Essential Oils and Pregnancy

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Pregnancy is without a doubt an exciting time filled with the promise of welcoming a wonderful bundle of joy into your life. But lets be honest, it’s also a time of tremendous changes for a womans body, and those changes can be difficult to cope with.

Morning sickness, mood swings, fatigue, breast pain, back ache, swollen ankles, indigestion and insomnia are all common features of pregnancy, and then comes the birth itself, which for many women is the hardest and most grueling experiences of their lives.

There’s no sugar coating it, carrying and giving birth to new life is hard work, and thats why anything that can safely offer some reprieve from pregnancy-related conditions is a blessed relief.

Enter essential oils. Essential oils are plant based remedies that can help with pretty much every minor pregnancy issue. For the purposes of this article ‘minor’ means any condition that is causing you discomfort, that your doctor or midwife would dismiss as just one of those things you have to put up with.

Not all essential oils are safe to use during pregnancy however, and the amount that you use and the purity of the oils are also important safety considerations.

Pregnancy and Essential Oil Safety

Pregnancy and Essential Oil Safety

 

A question often asked by women who would like to try using essential oils to relieve their backache or swollen feet and ankles is “Are essential oils safe to use during pregnancy?”

The answer is that some essential oils are very safe in pregnancy while some others could cause problems and are best avoided.

Pregnancy can be an anxious time, and mothers-to-be tend to scrutinize the products they use and the foods they eat once they find out that they have a baby on board.

Essential oils need to be placed under this scrutiny too, because even though they are natural products, they are still powerful, complex chemicals. Don’t ever be lulled into a false sense of security by the term “natural”.

Natural doesn’t mean that you can smother yourself with large amounts of essential oil, it doesnt mean that you can use the oil right out of the bottle without diluting it first, nor does it mean that you can safely ingest the oils by mixing them into a drink.

Hopefully once you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll have the confidence to use essential oils with the knowledge that you’re choosing only those oils which are known to be effective for the problem you face and which won’t cause any harm to your precious cargo.

That said, if you have suffered a miscarriage or other pregnancy complication in the past, essential oils that are considered safe for use during pregnancy may not be advisable for you.

Why Use Essential Oils During Pregnancy?

How are essential oils used?

When you’re suffering through physical discomfort or emotional upset, it’s completely normal to look for remedies that will help you feel better again, and essential oils offer an alternative to some prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies.

In 2015 the FDA carried out an evaluation of the available scientific research into the safety of certain prescription and nonprescription pain relievers during pregnancy. Unfortunately the different medical research studies contained conflicting information which prevented the FDA from drawing reliable conclusions.

And that really is a great pity because the concerns investigated in the research weren’t minor, they were very serious indeed.

Did prescription NSAID’s (e.g. ibuprofen, diclofenac) increase the risk of miscarriage during the first half of a pregnancy?

Was prescription opioid use (oxycodone, morphine, codeine, etc.) linked to birth defects of the brain, spine and spinal cord?

Could acetaminophen – prescription and over-the-counter – increase the risk of ADHD in children born to mothers who took the drug at any time during their pregnancy?

FDA advice remains as follows  We urge pregnant women to always discuss all medicines with their health care professionals before using them”.

If you go to the link above and scroll down the page, you’ll find the references to the studies looked at in the review.

Given that there are concerns over the use of common pain killers during pregnancy, it could be a good idea to find alternatives.

Likewise, drugs used to treat stress and anxiety come with risks for pregnant women, and health care providers have to weigh up those risks when deciding whether to prescribe to expectant mothers.

Essential oils can provide an alternative to painkillers and to anxiety and stress medications.

Should You Ingest Essential Oils?

Should You Ingest Essential Oils

You’ll see no end of advice online claiming that it’s perfectly safe to add a couple of drops of an essential oil to a glass of water every day and drink it down. And at first glance this seems like an easy and fuss free way to make use of essential oils, especially when it comes to digestive complaints like nausea and indigestion..

But let’s take a closer look, because it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Numerous essential oils are classed as safe for ingestion by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this isnt because theyve been evaluated as medicines, but because they are commonly used food and drink flavorings and preservatives.

So, ingesting an essential oil won’t cause you any harm when it’s contained in a food or properly prepared drink.

However, a couple of drops of essential oil added to a glass of water is not a properly prepared drink!

Why?

Essential oils do not mix with water. Try it for yourself and see. The drops of essential oil will just sit on the top of the water. This means that they remain undiluted and can cause irritation and damage to the tissues of your mouth and esophagus.

