Essential oils (EO) are natural oils extracted from aromatic plants or herbs. They are used for disinfection, relaxation, dietary, and cosmetic purposes. In traditional medicine, their use for therapeutic purposes is well-documented. However, their safety and efficacy during lactation require more research.
In this MomJunction post, we tell you if it is safe to use essential oils when breastfeeding, their uses, and possible side-effects.
Is It Safe To Use Essential Oils When Breastfeeding?
When used under medical guidance, the use of EOs can be considered “possibly safe” when breastfeeding. Although most oils are available over the counter, the safety regulations vary for various essential oils.
The use of essential oils as plant therapy or herbal treatment remedies is prevalent. However, for every therapy, the mode of use must be directed by a healthcare provider, since an EO can be specific to the purpose of use.
Essential Oils Considered Safe When Breastfeeding
The following EOs are generally considered safe to use during breastfeeding. However, individual cases may be different. Hence, consult a doctor or a lactation expert before using them.
- Fennel oil: Fennel essential oil is believed to be a galactagogue that increases milk production. Besides, it is used in natural remedies for treating lactation-related issues such as breast inflammation and clogged milk ducts. However, there is no conclusive research on the safety and efficacy of the oil. Fennel essential oil might cause allergic reactions after oral or topical use due to cross-reactivity with plants of the Apiaceae family such as carrots and celery (1). Fennel oil should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Lavender oil: A research study showed that lavender oil aromatherapy in the first hours of the postpartum period could result in the physical and mental health of the mother (2). While another study demonstrated that inhaling lavender scent for four weeks can prevent stress, anxiety, and postpartum depression (3). However, its topical application around the breast area must be avoided due to its estrogenic and anti androgenic activity (4) (5). Lavender is “generally recognized as safe”.
- Clary sage: Clary sage has therapeutic uses due to its antimicrobial activity (6). It has been observed that clary sage can help enhance breast milk supply in cases where the mother experiences a low milk supply. Clary sage is different from sage, which is known to reduce milk flow. It’s best to avoid breast area and for newborn not to be in contact with the oil. Since this particular oil has a strong aroma, it’s recommended to avoid during postpartum period, when babies use their sense of smell to coordinate.
- Tea tree oil: Due to its promising antimicrobial activity, you could consider the topical application of tea tree oil as a herbal treatment for infections (7). However, due to its estrogenic and anti androgenic activity, avoid applying it around the breast. Also avoid oral consumption of tea tree oil (8).
- Chamomile oil: Chamomile herbal treatment is used orally for sedative and gastrointestinal purposes and topically for wound healing. During lactation, it is used to promote relaxation, and may even indirectly help with milk production. Chamomile is also considered a galactagogue, although there is no clinical evidence to this effect (9). It should be noted that botulism spores have been found in some loose-leaf chamomile teas sold in health food stores.
- Germanium oil: Its topical use is prevalent to soothe cracked, painful nipples during breastfeeding. Also, it is used for treating neuropathic pain. It is believed to have antibacterial and antifungal activity (10).
- Helichrysum oil: Helichrysum essential oil is considered as a herbal treatment for ailments such as eczema, bacterial infections, blisters, fungal infections, inflammation, sores, ulcers, and wounds (11). The herb is believed to have anti spastic and anti-inflammatory properties (12). However, the safety of its use while breastfeeding needs more research.
Remember to always consult a healthcare provider before using an EO topically or orally as dietary supplements. However, there are certain oils that should always be avoided while breastfeeding.
Essential Oils To Avoid When Breastfeeding
The following EOs are generally considered not safe for use when breastfeeding.
- Basil: In herbal medicine, basil oil is used to reduce milk supply and manage hypergalactia, which is an oversupply of breast milk (13). This property of basil oil is useful for mothers experiencing engorged breasts. However, clinical experts recommend avoiding basil oil even in small doses during lactation because of the lack of safety information.
- Oregano: The use of oregano oil has been widely recommended in herbal remedies. The oil is said to cure infections, such as those caused by Candida fungus on the nipple area. But there are no clear clinical indications about the oil’s safety and efficacy. Thus, clinical experts suggest avoiding its use while nursing (14).
- Peppermint: The topical use of peppermint oil to treat nipple fissure is prevalent in herbal medicine. This is done due to the anti-inflammatory and anti-infection properties of the oil (15) (16). However, its use should be avoided while breastfeeding, as it might reduce milk supply.
Besides these common oils, there are a few others, such as aniseed, mugwort, camphor, and parsley that need to be avoided when breastfeeding (17).
Things To Consider Before Using EOs When Breastfeeding
consider these points to make safe use of essential oil when breastfeeding (18).
- EOs are different from herbs. Thus, a herb may be safe to use while breastfeeding, but its essential oil not necessarily safe.
