When you start talking about using essential oils in pregnancy, people often get divided into camps. One camp is the “don’t touch them at all” camp. Another camp is the “use any that you want as long as it is certified therapeutic grade”. And then there’s all the camps in between. If you simply google essential oils in pregnancy, you’ll find conflicting lists of safe and unsafe oils, and conflicting messages communicated. After researching different perspectives and reports, I am sharing what I have found in my own research, including the stance of the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists and the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). In this, Part 1, I will quote from a few well known aromatherapists, and list safe and unsafe essential oils.
In Part 2, which I will post tomorrow, I will give some basic essential oil remedies for different pregnancy and labor situations.
According to IFPA, essential oils SHOULD be utilized regularly in pregnancy, as well as, labor and and the postpartum period. They state, “The key point to remember is that the pregnant client is still a human being and the body is still able to metabolize and excrete the essential oils. Furthermore, pregnant women develop a thicker layer of fat underneath the skin which acts as a safety area between the baby and the essential oil: essential oils dissolve in fat and will be more likely to rest in the fatty layers giving a slow-release treatment rather than an immediate one, as they are release more slowly into the tissues.”1
Jane Buckle, well known aromatherapist, comments states “there are no records of abnormal fetuses or aborted fetuses due to the ‘normal’ use of essential oils, either by inhalation or topical application.”2
According to Wildwood, author of the Encyclopedia of Aromatherapy, “A common myth in aromatherapy is that massage oils containing essential oils such as Clary sage, rose or even rosemary can cause a miscarriage and hence should be avoided throughout pregnancy. Authors such as Ron Guba and Kurt Schnaubelt have all pointed out that there have been ‘no recorded cases of miscarriage or birth defect resulting from aromatherapy massage using therapeutic applications of any essential oil.”3
And Ron Guba points out that toxicity during pregnancy is almost exclusively due to pregnant women taking large, toxic doses of essential oils, notably pennyroyal (rich in the ketone, pulegone, which is metabolized to the highly toxic furan epoxide, menthofuron) and parsley seed (rich in the dimethyl ether, apiol) in an attempt to abort the fetus. 4
Another common question is in regards to the placental barrier. Most essential oils experts agree that essential oils by their very nature, being organic substances, may cross the placental barrier and have the potential to affect the fetus. However, the amount of essential oil that actually accesses the fetus is a very minute amount. The amount of essential oil being used on the skin, especially if proper dilution is being used, is extremely small, so by the time the essential oils have been absorbed and made their way to the placenta, the amount is minuscule. Small amounts of essential oils can be beneficial to the baby and there are NO recorded instances of harm being caused to the child through essential oils used in aromatherapy TOPICAL massage.
IFPA states, “The body knows how to break them down and utilize them to balance the human physiology. In addition, the amount of essential oil used in a treatment is usually only about 4 or 5 drops, which equates to less than 0.25 ml, most of which either evaporates or remains in the top layers of the skin.”5
Let me pause here and highlight dilution again. Dilution for essential oils during pregnancy should be at 1% for skin applications and even for a diffuser. For a bath, it is recommended that no more than 4 drops be used.
That being said, certain essential oils may be contraindicated, unless in specific situations, due to the nature of their chemical components, which may be too strong (and unnecessary) for a pregnant client, bearing in mind that the skin can be more sensitive during pregnancy. Phenols are an example of a component group that is not usually suitable for use during pregnancy unless there is infection present as well oils with high levels of ethers and aromatic aldehydes, as they can sometimes irritate the skin and mucous membranes due to their molecular shape. So what are some examples of oils high in phenols, ethers, and aldehydes that might prove to be an irritant in pregnancy? Here’s a small list:
Oregano - Phenols
Thyme - Phenols
Savoury - Phenols
Clove - Phenols
Cinnamon - Phenols and Aromatic Aldehydes
Cumin - Aromatic Aldehydes
Anise seed - ethers
Fennel - ethers
Sweet Birch - salicylate
Wintergreen - salicylate
Aromatic ketones may present some hazard if they are used daily for a lengthy period as they can be stored in the body. For this reason, you may want to avoid Sage and Hyssop.
It is also my personal opinion, that it would be prudent to avoid the internal application of essential oils throughout pregnancy.
So here you are, Essential oils to avoid in pregnancy (partial list):
• Birch (sweet)
• Bitter almond
• Clary sage (possibility of causing contractions, can be used at term.)
• Clove (bud, leaf or stem) (diluted topical short term use ok)
• Jaborandi leaf
• Juniper berry (if you are having kidney issues)
• Nutmeg (Can be used in labor unless you are using pain relieving drugs. It may have hallucinogenic effects and react with pain-relieving drugs in labour).
• Parsley (large doses)
Peppermint in large doses (possibly hinder milk supply after baby is born, and possibly cause contractions in first trimester)
• Pine (dwarf)
• Rosemary(Rosemary, which is thought to increase blood pressure, and may cause contractions).
• Savory (summer)
• Thyme red (large doses)
Oils you may want to use with caution during pregnancy or highly dilute:
Some of the essential oils considered safe during pregnancy:
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
Chamomile German (Chamomilla recutita)
Chamomile Roman (Chamaemelum nobile)
Clary (Salvia sclarea)
Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus smithii, radiata diluted,)
Frankincense (Boswellia carteri)
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)
Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lemon (Citrus limon)
Lemongrass (dilute to prevent skin sensitivity)
Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
Marjoram Sweet (Origanum majorana)
Neroli (Citrus aurantium amara flos)
Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var amaraol)
Rose Otto (Rosa centifolia)
Sandalwood (Santalum album)
Sweet or Wild Orange (Citrus sinensis)
Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
Read Part 2 of this article if you are interested in specific recipes for different situations in pregnancy and labor.
1 "PREGNANCY GUIDELINES." (2013): n. pag. International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists. Web.
2 Buckle, J. (2003). Clinical Aromatherapy. Philadelphia: Elsevier Science.
3 Wildwood, C. (2000). Of Cabbages & Kings Aromatherapy Myths, part II. Aromatherapy Today, 14, p. 12–14.
4 Guba, R. (2000). Toxicity Myths. International Journal of Aromatherapy, Vol 10.1/2
5 "PREGNANCY GUIDELINES." (2013): n. pag. International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists. Web.