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Essential Oils During Pregnancy: What Is Safe And What To Avoid

Essential Oils During Pregnancy: What Is Safe And What To Avoid

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Essential oils (EOs) are concentrated, volatile extracts obtained from different plant parts, using cold-pressing (mechanical pressing) and steam distillation techniques (1). Several people use them to treat and manage ailments, such as insomnia, nausea, depression, and anxiety (2). Perhaps it’s the reason why the use of EOs for prenatal massage is becoming common.

However, using essential oils in pregnancy is a debatable subject that needs expert guidance. According to experts, one must know all about the safety and effects of EOs on pregnant women and their unborn babies to avert any adverse outcomes.

Read this article to learn about the safety and benefits of essential oils in pregnancy and how you can use them effectively.

Is It Safe To Use Essential Oils During Pregnancy?

When used under the guidance of an expert, essential oil use in pregnancy is considered safe (1). Based on your and your unborn baby’s health and usage intent, an expert will guide you about the right essential oil for you, its dosage, and the safe mode of use (diffusion, compression, or topical application).

Selecting the right essential oil and then using it in the right dosages is crucial because compounds in EOs can transfer to the baby via the placenta. When these compounds reach the baby, they have the potential to affect them.

However, post proper dilution, the essential oil amount used for massage is usually very small. In such small amounts, the EO will have no adverse effects on the baby. Instead, it may benefit both baby and mother alike. The next section talks about those benefits.

What Are The Benefits Of EOs During Pregnancy?

According to the NHS, UK, essential oil use during pregnancy could help alleviate several pregnancy-associated health issues, such as (3) (4):

  • Nausea and upset stomach
  • Morning sickness
  • Back pain and achy muscles
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Stretch marks
  • Varicose veins
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Insomnia
  • Water retention (edema) and swelling

Additionally, EOs may help reduce anxiety during the birthing process, which helps reduce the perception of pain, making labor less painful (5). Talk to a herbalist or an aromatherapist to know how to use essential oils for managing pain during labor.

Which EOs Are Safe For Use During Pregnancy?

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) lists the following EOs as safe for use during pregnancy (1) (4).

  • Benzoin
  • Bergamot
  • Black pepper
  • Chamomile (German & Roman)
  • Clary sage
  • Cypress
  • Eucalyptus
  • Frankincense
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Grapefruit
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Mandarin
  • Marjoram (sweet)
  • Neroli
  • Petitgrain
  • Rose
  • Sandalwood
  • Orange (sweet)
  • Tea tree
  • Ylang Ylang

Which Essential Oils Are Not Safe During Pregnancy?

There are some EOs that you should avoid using throughout pregnancy, labor, and while nursing. Here’s the list (1)

  • Aniseed
  • Basil ct. estragole
  • Birch
  • Camphor
  • Hyssop
  • Mugwort
  • Parsley seed or leaf
  • Pennyroyal
  • Sage
  • Tansy
  • Tarragon
  • Thuja
  • Wintergreen
  • Wormwood

Note: Unless directed by an expert, don’t ingest essential oils during pregnancy. EO ingestion can be toxic and can affect your and your baby’s health.

Now that you know which EOs can be used during pregnancy, it’s vital to know the right way to purchase and store them.

How To Purchase And Store Essential Oils?

Proper selection of EOs can be tricky as they are manufactured and marketed globally. So, here are some tips you can follow to ensure you buy the best quality product (1).

  1. Know the difference between pure and synthetic EOs. Synthetic oils are sold as perfume or fragrance oils that are cheaper than EOs. Also, they have a mild, pleasant aroma that fades away too quickly. In contrast, pure EOs are relatively expensive and have a deep aroma that lingers longer (6).
  1. Purchase EOs from a trustworthy brand. It will help ensure that the EO is contamination or adulteration-free and poses no health risks for you and your baby.
  1. Read the product label carefully. It will help you ascertain that the product is authentic and up to the industry standards. Here’s what you should look for in the product label
  • Plant’s general/Latin name
  • Country of origin
  • Extraction method (steam distilled or cold-pressed)
  • Which plant part is used to extract the oil (bark, root, leaf, or flower)
  1. Store EOs as mentioned by the manufacturer. Good quality EOs come in dark or tinted glass containers. The manufacturers recommend storing them in a cool, dry, dark place away from heat and direct sunlight to preserve their potency. Keep the bottles locked to prevent accidental ingestion by children and pets.