- The chemical composition of all the essential oils is not the same. For example, EOs rich in phenols and aldehydes may cause allergy in some individuals. Maternal allergy can impact breastfeeding and the infant’s health.
- It is important to ensure the purity of essential oils. Purchase pure grade oils from reliable brands.
- The mode of use for every EO is not the same. Some may be safe to ingest or use topically, while others may not.
- Before planning to ingest an essential oil, check if it is recognized as safe for oral use. Most essential oil manufacturers do not recommend oral use while breastfeeding since the oil may reach breast milk.
- Dosage and duration of essential oils vary. Some oils can be used safely in limited amounts for a long duration.
- Different essential oils perform different functions in the body.
Precautions To Take While Using Essential Oils
You can ensure essential oils safety by following some precautions.
- Use under medical guidance: Use the EOs only under medical instructions. Incorrect use might have adverse effects.
- Use carrier oil: Dilute the EO with a carrier oil to make it easy to apply and also reduce the risk of rashes or irritation caused by undiluted oil.
- Do a patch test: If you have a history of allergies, then discuss the use of essential oil with your doctor. Always perform a skin patch test when using essential oil for the first time. It can help you know if you are allergic to it.
- Buy from reliable sellers: Essential oils bought from unreliable sellers have a higher risk of being contaminated with other oils. For instance, chamomile oil can be contaminated by “dog chamomile,” a highly allergenic plant of similar appearance (19).
- Beware of possible drug interaction: Underlying medical conditions and medicines to treat them could interact with EOs. If you are on some medication or have a medical condition, then use essential oils under doctor guidance only.
- Do not use for long: Any herbal treatment or aromatherapy with an essential oil must be performed for a recommended duration only. Prolonged use of oil can be harmful, especially in the case of aromatic oils.
- Avoid photo sensitivity: Check for oils that cause photo sensitivity and avoid their use before exposure to sunlight as it can cause burns. Citrus oils are known to cause photo sensitivity.
- Keep essential oils away from children: The ingestion of essential oils could be toxic for babies and children. Thus, to ensure the safety of your baby and their siblings, keep the essential oils locked in a dark, cool area.
- Wash hands after use: Unwashed hands could cause the oil to accidentally enter your eyes, ears, or nose, and cause irritation. It may also accidentally get to your baby’s skin and cause adverse reactions.
- Do not use expired oils: Using expired essential oils can do more harm than good. Firstly, they will not serve your purpose of use. Secondly, it could cause a skin reaction and other adverse effects.
EOs can be useful for lactation-related concerns. However, they must be used with caution. Considering the potential side-effects that they may have, it is wise to use them as per medical advice only.
2. FaridehVaziri, MahsaShiravani et al.; Effect of Lavender Oil Aroma in the Early Hours of Postpartum Period on Maternal Pains, Fatigue, and Mood: A Randomized Clinical Trial; National Center For Biotechnology Information
3. Maryam Kianpour et al.; Effect of lavender scent inhalation on prevention of stress, anxiety and depression in the postpartum period; National Center For Biotechnology Information
4. Lavender; Drug and Lactation Database; National Center For Biotechnology Information
5. PeirHosseinKoulivand et al.; Lavender and the Nervous System; National Center For Biotechnology Information
6. BabarAli et al.; Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review; Science Direct
7. Halcón L and Milkus K; Staphylococcus aureus and wounds: a review of tea tree oil as a promising antimicrobial.; National Center For Biotechnology Information
8. Tea Tree Oil; Drug and Lactation Database; National Center For Biotechnology Information
9. Chamomile; Drug and Lactation Database; National Center For Biotechnology Information
10. Geranium; Drug and Lactation Database; National Center For Biotechnology Information
11. Ané Orchard and Sandy van Vuuren; Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases; National Center For Biotechnology Information
12. Susanna Stea et al.; Essential Oils for Complementary Treatment of Surgical Patients: State of the Art; National Center For Biotechnology Information
13. Basil; Drug and Lactation Database; National Center For Biotechnology Information
14. Oregano; Drug and Lactation Database; National Center For Biotechnology Information
15. Sedigheh Amir Ali Akbari et al.; Effects of menthol essence and breast milk on the improvement of nipple fissures in breastfeeding women; National Center For Biotechnology Information
16. MahnazShanazi et al.; Comparison of the Effects of Lanolin, Peppermint, and Dexpanthenol Creams on Treatment of Traumatic Nipples in Breastfeeding Mothers; National Center For Biotechnology Information
17. The Safe Use of Essential Oils; The International Childbirth Education Association
18. Safety Information; The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy
19. Janmejai K Srivastava et al.; Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future; National Center For Biotechnology Information
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