A lot of people find my blog while searching for information on essential oils. More often than not, they are looking for safety information as it relates to using essential oils while pregnant and/or breastfeeding.
Today I am going to take a look at essential oil safety during pregnancy. It is VERY important to note that I am NOT a medical practitioner nor a certified herbalist or aromatherapist (yet – more on that another day). My suggestions is to ONLY use essential oils with pregnant women under the guidance of an aromatherapist and/or medical professional knowledgeable about essential oils and pregnancy.
Aromatics International states that “all essential oils should be used very respectfully during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Special consideration should be given to the first trimester and for women who are prone to vulnerable or high-risk pregnancies.” Studies have shown that using certain essential oils in very low dilutions no more than ½ – 1% during pregnancy is quite safe. I tend to agree with this. However, there are various ways to use essential oils and not all of them carry the same risks.
There is some controversy as to whether essential oils are able to penetrate the skin and find their way into the bloodstream. The general consensus it that at least some of the components found in essential oils do indeed find their way through the skin and through inhalation into the bloodstream. The reason for contra-indicating (advising against) the use of many essential oils during pregnancy is not always because of the fear of causing a miscarriage but more often because of the fact that these essential oil components, once in the mother’s bloodstream, are able to pass across the placenta into the developing fetus.
Essential oil safety in pregnancy…Let’s take a brief look at the methods of using essential oils and how the risks might vary.
Aroma/Inhalation– the essential oil molecules are dispersed into the air (possibly through a diffuser, room spray, etc…) and then breathed in. Some of those molecules will be absorbed in the lungs and find their way into the bloodstream while the rest of the molecules will be breathed out. The risk here is quite a bit lower than the other methods of use but it is a good idea to dilute the oils more than normal during pregnancy.
On The Skin – essential oils make their way into a lot of skin care, hair care, tooth care, and natural healing products. Some are even applied “neat,” to treat certain skin conditions. When essential oils are applied topically to the skin the absorption rate into the body is slower and more selective than through internal use (see below). Only some of the essential oil applied to the skin will be absorbed and find its way into the bloodstream. Some of the essential oil will in fact evaporate off into the air. However, it is unknown exactly how much absorbs into the bloodstream and how much is evaporated off.
When looking at essential oils, keep other “warnings” in mind. Some are known to carry a risk of phototoxicity. Others have a heightened risk of irritating sensitive skin. These oils should be avoided as there is a greater risk during pregnancy.
When applying essential oils topically during pregnancy stay with blends that are in dilutions of 1% or less. For every 2 teaspoons (10ml) of carrier oil/butter used, add 1 drop of essential oil for ½% dilution or 1 drop of essential oil to every 1 teaspoon (5mml) of carrier oil/butter used for a 1% dilution.
Internal Use – this is by far the method that carries the most risk with it. By ingesting the oils or using them in other internal applications (like suppositories) the whole essential oil and all of its components go directly into the body. This is something that should be avoided altogether unless you have had specialized training or are under the care of a professional well versed in internal use of essential oils.
You probably want to know which oils ARE safe and which ARE NOT!
The essential oils that are generally considered safe AFTER the first trimester are:
Here are a few of the major essential oils to completely avoid internally and externally in pregnancy. Some of these oils are safe when used as dried herbs in cooking.
- Anise – A uterine stimulant in high doses
- Basil – A uterine stimulant
- Blue Tansy – A uterine stimulant that may also cause birth defects
- Chamomile – Potent uterine stimulant
- Cinnamon – A uterine stimulant in high doses
- Clary Sage – A uterine and hormonal stimulant in high doses
- Clove – A uterine stimulant
- Fennel – A uterine stimulant in high doses
- Jasmine – A uterine stimulant
- Juniper – A uterine stimulant
- Marjoram – Has the potential to stimulate menstruation
- Myrrh – A uterine stimulant that may lead to premature contractions
- Nutmeg – Inhibits prostaglandin production and contains hallucinogens that may affect the fetus
- Oregano – A uterine stimulant in high doses
- Peppermint – A uterine stimulant in high doses
- Pine – A uterine stimulant
- Rosemary – A uterine stimulant in high doses
- Sweet Basil – A uterine stimulant
- Thyme – Some reports claim that it acts as a uterine stimulant, though the research is disputed
- Yarrow – A uterine stimulant in high doses
I hope this lists gives you a launch point from which to do more research. Have you used essential oils safely in pregnancy?