Once you have purchased the right oil, know the proper ways to use it safely in pregnancy.

Are There Ways To Use Essential Oils Safely?

The following is a list of precautions that ensures you use EOs safely and effectively all through pregnancy (1) (7)

  1. Consult an aromatherapy practitioner or alternate medicine expert who can recommend the right type of EO for you with the appropriate dosage. Remember, EOs are natural products, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe. Hence, you should consult a certified expert and use EOs only after your doctor gives you the go-ahead.
  1. Clearly state the usage intent to your doctor. It’s crucial as the purpose of EO use helps the expert decide which EO is suitable for you, via which route, and for how long. For instance, lavender, chamomile, basil, and Frankincense oil may reduce anxiety. On the other hand, bergamot and peppermint oil may help fight depression. So, pick an EO only after consulting your healthcare provider.
  1. Ascertain the EO’s mode and duration of use. Knowing this is essential as some essential oils are safe for topical use, while others are safe for inhalation purposes. Similarly, some EOs may be safe to use for a shorter duration, while others for a longer duration. Understanding these dynamics and then choosing an EO in accordance are essential to ensure its safe and effective use.
  1. Always dilute EOs before use and follow the proper dilution ratio. Generally, mixing three to six drops of an EO in one ounce of carrier oil is considered a safe dilution ratio for most EOs. However, the dilution ratio may vary, subject to the mother and the baby’s health. So, talk to your doctor to know about the appropriate dilution ratio. You can dilute an EO using unscented natural lotions, carrier oil, or distilled water.
  1. Know the different ways you can use an EO. For instance, you can use essential oil for prenatal massage by adding it to the lotion or oil. Alternatively, you can diffuse the same oil using a diffuser or vaporizer or use it to make an EO spray/spritz. Furthermore, you can dissolve EOs in water and bathe with it or soak your foot in it.
  1. Do a patch test before using EO on a body part or the entire body. It’s vital if you haven’t used EOs before. So, apply a small amount of diluted EO on the back of your hand or elbow and look for signs and symptoms of an allergy or intolerance, such as skin rashes (hives), sneezing, and coughing. Some EOs that carry a higher risk of causing an allergy or sensitivity are tea tree oil, lemongrass oil, ylang-ylang oil, chamomile oil, and bergamot oil (4).
  1. Smell EO before you diffuse it. It’s necessary as several women report heightened smell sensitivity in pregnancy, due to which aromatic products such as EOs can overwhelm them. So, take a few drops of EO in a cotton ball and smell. If you feel the aroma of a particular oil is bothering you in any way, don’t diffuse the oil and seek the guidance of your doctor or an EO expert.
  1. Avoid applying EOs directly on inflamed, damaged, or bruised skin. Doing so may cause skin irritation or inflammation. The chances of this are higher for women who have extremely sensitive skin. Therefore, stay cautious while using EOs on the skin and avoid applying them around the eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent accidental ingestion.
  1. Never step out in the sun after applying EOs. Some EOs contain compounds that can cause the development of red, itchy burns, and blisters due to photosensitivity. Pregnant women are more photosensitive than their non-pregnant counterparts due to high levels of melanin stimulating hormone (4). So, take necessary precautions and don’t step out in the sun after applying EO on the skin. Citrus oils are more likely to cause photosensitivity.
  1. Always diffuse EOs in a well-ventilated room for 15 to 30 minutes with proper intervals in between. It’s an important precaution to observe as prolonged EO exposure can cause sensitive individuals to feel tired and nauseous (8). Talk to your doctor before diffusing EOs, especially if you are experiencing high levels of smell sensitivity.
  1. Don’t go overboard with EO use. It’s especially important during pregnancy when overuse of EO can affect you and your baby. So, follow the EO use frequency as recommended by your healthcare professional.

Note: Never put EOs near fire sources such as gas stoves or candles, as they are highly combustible.

Essential oils are highly volatile, aromatic products that you can safely use in pregnancy under proper guidance. You can use these oils for massage or make compresses using them. Alternatively, you can diffuse EOs for inhalation purposes. Whichever way you use EOs, use them as directed to mitigate their adverse effects on your and your baby’s health.

References:

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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more