Essential Oils For Pregnancy: What Are Safe And What To Avoid

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Essential oils are liquids extracted from different plant parts by various methods (1). The use of essential oils for pregnancy and associated symptoms has gained popularity as it is believed to have a soothing effect by topical use. Mothers take utmost care and spend a lot of time and effort researching and finding the essential oils that are safe for them and their babies during pregnancy. We have made it easier by listing pregnancy-safe essential oils, their benefits, and safety. So read on and make an informed decision while choosing an essential oil to aid you in pregnancy.

In This Article

Is It Safe to Use Essential Oils When Pregnant?

According to the pregnancy guidelines by the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA), essential oils can cross the placental barrier and affect the fetus if proper dilutions are not used (2). Therefore, using essential oils judiciously during pregnancy is of utmost importance. However, scientific evidence regarding its safety is limited, as conducting studies on pregnant women is unsafe and unethical. Therefore, take expert opinions from your healthcare provider or a qualified aromatherapist before using essential oils in your pregnancy.

How Do Essential Oils Work During Pregnancy?

Aromatherapy during pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

Essential oils, as a part of complementary therapy, are mainly used in two ways:

  • Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy involves the inhalation of essential oil. It can be achieved through diffusing, spritzing, direct sniffing, or steam inhalation (3). Once inhaled, they stimulate the brain and elicit various positive responses, such as mood enhancement (4).

  • Topical application

It can be achieved by mixing EOs with creams, toners, lotions, or massage oils. Essential oils in their pure form can be applied to the skin after dilution or added to warm bath water (3). Either way, they get absorbed into the superficial skin layers (5) and help in proper skin care.

protip_icon Quick tip
Mixing essential oils with non-greasy fractionated oils will help them disperse in water easily (6).

Essential Oils And Their Benefits During Pregnancy

Using safe essential oils to alleviate pregnancy-related symptoms may be a natural approach. Find some of the best essential oils and the benefits they might confer for optimum prenatal care.

1. Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil

Lavender essential oil during pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

  • Reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and promotes relaxation (7)
  • Treats nausea and vomiting (8) (9) (10)
  • Eases postpartum depression (PPD)  (11)
  • Reduces labor pain and duration (12)
  • Shows antipruriticiXA medicine that helps relieve itching properties when combined with peppermint and turmeric oil (13)
  • Can be used for episiotomyiXSurgical incision made between vagina and anus to facilitate childbirth wound care (14)
  • Improves immunity and has an anti-inflammatory action (15)

2. Mentha piperita (peppermint) oil

  • Treats migraine and headaches (16) (17)
  • Reduces the severity of pruritus gravidarumiXSevere itchiness associated with pregnancy (18)
  • Relieves swelling and pain in lower extremities (19)
  • Reduces the symptoms associated with emesis gravidarum (20)
  • Eases postoperative nausea (21)
  • Helps alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (22)
  • Might reduce the symptoms of functional dyspepsiaiXA digestive disorder characterized by an upset stomach with no clear underlying cause and the spasms that occur due to endoscopy (22)

3. Boswellia Carterii (frankincense) oil

  • Reduces the intensity of labor and delivery pain(23)
  • May act as an anxiolyticiXHave the ability to reduce anxiety during labor (24) (25)

4. Pelargonium graveolens (rose geranium) essential oil

Rose geranium oil during pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

  • Reduces anxiety during labor (26)
  • Massaging with a blend of geranium, cypress, and lemon added to a lotion may help support varicose veins (27)

5. Rosa damascena (rose) oil

  • Reduces the intensity of pregnancy-related low back pain (28)
  • Manages the symptoms of postpartum depression (11)
  • Eases the severity of labor pain (29)

6. Citrus aurantium var. Amara (neroli) oil

  • Relieves anxiety, and labor pain (30)
  • Aids in stress relief of hospitalized high-risk pregnant women (31)

7. Zingiber officinale (ginger) oil

  • Reduces the severity of emesis gravidarumiXA condition characterized by severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy when combined with lemon or mint  (32) (33)

8. Citrus limonum (lemon) oil

Citrus oil to reduce nausea and vomiting during pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

  • Reduces the severity of nausea and vomiting (34)

protip_icon Caution
Avoid exposure to sunlight after using citrus oil as it can cause serious burns (35).

Essential Oils To Avoid During Pregnancy

Various natural remedies in alternative medicine utilize essential oil to treat, cure, or manage different health conditions. However, some essential oils are not considered safe during pregnancy as they may cause adverse effects such as pregnancy loss, reproductive hormone modulation, maternal toxicity, teratogenicityiXThe ability to cause defects in the developing fetus , and embryo-fetotoxicityiXInterference in the normal growth, development and differentiation of the embryo or fetus due to alterations caused by chemical agents (36). This is an elaborate but non-exhaustive list of some essential oils and their possible side effects during pregnancy.

