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A simple guide to essential oils during pregnancy

A simple guide to essential oils during pregnancy

The use of essential oils during pregnancy is a contentious subject. As an aromatherapist, I thought it only appropriate that I weigh in on the topic with some evidence-based research to back me up.  

In this article, I offer a simple guide to using essential oils during pregnancy that considers the safety issues and dangers of improper usage. 

Pregnancy is a wonderful time in a woman's life but can bring with it plenty of concerns and anxieties. Being surrounded by mothers, I can only empathize with the concern felt about caring for your child's well-being. If I were overwhelmed with articles emphasizing the dangers of aromatherapy while pregnant, I would, in my right mind, avoid it entirely.

While we are led to believe that the use of essential oils altogether during pregnancy is harmful, there are many benefits when used appropriately

According to Conrad, 2019, recent surveys indicated a wide range of pregnant women admitted to accessing complementary therapies for self-care, with aromatherapy being one of the most popular [1]. This comes as no surprise, considering that finding ways to manage maternal stress during pregnancy for the growth and development of the fetus and mothers' well-being cannot be underestimated. Given the controversial nature of the topic, research shows that women engaging in aromatherapy during pregnancy rarely inform their healthcare specialists in fear of judgment. 

There is a longstanding debate as to whether or not aromatherapy can disrupt fetal development. According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, the main concern during pregnancy is the risk of potent compounds crossing the placental barrier [2]. With good reason, mothers are often encouraged to keep away from products containing potent ingredients. 

However, there is no definitive evidence to show that the proper use of appropriate essential oils can cause harm to the fetus and onset miscarriage. Yet, common sense would tell us that the improper use of essential oils, either internally or on the skin, is dangerous at any time, let alone during pregnancy

With all this said, later in this article, I will provide a list of essential oils considered safe to use during pregnancy and another list for oils to avoid. 

According to research, there are currently five clinical aromatherapy studies with pregnant women. Except for lavender, all the oils are from the citrus family. The studies focused on emotional well-being, anxiety, stress, depression, and immune support [1]. 

 

When used appropriately,  aromatherapy may help to ease the discomfort of pregnancy. If you are considering using essential oils, I recommend you follow a few simple guidelines to ensure the safety of yourself and baby.

 

A simple guide to essential oils during pregnancy 

  • Use only appropriate essential oils moderately and in low concentrations.

    According to research, external use at 1% dilution (5 drops per 30 ml/1 oz oil), only when needed, may help to improve the discomfort of pregnancy with minimal risk to mother or baby [1]. 

     

    • Consider your trimesters

      The use of essential oils in the first trimester is typically not recommended. 

      In the second and third trimesters, some essential oils are safe to use externally (inhalation and massage), as your baby is more developed. Diffusing oils in the home can ease some of the side effects of pregnancy like sleeplessness and agitation. Limiting the time the diffuser is on for no longer than 1 hour every 24, is recommended [4]. 

       

      • Avoid oral use of essential oils, especially during pregnancy

      I recommend avoiding taking essential oils by mouth at all times. Ingesting essential oils during pregnancy increases the risk of exposing the developing fetus to potent compounds at incredibly high levels [1]. Essential oils, while natural, are potent medicines, and can be toxic when taken this way! 

       

      Did you know that one drop peppermint oil is the equivalent of 28 cups of peppermint tea? And it takes sixty roses to provide one drop of rose oil!

       

      • Avoid using undiluted essential oils on the skin. 

      During pregnancy, you may experience a higher sensitivity to light due to increased melanin-stimulating hormone and are more susceptible to burns in direct sunlight [3]. Consequently, the use of undiluted essential oils can be especially harmful to skin health when pregnant. Always dilute essential oils before using on the surface of the skin. 

       

      • Less is more

      With a myriad of hormonal changes during pregnancy, a woman's sense of smell is often altered. Many women develop hyperosmia, which may cause you to experience a lower threshold to smells. Limiting the use of essential oils to lower doses (0.5% - 1% dilution), only when needed, will help to prevent the olfactory system from becoming overwhelmed and is considered extremely safe [1]. 

      Unfortunately, skin conditions during pregnancy are not uncommon. This is because the skin's sensitivity may vary at different stages of the pregnancy, even for women who do not have a history of sensitive skin [3]. 

       

      • Avoid using essential oils on your newborn infant. 

      Essential oils are too potent for babies under one year of age. In the early stages of growth, infants have sensitive skin and underdeveloped systems. Limiting infants to unscented products, like Simply Balm, that are free from essential oils, is the safest measure. 

       

      Essential oils generally considered safe during pregnancy 

      Benzoin (Styrax tonkinensis

      *Bergamot (Citrus bergamia

      Chamomile German (Chamomilla recutita

      Chamomile Roman (Chamaemelum nobile

      Frankincense (Boswellia carteri

      Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens

      *Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi

      Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) 

      *Lemon (Citrus limon

      *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 Orange (Citrus sinensis) 

      *Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia

      Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)

       

      Clinically evidence-based essential oils 

      * Possible photosensitizers - never use directly on the skin before unprotected sun exposure

       

      Essential oils to avoid during pregnancy 

      Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum)

      Arnica (Arnica montana)

      Basil ct. estragole (Ocimum basilicum)

      Birch (Betula lenta)

      Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)

      Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

      Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

      Parsley seed or leaf (Petroselinum sativum)

      Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)

      Sage (Salvia officinalis)

      Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

      Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

      Thuja (Thuja occidentalis)

      Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

      Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

       

      As you can see, most essential oils are suitable for use during pregnancy; the real danger comes when the dosages are incorrect or irresponsible.

      This article is for educational purposes only. Anyone wanting to use essential oils during pregnancy should seek the advice of a trained medical professional.

       

      References

      1. Conrad, P. (2019). Women's health aromatherapy: A clinically evidence-based guide for nurses, midwives, doulas, and therapists. London: Singing Dragon.
      2. N. (2020). Exploring Aromatherapy. Retrieved June, 2020, from https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/safety
      3. N. (2013). IFPA Pregnancy Guidelines. Retrieved June, 2020, from https://naha.org/assets/uploads/PregnancyGuidelines-Oct11.pdf
      4. Julia, H. (2020, April 29). Essential oils during conception, pregnancy and beyond. Retrieved June, 2020, from https://www.tisserand.com/blog/aromatherapy/how-to-use-essential-oils-during-conception-pregnancy-and-beyond/
      5. Worwood, V. A. (2016). The complete book of essential oils and aromatherapy: Over 800 natural, nontoxic, and fragrant recipes to create health, beauty, and safe home and work environments. Novato, CA: New World Library.
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