from herbs, which should be viewed as powerful natural medicines. As such, should always be used in very low dose and with caution.
How can I use essential oils safely?
Essential oils can be used as aromatherapy and topically during pregnancy. They should always be used in a highly diluted form, and if applied to the skin, should be combined with moisturising carrier oils. If essential oils are used with common sense, and not used excessively, they can be used safely and effectively in the second and third trimester.
Which essential oils are safe to use topically during pregnancy?
As a general rule, I would recommend avoiding the use of essential oils during the first trimester as a precaution.
Once in the second and third trimesters, there are a number of gentler oils which can have beneficial effects when used in diluted form topically.
Lavender – Calming and soothing, lavender aids sleep, aches and pains. It is also soothing to the skin and for preventing stretch-marks.
Sweet Orange – Naturally anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, can help prevent infective mastitis, and the scent is bright and uplifting.
Mandarin – Calming and uplifting, great for relieving restlessness and improving sleep.
Chamomile – Relieves aches and pains, relaxing, relieves anger and disperses frustration.
Spearmint – Cooling and helps to relieve nausea, gentler than peppermint.
Geranium - Uplifts mood, lessens fatigue and promotes emotional wellbeing. Reduces pain and inflammation.
Rose – Promotes even, healthy skin tone, soothes and uplifts the heart.
Which essential oils should I avoid during pregnancy?
There are a number of stronger essential oils which may interact with the uterus or be toxic in lower doses and should be avoided during pregnancy. This list is by no means extensive, but highlights some of the common essential oils to avoid for the duration of your pregnancy:
Cedarwood (Atlas & Virginian)
On a side note, as someone who is Naturopathically trained, I am extremely cautious about ingesting pure essential oil. This has become quite a contentious issue recently, and whilst small amounts occur naturally in foods, essential oils are a much more potent version of what nature provides. They should be viewed as medicines for which specific oils can be used for health conditions, and therefore the advice of a qualified practitioner should be sought before taking any. Ingested essential oils long-term or in large quantities can disrupt healthy gut flora, become toxins in the body and cause ongoing health issues. I would recommend that essential oils not be ingested for the duration of the pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding.
Essential oils are potent medicines which if used safely, can provide amazing benefits to mums-to-be. Just apply common sense, use oils safe for pregnancy, and seek advice from a practitioner if you have any concerns.
Naturopath & Founder - The Physic Gadren
(1)National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy - https://www.naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/safety/#pregnancy