Is It Safe To Use Essential Oils During Pregnancy?
Essential oils may seem like the most natural way to ease the exhaustion or nausea associated with pregnancy. But it's important to know that certain oils could increase your risk of miscarriage, and when taken in large doses, they could potentially be harmful to the fetus. The key to using essential oils safely is to first consult a trained practitioner. You should also keep your dosage levels low and steer clear of oils like clary sage, basil, and cinnamon, all which could cause potential harm to your pregnancy.
A few drops in the diffuser and your weariness washes away. A splash in your massage oil and stress becomes a stranger. Essential oils are liquids drawn from the roots, leaves, flowers, seeds, and other parts of plants. They can be used for a wide range of health and beauty remedies, and can even help with some very specific pregnancy-related problems like nausea or morning sickness and the stress and anxiety that comes with them. However, increasing number of reports reveal how certain oils can trigger contractions or be possibly toxic to a pregnant woman. So, what – if any – essential oils are safe and beneficial to use during pregnancy?
Essential Oil Use During Pregnancy: Weighing The Pros And Cons
Pros: Easing Pregnancy Discomfort Naturally
Using essential oils can sometimes provide a natural alternative to mainstream medication when treating problems faced by most pregnant women. For instance, adding a few drops of an invigorating orange or grapefruit essential oil to a diffuser could help give you a boost of energy or even ease morning sickness and nausea, while lavender oil can help you relax. Other oils like rose, cardamom, patchouli, and neroli are also typically safe to use during pregnancy.1
Cons: Risk Of Abortion
Some oils, including those you may have used regularly before you were pregnant – like peppermint, basil, and clary sage oil – may cause hormonal changes that can bring on uterine contractions, trigger menstruation, or act in other ways that could lead to a miscarriage.2
You also need to be extra careful in the first trimester when the pregnancy is still in its early phases and triggering labor or contractions could cause you to lose the pregnancy.
Cons: Dangers To The Fetus
There is also the possibility that essential oil constituents could cross over to the fetus via the placenta. Whether or not this produces a toxic effect on the baby is not fully understood. Taking too high a dose or using the oils incorrectly could make them toxic. It’s best to play it safe and follow the exact dosage prescribed by a trained professional.
Cons: Allergic Reactions
Pregnant women may have more sensitive skin at different stages of the pregnancy. Some oils like oregano, thyme, wintergreen, or clove oil have high phenol, aldehyde, and ether content and may irritate the skin. So it may be better to steer clear of these.3
You should also stick to using oils topically or via a diffuser, but be aware that applying an oil in its undiluted form may cause side effects like rashes. Also, be wary of ingesting these oils – there remains a long-standing debate over whether anyone should be ingesting essential oils.4
Oils To Avoid During Pregnancy
Certain essential oils are especially notorious for causing problems for pregnant women. Needless to say, these are best to avoid. The following list spotlights some of the most common offenders. But always check with an aromatherapist before using any essential oil to understand the side effects and any interactions they may have with specific medications.
1. Peppermint Oil
As invigorating as peppermint may be, this oil can bring on menstruation. Avoid using it, especially late in your pregnancy. Peppermint can also cause skin irritation.5
2. Basil Oil
Basil oil contains high amounts of estragole, a natural organic compound that can cause uterine contractions, which is why pregnant women are advised against using it.6
3. Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil is used by midwives as a therapy to help reduce the length of labor by boosting cervical ripening. There are currently limited studies on adverse effects of using this oil. However, you should know that it can cause arrest of descent, where the baby doesn’t move further down the birth canal even when the cervix is dilated completely. There is also the possibility of prolonged rupture of membrane, with no onset of labor even as much as a day after the rupture of membranes. It could also increase the need for vacuum extraction. All of these potential risks were noted by one study done in the United States, but more research is needed to confirm these results for a wider population.7
4. Cinnamon Oil
Cinnamon could stimulate menstruation (called the emmenagogue effect) and even increase the risk of miscarriage or an abortion if it’s taken in high quantities. Because essential oils are such a concentrated form of the extract, it’s best to steer clear of cinnamon all together.8
5. Fennel Oil
Like basil oil, fennel oil contains estragole and is known to have emmenagogue effects that can stimulate menstrual flow.9
6. Clove Oil
According to the National Institutes of Health, inadequate research is available on the safety of clove for therapeutic or medicinal purposes for pregnant women. However, it has been found that clove may slow the clotting of blood. This, in turn, could cause more bleeding during the birth, especially if you are using other medications that may thin the blood.10 Reason enough to avoid it while you’re pregnant.
7. Rosemary Oil
Rosemary is also not recommended during pregnancy.11 The herb is said to boost menstrual flow and could act as an abortifacient and cause a miscarriage.12 Since the essential oil is a concentrated form of the herb, it’s best to steer clear of it.
