Aromatherapy During Pregnancy

Is using essential oils and aromatherapy during pregnancy safe? Which essential oils are safe and which are unsafe for use during pregnancy? These are important safety questions - read this page to find out the answers.

Aromatherapy during pregnancy When a woman is pregnant, her body is undergoing a lot of changes, hormonally and physiologically.  Therefore, extreme caution should be taken when using essential oils during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. 

Internal use of essential oils is an absolutely no-no at all times during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Oral, rectal, and vaginal uses of essential oils are also inappropriate during pregnancy. For topical use or inhalation, you should still avoid all essential oils during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

After the first 16 weeks, it’s up to the individual to decide whether she wants to use essential oils or not.

If you do decide to use EOs after the first 16 weeks, it is still advisable to use essential oils only occasionally, on an “as-needed” basis (instead of regular, everyday use). For example, you may want to reserve the use of essential oils when you are feeling nauseous, or tired, or emotionally drained, instead of using the oils every day to just relax or make the house “smell good”.

Topical blends should be diluted to 1% (i.e. 5-6 drops of essential oils in 30 ml of carrier oil) and, unless you know a lot about EOs, it is a good idea to first consult a certified aromatherapist or medical practitioner knowledgeable in essential oils.

Safe Use of Essential Oils During Pregnancy


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Unsafe Essential Oils During Pregnancy

​There are quite a few essential oils (over 50) that should be avoided during pregnancy. For your reference, here is a list of common essential oils to avoid throughout pregnancy (Note: it is NOT an exhaustive list; so if you are unsure about a certain oil, please ask a certified aromatherapist/medical practitioner):

Anise (Pimpinella anisum)

Anise has a chemical component that has a weak estrogen-like activity, so it is contraindicated for pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Birch (Betula lenta)

The main chemical component in Birch is methyl salicylate, which is similar to the active ingredient in Aspirin. It inhibits blood coagulation and should therefore be avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Carrot Seed (Daucus carota)

This oil is contradicated for pregnancy and breastfeeding because it may interfere with gestation.

Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)

Cassia also should not be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding because it is both emenagogue (stimulates menstrual flow) and anti-galactogogue (reduces milk secretion).

Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum verum)

It contains a chemical component that is a weak carcinogen (cancer causing). In fact, I wouldn’t recommend using this oil even with non-pregnant people!

Cypress (blue) (Callitris intratropica)

This oil contains a chemical component that can cross the placental barrier, and inhibits new blood vessels from forming.

Fennel (sweet) (Foeniculum vulgare)

Same reason as Anise.

Ho Leaf (ct. camphor) (Cinnamomum camphor ct. camphor)

Same reason as Cinnamon Bark.

Lavender (Spanish) (Lavandula stoechas)

This oil contains a component (camphor) that can cross the placenta, and is known to be very toxic to developing embryo and fetus.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

This oil contains a chemical component that may cause developmental abnormalities in the embryo or the fetus. Other commonly-used oils that contain the same component include Melissa (Melissa officinalis), Honey Myrtle (Melaleuca teretifolia), May Chang (Litsea cubeba), Lemon Tea Tree (Leptospermum petersonii), Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla).

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)

This oil contains chemical components that can cross the placental barrier, and inhibits new blood vessels from forming.

Parsley (Leaf & Seed) (Petroselinum crispum)

This oil contains a chemical component that promotes abortion.

Sage (Dalmatian) (Salvia officinalis)

This oil contains a component (camphor) that can cross the placenta, and is known to be very toxic to developing embryo and fetus. It also contains another component that is neurotoxic and may inhibit brain development.

Sage (Spanish) (Salvia lavandulifolia)

This oil contains chemical components that can cross the placenta, and cause abnormal development in the embryo or the fetus. One component can also cause abortion.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria fragrantissima)

Same reason as Birch.

Yarrow (green) (Achillea nobilis)

This oil contains a small amount of camphor, which can cross the placenta, and is known to be very toxic to developing embryo and fetus. It also contains another component that is neurotoxic and may inhibit brain development.

A word on Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)

Many people advise against using this oil during pregnancy as some women have reported that they experienced heavier than normal menstrual flow after using this oil. However, according to Tisserand (2013), there is no sufficient report to support that this oil should not be used during pregnancy. We are all individual beings and tend to respond differently to even the same oil. Therefore, it’s your call as to whether you would like to use this oil or not during pregnancy (or even during menstruation!).

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Aromatherapy in Pregnancy
Safe Essential Oils & Uses

Now that we have looked at some oils that are NOT safe for use during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding, let’s look at some common and safe oils that can be used to address some issues that many pregnant women have.

Morning Sickness

Oh, don’t you hate that feeling? While many people may reach for Peppermint when they feel nauseous, actually Peppermint oil should be used with caution and only sparingly during pregnancy, because it contains a component that may cause liver toxicity if used excessively.

A safer oil that can be used to combat morning sickness is Ginger (Zingiber officinale). You may also want to add some citrus oils such as Lemon (Citrus limon), Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis), Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), etc. to the mix. The best way is to make a personal inhaler and carry it with you all the time. Take a sniff whenever you feel nauseous!

Back Pain

Some safe pain-relieving oils that you can use include Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Copaiba (Copaifera officinalis), Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara), Lemon (Citrus limon), and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), to name just a few. Consider adding 5-6 drops of any or a combination of the above oils to 30 ml of an unscented lotion and use it to gently massage your back.

Insomnia

Having trouble falling asleep? Essential oils having calming and relaxing effects are excellent in helping you sleep better and deeper. Calming oils safe for use during pregnancy include Lavender, Bergamot, Neroli, Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood, Vetiver, to name a few.

Try diffusing some of these calming oils 30 minutes before bed. (Note: do not diffuse heavy oils such as Sandalwood and Vetiver as they may clog up your diffuser!)

Another way is to make a personal inhaler and keep it on your night stand so you can take a sniff before bed or when you wake up in the middle of the night.

Don’t have a diffuser or inhaler? No problem! You can simply put one or two drops of any of the oils above on a cotton ball or a piece of tissue and put it next to your pillow.

Edema (Water Retention) and Swelling of the Legs

As your belly gets bigger, circulation is not as effective. Indeed, very often pregnant mothers experience swelling of the legs caused by water retention.

There are some good essential oils that are effective in venous decongesting, eliminating excess fluid, and improving circulation. For example, Cypress (Cupressus simpervirens), Juniper Berry (Juniperus communis), Lemon (Citrus limon), Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), and Black Pepper (Piper nigrum).

Add 5-6 drops of some of the above oils to 30 ml of jojoba oil and use it to gently massage your legs.

Stretch Marks

First the bad news, stretch marks are not easy to prevent and get rid of. Studies show that olive oil, almond oil, and cocoa butter are all ineffective (Tisserand, 2014). But the good news is, we can still use certain oils (essential and vegetable oils) to control the marks somewhat.

Try this combination of oils and see if it works for you:

  • 10 ml Rosehip oil
  • 5 ml Argan oil
  • 5 ml Tamanu oil
  • 5 drops Sweet orange EO
  • 5 drops Lavender EO

Mix well and use it to massage the belly 2 times a day.

Stress and Anxiety

Being pregnant can be stressful to say the least! Fortunately, quite a few safe essential oils can be used to help reduce stress and anxiety.

Common oils such as Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Neroli, Ylang Ylang, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, etc. are great stress busters. Use these oils in an inhaler, diffuser, or make a massage oil blend to get rid of the stress and just relax!

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References:
Tisserand, R., Young, R. Essential Oil Safety. Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
Tisserand, R., Essential Oils and The Skin. Online Course, 2014.