Undiluted essential oils can also cause allergies and sensitization.

Plenty of people have found out the hard way that essential oils and water don’t mix. Canker sores, burning pain and acid reflux are just some of the outcomes from the supposedly safe and healthy practice of drinking essential oils.

When essential oils are prescribed by doctors for internal use (in some European countries essential oils are a regular option in mainstream healthcare) the oils are encapsulated so they can be swallowed in the same way you would take a vitamin, and this method of ingestion completely avoids contact with the mouth and throat.

If inhalation or massage aren’t working for you, and you’re determined to try ingesting oils, opt for the capsules rather than run the risk of injury from undiluted oils in your mouth and throat. Even better, seek the advice of a qualified, practising aromatherapist before taking any oil internally.

Essential Oils Best Avoided When Pregnant

Essential Oils Best Avoided When Pregnant

This list of potentially problematic essential oils is taken from the pregnancy guidelines issued by the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists.

  • Oregano (Origanum compactum)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct thymol)
  • Winter Savoury (Satureja montana)
  • Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum camphora)
  • Cumin (Cumimum cyminum)
  • Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Anise star (Illicium verum)
  • Sweet Birch (Betula lenta)
  • Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Diluting Your Oils

How to Use the Oil

You must dilute your essential oils before applying them to your skin or adding them to a bath. This can’t be stressed enough. Undiluted essential oils can cause skin irritation and skin sensitization. And when youre pregnant, your skin is more sensitive to all manner of substances, essential oils included.

Undiluted oils can also cause allergic reactions and that allergic reaction can be passed on to your unborn child.

The International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists in their guidance for professional aromatherapists recommend a dilution of 1% as the appropriate strength for pregnant clients.

This 1% dilution can be used for massage and for application via a compress.

When using essential oils in your bath no more than 4 drops of oil should be used.

To make a 1% dilution mix 6 drops of essential oil with your preferred carrier oil.

As we’ve already discussed, essential oils don’t mix with water, so you can’t simply drip a little essential oil into your bathwater and swirl it around. The essential oil needs to mixed with a dispersant like a tablespoon of glycerin or full fat milk.

Essential Oils For Stress and Anxiety

Morning Sickness

Feeling stressed or anxious isn’t good for you or your baby, but even an otherwise  healthy pregnancy can be a very stressful time. Moms-to-be often fret about their ability to be a good parent, money and housing worries can be a huge concern, not to mention relationship issues and employer expectations.

The hormones flooding your system will also make you more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed by things you would ordinarily shrug off.

Give yourself an emotional boost with calming and supportive essential oils.

  • Lavender eases stress and lowers anxiety.
  • Vetiver is useful for calming panic attacks.
  • Ylang Ylang Is an uplifting essential oil, able to improve mood and increase resilience to negative emotions.
  • Bergamot decreases agitation and promotes relaxation.
  • Roman Chamomile is known for its anxiety lowering properties. Chamomile helps the mind relax, and decreases the over thinking that can keep you awake at night while you endlessly run your problems on a loop.
  • Frankincense is a very grounding oil, able to promote feelings of calm and clear headedness.

The above oils may be used individually or you can combine them into a stress busting blend. Apply as a massage oil or infuse your surroundings with a calming aroma by adding a few drops of your blend to an aromatherapy diffuser.

Essential Oils for Morning Sickness

Pregnancy

Not every woman suffers from morning sickness but for those that do, it usually sets in right around the time you find out that you’re pregnant. One day you’re happily waving your pregnancy test in the air and the next you’ve got your head stuck down the toilet.

Morning sickness is a misnomer too because it can strike at any time of the day, and for some unlucky women the nausea and vomiting can last all day long for months on end.

Not only is morning sickness horrible to go through, the condition depletes your stores of nutrients and energy making you more susceptible to opportunistic infections. And having to combat a cold or the flu while you’re trying to cope with morning sickness is the last thing that you need!

The following essential oils are considered useful for relieving the nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy.

  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Lavender (Lavandula officinalis)
  • Lemon (Citrus limon)
  • Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)

Lemon in particular should be high on your list of oils to try if you’re afflicted with morning sickness. In one study, researchers gave pregnant women suffering from nausea and vomiting either lemon essential oil or a placebo to inhale as soon as they felt nauseous.

The group inhaling the lemon oil experienced significantly less nausea and vomiting than the placebo group.