Essential OIlHazard
Anise and aniseed myrtleReproductive hormone modulation
AraucariaFetotoxic, Anti-angiogenic
Basil oil (estragole chemotype)Potentially carcinogenic
Bitter fennelReproductive hormone modulation
Black seed (black cumin or black caraway)Fetotoxic
Blue cypress (Northern cypress pine)Fetotoxic, Anti-angiogenic
Buchu (diosphenol chemotype)Abortifacient; Hepatotoxicity
Cassia (Chinese or false cinnamon)Embryotoxicity, Reproductive toxicity
Cinnamon barkEmbryotoxicity
CostusFetotoxicity, Anti-angiogenesis
Dalmatian sageEmbryotoxic
Green yarrow (Ligurian yarrow)AbortifacientiXThe ability to cause an abortion
Indian dill seed (Sowa)HepatotoxiciXAn ability to cause severe damage to the liver , NephrotoxiciXAn ability to cause damage to the kidneys , Abortifacient
Lemon basilTeratogenicity
Lemon myrtle (Lemon ironwood or sweet Verbena tree)Teratogenicity
LemongrassTeratogenicity
Myrrh (Somalian myrrh)Fetal Toxicity and anti-angiogenic
OreganoEmbryotoxic
Parsley leaf and seedAbortifacient
RueAbortifacient
SavinEmbryo-fetotoxic, abortifacient and hepatotoxic
Spanish sage (Lavender sage)Abortifacient
Star aniseReproductive hormone modulation
Sweet fennelReproductive hormone modulation
WintergreenTeratogenic at high doses
Wormwood (Absinthe)Embryo-fetotoxicity, abortifacient
Zedoary (white turmeric, hidden ginger)Antifertility, embryotoxicity, anti gestational and abortifacient

When Should You Avoid Essential Oils?

Essential oil use during the first trimester and in high-risk pregnancies are not encouraged by aromatherapists, herbal medicine experts, and medical professionals as their usage might affect the developing fetus. Therefore, essential oil usage in the first trimester should be done only under the guidance and supervision of a medical practitioner.

Precautions To Be Taken When Using Essential Oils

Incorrect usage of essential oils may cause harm in susceptible populations. Follow these precautions to ensure safety while using essential oils during pregnancy.

  • Dilute the essential oil to 1% or less using a carrier oil (2)
  • Do not add more than four drops of the essential oil when using it in a bath (2)
  • Ingestion of essential oil is generally not recommended (3)
  • Check the purity of the essential oil before purchasing. Use pure and authentic therapeutic essential oils (2)
  • Test for allergies using a skin test
  • Avoid prolonged use of essential oils (37)
  • Keep oils away from the flame as they are highly flammable (37)
  • Follow the instructions on the product label or leaflet
  • Use the appropriate method of application (38)

Myths About Using Essential Oils During Pregnancy

Many claims regarding the use and safety of essential oils are seldom backed by scientific evidence. Let’s look at some myths and facts associated with essential oils.

MythsFacts
Essential oils affect the fetusThe usage of safe essential oils in prescribed amounts does not pose a threat. Some constituents in oils can cause adverse effects only when used in higher doses (39)
Essential oil affects the motherNot all essential oils are harmful during pregnancy. Using pregnancy-safe oils listed in the guidelines by IFPA may offer various health benefits (2)
Frankincense oil can cause miscarriagesThere are no scientific studies that prove this claim. A study that used frankincense aromatherapy along with some dietary modifications in Iranian pregnant women showed positive results (40)
Peppermint oil use could cause premature birth and also decreases milk supplyThe FDA generally considers peppermint safe and can be used as a food additive (41). Not much is known about the safety of peppermint oil during pregnancy (42)

How To Find Quality Essential Oils

Quality of essential oils

Image: Shutterstock

As essential oil comes from different parts of the world, its quality can vary. Therefore, some important considerations before choosing an essential oil are below (43) (44).

  • Research the essential oil that you intend to use
  • Research and buy from a trusted brand or supplier
  • Avoid oils labeled “fragrance oil,” as they are synthetic
  • Look for oils that are therapeutic grade
  • Ensure the oil of your interest is appropriately labeled and packaged
  • Buy oils stored in dark-colored containers
  • Some oils, including sandalwood and rose, are quite expensive. If you are getting them for cheap in a deal, it is a sign that it is not of good quality.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is smelling essential oils safe for pregnancy?

Yes, inhalation of diluted essential oils is considered to be the safest route (3).

2. Is it safe to diffuse essential oils when pregnant?

Since aromatherapy is considered safer than topical application, diffusing essential oils with the help of a diffuser may be the safest alternative. However, it is essential to understand that moderation is the key because prolonged exposure can cause nausea, lethargy, headaches, and vertigo (37).

3. What essential oils can I use in the first trimester?

Pregnant women are generally advised against using essential oils without the doctor’s consent. If directed by your physician, some essential oils can be used to treat the symptoms of nausea and vomiting during the first trimester (20).

Essential oils are plant-derived oils that offer several health benefits to pregnant women when used in recommended dosages. The chemical constituents of each essential oil help women determine the safe essential oils for pregnancy. Therefore, it’s necessary to know how to differentiate between useful and harmful essential oils to avoid adverse outcomes for yourself and the fetus. Choosing a high-quality essential oil can help reap maximum benefits while ensuring utmost safety. Rather than resorting to self-care using essential oils, always take guidance from your Ob/Gyn before incorporating them into your pregnancy routine to promote holistic health and wellness.

Infographic: Using Essential Oils In Pregnancy

A wide variety of essential oils are available in the market. However, you should be using these oils with the utmost care during pregnancy, irrespective of the origin and type. Let’s look at the various application methods of pregnancy-safe essential oils in the infographic below.

using essential oils in pregnancy (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Always dilute the concentrated essential oil to 1% or less before using it.
  • Ingestion of essential oil during pregnancy is not considered safe.
  • Use only pregnancy-safe and authentic essential oils during pregnancy.
  • Seek medical advice before using any essential oil during pregnancy.
Essential Oils for Pregnancy_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team

Do you use essential oils on a regular basis, but doubt if they are safe for pregnancy? Watch this video to learn more.

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
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