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Aromatherapy in Pregnancy

Aromatherapy in pregnancy

People get very concerned about the use of aromatherapy and essential oils during pregnancy. Some, including some aromatherapists, even advise not to use any essential oils at all. I personally think that is a bit extreme, and also a great pity, as many essential oils can be quite useful in helping the prospective mum through this time.

There are a number of reasons that the area of aromatherapy and pregnancy has become the subject of so much concern. And often people are left not knowing what, if anything they can use.

Essential oils listed as "Not to use in Pregnancy" fall into 3 basic groups

  • Oils which are toxic or otherwise dangerous and should be avoided at all times, even when not pregnant. These include bitter almond, arnica, boldo, broom, buchu, calamus, brown & yellow camphor, cassia, chervil, cinnamon bark, costus, deertongue, elecampane, bitter fennel, horseradish, jaborandi, melitotus, mugwort, mustard, oregano, pennyroyal, dwarf pine, rue, common sage, santolina, sassafras, savin, southernwood, savory, tansy, thuja, tonka, wintergreen, wormseed, wormwood.
  • Other oils which require caution for anyone using them (again not just during pregnancy) include ajowan, aniseed and star anise, some types of basil, bay,white camphor, carrot seed, some types of cedarwood, cinnamon leaf, clove (leaf and bud), coriander, cumin, eucalyptus, sweet fennel, hops, hyssop, juniper, lemongrass, nutmeg, parsley, black pepper, spanish sage, tagetes, tarragon, thyme, tuberose, turmeric, turpentine, valerian.
  • Commonly used oils which are normally safe but may have adverse effects when pregnant. These include angelica, basil, birch, calamintha, cedarwood, celery seed, citronella, clary sage, cypress, jasmine, labdanum, lovage, marjoram, melissa, myrrh, nutmeg, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, yarrow.

In addition there are some oils which are usually to be avoided in the first trimester, particularly if there is a history or risk of miscarriage, such as roman chamomile, geranium, lavender and rose. The first category should always be avoided, but in the main are not readily available anyway. The second should only be considered under the advice of a professionally qualified aromatherapist and generally used in very limited amounts and/or for a limited period of time.

But why do some oils only become a risk during pregnancy? Well, some of these oils are emmenogogues and have a stimulating effect on the uterus. Some affect the hormones or have too strong an effect on a particular organ or system of the body. We also do not yet know to what extent oils used by the mother may affect the developing foetus, so any oils which may be too strong for the child should be avoided.

This amount of caution is also required because the quality of essential oils can vary widely in the marketplace. But under the guidance of a qualified aromatherapist, great benefits can be gained by using some essential oils during pregnancy.

Another thing to bear in mind is how & how much oil you use.

Never take essential oils internally. Always, but always, dilute essential oils before applying them to the skin. Never apply them neat to the skin. If you are pregnant, adapt any recipes by cutting down the number of drops to child sized doses, around half of that for an adult. This softens the effect and also takes account of the fact that when pregnant, a woman's sense of smell is often more acute, so full strength may seem overpowering.  For example if a recipe suggests 5 drops in 10 mls of carrier oil, then use only 2-3 drops. Less is often more in aromatherapy!

Essential oils used in vaporiser will carry much less risk than any applied directly to the body, whether in a carrier oil, in a bath or as a compress. But still err on the side of caution regarding how much you use.

Some useful and safe remedies for pregnancy:

  • Nausea - put 2-3 drops of ginger or spearmint oil on a tissue and inhale.
  • Oedema (swelling of hands and/or feet) - put 4-6 drops of one of the following oils in a foot or hand bath (sweet orange, geranium, grapefruit) and soak
  • Indigestion - dilute 1 drop of spearmint essential oil in 1 teaspoon of sweet almond oil and massage into the abdomen in clockwise direction.

Other oils that are generally safe to use include, lemon, sweet orange, mandarin, frankincense, lavender, sandalwood and tea tree.

Always ensure that you are using true essential oils rather than synthetic or fragrance oils.

If you have a personal or family history of miscarriage or your have been advised that your pregnancy is in any way fragile, please seek advice from a professional aromatherapist regarding your particular situation before using essential oils. Professional advice is a good idea for anyone contemplating the use of aromatherapy but especially so in pregnancy. And always let your health practitioner, doctor, midwife or obstetrician know about anything you are using or proposing to use.

This information is meant as general advice.  Please consult your health practitioner or a qualified aromatherapist for advice on your specific situation).

Wendy Mackay is a qualified Aromatherapist and member of the International Aromatherapy and Aromatic Medicine Association (IAAMA). Wendy and her husband David run Essence of Wellbeing a successful Aromatherapy & Massage Supply and Pure Natural Skin Care business, based in Mornington on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula in Victoria Australia. To find out more visit Essence of Wellbeing.