The best way to use these oils to combat morning sickness is to inhale them. You can do this by simply popping the top off your bottle and breathing in the aroma, by shaking a few drops onto a cotton handkerchief, or by adding the oil to a bowl of steaming water, an aromatherapy diffuser or an oil burner.

Using a few drops of essential oil in bowl of steaming water or a diffuser placed near your bed overnight, lets you breathe in the essential oil while you sleep and is a good way to help alleviate the nausea that often strikes as soon as you wake up.

Keeping a small bottle of oil on hand for direct inhalation or for adding to your handkerchief is a better choice for when you’re up and going about your day.

One word of caution about peppermint oil. If you’re still experiencing morning sickness as your due date draws closer and you intend to breastfeed, peppermint oil may not be the best choice for you because it may interfere with milk production.

Essential Oils For Swelling and Water Retention

Essential Oils For Swelling and Water Retention

Swollen feet, puffy ankles and sausage fingers are common afflictions in the later stages of pregnancy. And if you’re going through your third trimester during the hot summer months, the heat tends to make the swelling worse.

When fingers are swollen, it’s important to remove rings, so the swelling doesn’t build up around the ring and cause the band to cut into your finger.

Small ice packs are helpful for any area of swelling, and swollen feet and ankles can be helped by lying down with your feet raised up on a couple of pillows so they are above your heart. This position helps fluid to drain away.

An essential oil blend you can try for swelling (edema) is ginger  (Zingiber officinale), cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Mix, 3 drops of ginger, 2 drops of cypress and 2 drops of lavender essential oil into 30ml (one ounce) of vegetable based carrier oil, then massage in an upward direction starting at your feet, moving across your ankles and up along your lower leg.

For swelling in your hands, begin the massage stroke at your fingertips, move along the hand, over the wrist, then continue up the arm.

Use the oil blend once a day and discontinue use after 10 days. Do not apply this blend to your abdomen.

Always mention any swelling to your health care provider – most instances of edema are harmless, but this swelling can sometimes indicate a dangerous condition called preeclampsia.

Essential Oils For Indigestion and Heartburn

Essential Oils For Indigestion and Heartburn

Indigestion can cause a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms. Trapped gas, chest pain, palpitations, sweating, backache, headache, belly ache, and acid reflux.

Eating smaller, more frequent meals can reduce symptoms, as can avoiding food during the later part of the day if you’re suffer from acid reflux when you lie down to sleep.

The best essential oils for tackling digestive distress when you’re pregnant include

  • Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Lemon Balm/Melissa  (Melissa officinalis)
  • German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Orange blossom (neroli)  (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
  • Sandalwood (Santalum album)
  • Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
  • Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla)

You may find that simply sipping a herbal tea will provide relief, and chamomile, lemon, lemon balm, peppermint and ginger infusions are all readily available in supermarkets and health food stores.

Chewing on a sprig of mint or lemon balm is also an effective remedy.

If you need as stronger treatment, make a 1% dilution of any of the above essential oils and gently massage into your upper abdomen.

Essential Oils For Lower Back Pain

Essential Oils For Lower Back Pain

As pregnancy progresses, lower back pain can become a constant cross to bear, and this back pain can become even more severe during labor.

Thankfully a number of essential oils have analgesic (pain relieving) properties and these can make your life a lot more comfortable.

For any of the following oils, make a 1% dilution and massage into your lower back to ease the pain. Oils can be combined but dont exceed a total of 6 – 8 drops per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil.

  • German Camomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
  • Eucalyptus Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus var. globulus)
  • Peppermint (mentha piperita)
  • Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  • Black Pepper Piper nigrum)
  • Sandalwood (Santalum album)
  • Neroli/Orange Blossom (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
  • Frankincense (Boswellia carteri)
  • Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides)
  • Helichrysum (Helichrysum angustifolium)
  • Rose Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

Essential Oils For Insomnia

Essential Oils For Insomnia

For sleep problems its hard to beat lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia). Lavender oil eases stress, relaxes the mind, and acts as a mild sedative, allowing your body to gently drift off to sleep.

For sleep issues, diluted lavender can be massaged into the skin, you can use it in a diffuser, or you can sprinkle a few drops onto a cotton handkerchief and tuck it alongside your pillow or place it on your nightstand.

While lavender is the go-to essential oil for sleep disturbances, it isn’t the only choice, and you may find that another oil or a blend of oils gives you a better nights sleep. Other essential oils you can try include

  • Valerian (Valeriana fauriei)
  • Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
  • Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
  • Sandalwood (Santalum album)
  • Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata var. genuina)

Essential Oils For Hemorrhoids

Essential Oils For Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids can strike in the later stages of pregnancy, and they can also crop up after you’ve given birth. Obviously this condition makes daily bowel movements painful and if the hemorrhoids are swollen enough, they can make the basic task of sitting down unbearable.

