There is a lot of information available regarding safety of aromatherapy and the use of essential oils, especially during pregnancy. This is a controversial topic and you will read and hear various opinions that support or caution its use. Remember that whether you apply topically or through inhalation, essential oils are absorbed into your body. Once inside your body, essential oils work in the same way as traditional drugs or medicines. Because the essential oil molecules are very small, there is the possibility that they may cross the placenta and reach the fetus' circulation. The reality is that there is not enough research to know exactly what effect essential oils have on a developing baby. Simply due to the lack of research, it is best to avoid essential oil use in the first trimester altogether.
You should stay clear of essential oils throughout your whole pregnancy if:
- you have a history of miscarriage,
- you have had any vaginal bleeding in this pregnancy,
- you have epilepsy,
- you have heart problems,
- you have diabetes (gestational or otherwise),
- you have blood clotting problems,
- you have have thyroid, liver or kidney disease.
I know that many "moms to be" may find comfort and find aromatherapy helpful in easing pregnancy symptoms such as backaches, nausea or swollen ankles, especially if you are experienced with essential oils and have had positive results in the past. You may have family and friends that swear by using essential oils to ease your uncomfortable symptoms during gestation. Remember that you and only you are responsible for yourself and the baby's well being. It is recommended that you consult your doctor, midwife, or health care professional prior to using essential oils as they will have your full medical history.
If you wish to incorporate aromatherapy after the first trimester (and your pregnancy is going well) it is best to take the following precautions:
- Only use one drop of essential oil at a time.
- Try not to use one particular oil for an extended period of time, such as every day for several weeks.
- Always dilute the essential oil by mixing one drop with at least a teaspoon (5 ml) of a base oil before you add it to a bath or smooth it over your skin. Since our body chemistry is subject to change during pregnancy, remember to do a skin patch test prior to broad application even if you have had no adverse reaction in the past.
- You can add drops of the oil to a diffuser, but don't leave it on for longer than 10-15 each hour. If you leave it on for too long, you can risk over exposure not to mention that the smell can be overpowering and make you feel nauseous.
If you decide to use essential oils after your first trimester, the following oils should be avoided:
- Nutmeg, which could have hallucinogenic effects and react with pain-relieving drugs in labour.
- Rosemary, which is thought to increase blood pressure, and may cause contractions.
- Basil, which is thought to contribute to abnormal cell development.
- Jasmine and Clary Sage, which could trigger contractions. Laurel, angelica, thyme, cumin, aniseed, citronella and cinnamon leaf should also be avoided as they could stimulate contractions.
- Sage and Rose, which could cause bleeding in the uterus.
- Juniper berry, which could affect the kidneys.
Lavender is probably the safest and most versatile of all common essential oils. It has a calming effect on the body and it can be used to reduce anxiety, stress and promote sleep. Topically, it has cytophylactic properties that promote rapid healing and help reduce scarring so it is great for minimizing stretch marks. Add some to a bath, a diffuser or topically by mixing it with a good base oil. There are questions regarding the use of lavender essential oil in pregnancy mainly because lavender is known to regulate periods. This does not mean using it in pregnancy increases the risk of have a miscarriage. However, as recommended above, it is wise to wait until your second trimester before using Lavender or any other essential oil until more conclusive research is available.
Aromatherapy can be a wonderful alternative way to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy and help you relax and get a better night's rest. In reality, there is not enough research available to know for certain how it will affect your developing baby and therefore you should be informed and work with your health care provider in making an informed decision. For more information, see our article on Using Essential Oils Safely. If you have any questions, comments or want to share your personal experiences, please leave a comment below.