8. Thyme Oil
Thyme is another herb-based oil that is not suggested for use by pregnant women due to its possible emmenagogue and abortifacient effects. While additional research is needed on these findings, it may be best to exercise caution since there is still insufficient data to back up its safe use.13
9. Clary Sage Oil
Clary sage oil is sometimes used in the last days of a pregnancy to strengthen contractions. Because of this, it’s best to avoid its use throughout the early and middle stages of the pregnancy.14
10. Other Oils To Avoid
Some other oils with possible abortifacient effects include chamomile, juniper, myrrh, nutmeg, parsley, sage, wintergreen, white fir, wild ginger, wild marjoram, and sandalwood.15
Oregano, jasmine, aniseed, camphor, jasmine, and mustard are other commonly available oils that are not recommended during pregnancy because they can either trigger contractions or be toxic to the growing fetus.16
Tips For Using Essential Oils Safely While Pregnant
While the list above is quite long, there are still some essential oils like lavender and orange you may be able to use while pregnant.17 Take these precautions so you can enjoy the benefits they have to offer.
Get Professional Help
Don’t self-medicate even with aroma or essential oils. It’s always better to exercise caution and use oils only under the supervision of a trained aromatherapist, and, if necessary, after checking with your gynecologist, too. These professionals can let you know about specific side effects. For instance, some oils like black cumin oil work very well when inhaled through a diffuser but can irritate your skin and may cause a rash if applied topically.18
If you’re considering using essential oils while pregnant, be careful about which ones you use. Stick to pure therapeutic grade essential oils, even if they cost a little extra. They must be contaminant-free. It’s also better to buy oils not pre-diluted with carrier oils as this might make the dosage harder to pin down.
Dosage And Carrier Oils
When used therapeutically, essential oils are just like a medicine. They’re meant to be used in very specific amounts, and blended or diluted with carrier oils in some cases. Sometimes, they may need to be combined with another oil to work correctly.19
Play It Safe
- Blend: Some aromatherapists suggest using essential oils only after blending them with a carrier, especially in the first trimester, to reduce the potency and the risk of having unwanted side effects that could harm your pregnancy. It could reduce the effectiveness, but might also lower the risk of potential problems.
- Diffuse: Using a diffuser is a much milder way to get the benefits of essential oils versus inhaling or applying them directly to your skin.
- Dilute: When used for massages, essential oils should be diluted to less than 3 percent by volume.20
- Stick To A Few Drops: If you’re adding it to bath water, use no more than 4 drops of essential oil.21
References [ + ]
|1, 4.||↑||Safety Information. National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.|
|2, 11, 16.||↑||Goodfriend, Chelle. “Aromatherapy for pregnancy and birth.” International Journal of Childbirth Education 16, no. 3 (2001): 18.|
|3, 17, 21.||↑||Pregnancy Guidelines. International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists.|
|5.||↑||Alankar, Shrivastava. “A review on peppermint oil.” Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research 2, no. 2 (2009): 27-33.|
|6.||↑||Yadav, Narayan Prasad, Jaya Gopal Meher, Neelam Pandey, Suaib Luqman, Kuldeep Singh Yadav, and Debabrata Chanda. “Enrichment, development, and assessment of Indian basil oil based antiseptic cream formulation utilizing hydrophilic-lipophilic balance approach.” BioMed research international 2013 (2013).|
|7.||↑||Dove, Dorinda, and Peter Johnson. “Oral evening primrose oil.” Journal of Nurse-Midwifery 44, no. 3 (1999): 320-324.|
|8, 9, 15.||↑||Ernst, E. “Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe?.” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 109, no. 3 (2002): 227-235.|
|10.||↑||Clove. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|12.||↑||Rosemary. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|13.||↑||Basch, Ethan, Catherine Ulbricht, Paul Hammerness, Anja Bevins, and David Sollars. “Thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.), thymol.” Journal of herbal pharmacotherapy 4, no. 1 (2004): 49-67.|
|14.||↑||Burns, Ethel E., Caroline Blamey, Steven J. Ersser, Lin Barnetson, and Andrew J. Lloyd. “An investigation into the use of aromatherapy in intrapartum midwifery practice.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 6, no. 2 (2000): 141-147.|
|18.||↑||Ernst, Edzard. “Adverse effects of herbal drugs in dermatology.” British Journal of Dermatology 143, no. 5 (2000): 923-929.|
|19.||↑||Are Essential Oils Safe? University of Minnesota.|
|20.||↑||Tisserand, Robert, and Rodney Young. Essential oil safety: a guide for health care professionals. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2013.|