While essential oils need to be used in moderation, you can get relief from the pain and swelling by applying Witch Hazel to the affected area. Witch Hazel is used in a number of brand name hemorrhoid preparations so you can have confidence that it will ease your discomfort.

Witch Hazel comes in both liquid and gel form. To use the liquid, simply moisten a cotton pad with the Witch Hazel and gently place over the hemorrhoids. Gel can be applied with clean fingers.

In addition to regular applications of soothing and cooling Witch Hazel, a blend of geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) oils, diluted appropriately can be applied to external hemorrhoids several times a day.

Use 2 drops of each essential oil.

Other essential oils you can use include

  • Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)
  • Peppermint (mentha piperita)
  • Sandalwood (Santalum album)

The carrier oil that you choose should be one that is easily absorbed without leaving an unpleasant greasy residue, so light oils like sunflower, rice bran, grapeseed and hemp seed oil are good choices.

Essential Oils For Labor

Essential Oils For Labor

Stress relieving essential oils help to make labor less of an ordeal, and if you’ve opted for a natural birth, a little of one of the analgesic essential oils can take the edge of the contractions.

Essential oils can be diffused into the room or your birth partner can massage your abdomen and back with appropriate dilutions.

When diffusing oils, you’ll want to use the oils for short periods and then take a break. Inhaling essential oils for a prolonged period can induce nausea and headache, and not just for you, anyone in the delivery suite with you could be affected.

If you’re in a hospital for your delivery, you might not be able to use a diffuser. Check in advance and find out what the hospital policy is.

Ideally, prior to your due date you’ll be able to book an appointment with a qualified aromatherapist who will make a personalized blend for you and give you instructions on the best way to use your oils as labor progresses, where this isnt an option you can use these suggestions.

  • Rose absolute oil (Rosa centifolia or Rosa damascena), softens ligaments which helps the pelvic bones expand, it’s also a uterine relaxant and offers some pain relief.
  • Orange Blossom Oil (Citrus aurantium var. amara), will help to keep you calm and make it easier for you to maintain relaxed breathing and avoid hyperventilation. Able to relieve anxiety, orange blossom will be helpful if it’s your first pregnancy and you’re fearful about the delivery process.
  • Lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia) is a potent relaxant that will help you get through the long hours of contractions. It’s the perfect choice if you develop a headache or nausea, and as a mild analgesic it will provide a little pain relief as your uterus goes through the motions.
  • Geranium essential oil (Pelargonium graveolens), stimulates circulation and makes breathing easier and more effective. As a feel good essential oil geranium will lift your mood and give you the mental energy you need to keep going.

One important point to be aware of is that essential oils shouldn’t be used in birthing pools. As your baby opens their eyes, the oils in the water could act as an irritant – not a pleasant way for your little one to get their first experience of the world.

The Purity of Your Essential Oils Is Crucial For Use During Pregnancy

Purity of Your Essential Oils

Unfortunately there are unscrupulous essential oil manufacturers and vendors out there. They take an essential oil, mix it with cheap adulterants to boost their profits, then pass it off as a pure oil.

If you’re buying your oils from eBay, marketplace sellers on Amazon, farmers markets, flea markets, dollar stores, etc, you’re taking a gamble on the purity of your oils. That’s not to say that all vendors in these places are selling low quality products, only that the chance of getting an inferior product is higher than if you purchased essential oils from a retailer with a strong reputation for quality.

In many cases the adulterants aren’t harmful, your oil may have been cut with nothing more than sunflower oil, but sometimes oils are adulterated with alcohol and synthetic solvents.

Another form of adulteration takes place when essential oils are mixed with other less costly essential oils. For example Melissa (also called lemon balm) is commonly mixed with lemon, citronella and lemongrass, while rose is often blended with geranium and palmarosa.

Obviously oils subjects to this type of adulteration wont have the same therapeutic effects as a pure essential oil.

High quality essential oil suppliers that you can buy from with complete confidence include Plant Therapy, Mountain Rose Herbs and Tisserand.

If you’re buying locally, always check the label for the botanical name of the oil – given in parenthesis next to all listings above – and make sure that the stock isn’t past its expiration date because essential oils do degrade over time. Also check to make sure the oils aren’t out on display in an area of the store where they’re subject to excessive light and heat which also hastens oil degradation.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.