Essential oils have experienced a boom over the last decade, bolstered by both an increase in consumer desire for natural health and hygiene products and increased visibility thanks to direct sales and online boutique vendors. But this increase in availability has also resulted in a glut of information and misinformation regarding the safe use of essential oils.
Let’s get one thing straight, essential oils are not benign substances. They are highly concentrated chemical compounds that, contrary to the insistence of some skeptics, act directly on the body and can have a significant effect. They can be both blessing and bane, and there are certain people who should be extra careful about their exposure. In particular, pregnant women.
Here, we cover a few simple, but important, rules for safely and effectively using essential oils during pregnancy.
Avoid all essential oils until your 2nd trimester
Caiaimage/Tom Merton/ Getty Avoid all essential oils until your 2nd trimester
While it may be tempting to use lavender and peppermint oils to ease nausea and vomiting during your first trimester, many experts suggest avoiding essential oils altogether during that critical first 13 weeks of pregnancy, as there’s some risk—however small—that they could cause uterine contractions that may adversely affect the baby.
Once you’ve crossed into the second and third trimesters, however, certain essential oils can provide relief from many pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, swollen ankles, and stretch marks, says Dr. Nada Milosavljevic, founder and director of the Integrative Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and creator of SageTonic.
“Some essential oils that can be safely used during pregnancy are lavender, chamomile, and ylang ylang,” says Dr. Milosavljevic. “These are calming or down-regulating oils that can have a relaxing effect on the body.”
If those aren’t your preferred scents, you have plenty more to choose from: According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), there is no evidence of problems associated with using the following properly diluted oils during the second and third trimesters: benzoin, bergamot, black pepper, chamomile (German & Roman), cypress, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, juniper, lavender, lemon, mandarin, marjoram (sweet), neroli, petitgrain, rose, sandalwood, orange (sweet), tea tree, ylang ylang.
While some oils are safe during pregnancy, many others are not. There is evidence to suggest that some oils, namely cinnamon, clove, rosemary, clary sage, and jasmine, can cause uterine contractions resulting in miscarriage or preterm labor.
The NAHA’s website contains a more comprehensive list of essential oils to avoid when pregnant, during labor, and throughout breastfeeding, which can be found here.Know how to use them safely (never ingest!)
Regarding application, Dr. Milosavljevic offers the following as a guideline: “Whatever oil is used should be diluted in a carrier oil such as coconut or almond oil. In an abundance of caution, the safest option while pregnant is the use of essential oils through aromatherapy and a diffuser rather than topical application.” (Here are the 5 best essential oil diffusers you can buy.)
While inhaled (via a diffuser) and topical use (when diluted with a carrier oil) are generally considered safe, ingestion of essential oils, or mixing them into food or drink, is controversial and should be avoided. Robert Tisserand, author of
“The most common adverse effect from ingestion is stomach irritation—if you put essential oils in water, the oil doesn’t dissolve in water, so it actually makes it harder for your body to assimilate the oil because it’s not evenly dispersed,” says Tisserand. “It also means that you have little droplets of essential oils floating around in your stomach, which can lead to irritation of the very sensitive mucus membranes of the stomach.” (Draw up a relaxing, rejuvenating bath with Color Therapy Bath Botanicals from the Women's Health Boutique.)
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Westend61/ Getty 4 essential oil remedies that are safe to use when pregnant
So, now you know the basic do's and don'ts of using essential oils when pregnant, but what about specific essential oil remedies for pregnancy related ailments? Here, we outline a few that are safe to use during your 2nd and 3rd trimesters. (Of course, you should still always consult with your doctor, a certified nurse midwife, or a qualified aromatherapist before implementing an essential oil protocol.)
+ To help repair stretch marks, mix 2-3 drops lavender or rose oil with your favorite carrier oil such as coconut or almond oil, and apply to the affected area 1 to 2 times daily.
+ To ease nausea associated with “morning” sickness, sweet orange or mandarin oil can be diffused or inhaled directly from the bottle. These also work well mixed with a carrier oil and massaged into the skin.
+ To relieve the discomfort associated with that growing baby bump, combine a few drops of lavender oil with a carrier oil and massage into the abdomen.
+ To provide relief from swollen ankles and feet, place 3 to 5 drops of lavender or geranium oil and carrier oil of your choice into a
The International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists Guidelines for Pregnancy lists other common pregnancy ailments and essential oils that may provide relief on their website.