Comments

12 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Kelly
Mar 25, 2012 10:22pm [ 1 ]

I used 25 drops of clove oil in 1L of water to clean some off mould today from my back door and my shower. I used gloves but some got onto my skin. I'm 29 1/2 weeks pregnant and I didn't know it was to be avoided. Is there something I can do to protect my baby?

Feb 19, 2013 7:28pm [ 2 ]

Ok, so it's good to avoid basil, nutmeg, parsley and rosemary oils in pregnancy, but what about cooking with these as fresh ingredients?

jeni
Feb 27, 2013 6:45am [ 3 ]

I have lice in my hair. shall i use medicare shampoo to remove lice from my hair, since am breastfeeding my baby? will it affect my baby anyway? pls suggest..

Kristy
Dec 9, 2013 10:52pm [ 4 ]

Hi, I make soaps using pure essential oils. Can I make soaps while pregnant? Using the essential oils (I normally will use around 100mls of essential oil at a time).

Is this safe quantities to use?

Jane Palmer
Dec 15, 2013 6:41pm [ 5 ]

Dear Kelly - if any clove oil was absorbed through your skin the amount most likely was small and unlikely to cause any effects. If concerned please speak to your midwife or doctor.

Hi Phil - cooking with herbs and being exposed to essential oils is very different. Essential oils are highly concentrated and may have a therapeutic effect. While cooking with ingredients is unlikely to be in quantities that cause any problems.

Hi Kristy - it is a good idea to avoid essential oils that are harmful in pregnancy. It would be a good idea to consult an aromatherapist regarding the type and quantity of essential oil that is safe in pregnancy.

Helen
Jan 11, 2014 7:55pm [ 6 ]

Hi Jane, I have been using undiluted tea tree oil on my face for blemishes daily (applied topically with a cotton tip 2-3 times a day) for quite some time now. I am also 6 weeks pregnant and was advised that it should not be used during pregnancy. Could this have any affect on my baby and if so what?? Obviously I will discontinue use from now on, but could I have caused any possible damage?

Chelsey
Jan 14, 2014 5:30am [ 7 ]

I just fount out I was pregnant and before I found out I used lemongrass and lavender, both once. What harm will they do and do I need to worry. They were both diluted in coconut oil.

Jan 19, 2014 5:59am [ 8 ]

Hi Helen and Chelsey - It is very common for women to take something or use a product early in pregnancy before they realize they shouldn't. The difficulty with natural therapies is there is often little or no evidence of the safety or otherwise of the product. Using tea tree oil on small area is unlikely to cause any harm. It is wise to stop however. Chelsey again using the oils once is unlikely to cause harm. But if either of you are concerned there are drug in pregnancy information services that you can ring to find out more information. In NSW we have Mothersafe www.mothersafe.org.au. On this website you can find links for the other states.

Megan
Jan 22, 2014 11:50am [ 9 ]

I was just curious which oils you consider safest during pregnancy to burn through out the day at home??? I am in my first trimester.. Ive always enjoyed aromatherapy on a dayliy basis and now that Ive discovered Im pregnant everyone and all the info I have found is so confusing. It the moment Im just burning Neroli and or sweet orange.. And find myself craving my ylang ylang, lavender, Clary sage Which Im aware im definatly not allowed

Alyssa
Jan 31, 2014 1:36pm [ 10 ]

So my husband and i have been making our own lotion with beeswax from our families bees, almond oil, coconut oil, and lemongrass oil. I've used over an entire half pint jar of it all over, belly arms face, etc. I'm 23 weeks pregnant with my 3rd, how could this effect me and my babe?

Nikki
Feb 13, 2014 3:12am [ 11 ]

Hi Jane, I have a toe nail fungus and am 25 weeks pregnant. I did not want to use any drug for possible side effects on the baby. I used essential oil of oregano (brand: "Oreganol" 50mg in extra virgin olive oil). I used it about 3 times (drops the first 2 times) and about 10 drops on each foot the third time. Then it occurred to me that I should look to see if its ok to use in pregnancy. I read that it is not and now I am terrified that I might have done something to cause harm to my baby. Is there something I can do? Are any oils safe to use as anti-fungal while I am pregnant and breast feeding? Please help. Thank you.

Doran Lamb
Mar 20, 2014 7:20pm [ 12 ]

I am really concerned, I make my own body oil and have been using carrot seed oil everyday throughout my pregnancy. I am currently 19 weeks and as far as I know nothing is wrong, baby is still growing!!! I am totally freaking out though. What should I do????

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