People get very concerned about the use of aromatherapy and essential oils during pregnancy. Some, including some aromatherapists, even advise not to use any essential oils at all. I personally think that is a bit extreme, and also a great pity, as many essential oils can be quite useful in helping the prospective mum through this time.
There are a number of reasons that the area of aromatherapy and pregnancy has become the subject of so much concern. And often people are left not knowing what, if anything they can use.
Essential oils listed as "Not to use in Pregnancy" fall into 3 basic groups -
Oils which are toxic or otherwise dangerous and should be avoided at all times, even when not pregnant. These include bitter almond, arnica, boldo, broom, buchu, calamus, brown & yellow camphor, cassia, chervil, cinnamon bark, costus, deertongue, elecampane, bitter fennel, horseradish, jaborandi, melitotus, mugwort, mustard, oregano, pennyroyal, dwarf pine, rue, common sage, santolina, sassafras, savin, southernwood, savory, tansy, thuja, tonka, wintergreen, wormseed, wormwood.
Other oils which require caution for anyone using them (again not just during pregnancy) include ajowan, aniseed and star anise, some types of basil, bay,white camphor, carrot seed, some types of cedarwood, cinnamon leaf, clove (leaf and bud), coriander, cumin, eucalyptus, sweet fennel, hops, hyssop, juniper, lemongrass, nutmeg, parsley, black pepper, spanish sage, tagetes, tarragon, thyme, tuberose, turmeric, turpentine, valerian.
Commonly used oils which are normally safe but may have adverse effects when pregnant. These include angelica, basil, birch, calamintha, cedarwood, celery seed, citronella, clary sage, cypress, jasmine, labdanum, lovage, marjoram, melissa, myrrh, nutmeg, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, yarrow.
In addition there are some oils which are usually to be avoided in the first trimester, particularly if there is a history or risk of miscarriage, such as roman chamomile, geranium, lavender and rose.
The first category should always be avoided, but in the main are not readily available anyway. The second should only be considered under the advice of a professionally qualified aromatherapist and generally used in very limited amounts and/or for a limited period of time.
But why do some oils only become a risk during pregnancy? Well, some of these oils are emmenogogues and have a stimulating effect on the uterus. Some affect the hormones or have too strong an effect on a particular organ or system of the body. We also do not yet know to what extent oils used by the mother may affect the developing foetus, so any oils which may be too strong for the child should be avoided.
This amount of caution is also required because the quality of essential oils can vary widely in the marketplace. But under the guidance of a qualified aromatherapist, great benefits can be gained by using some essential oils during pregnancy.
Another thing to bear in mind is how & how much oil you use.
Never take essential oils internally. Always, but always, dilute essential oils before applying them to the skin. Never apply them neat to the skin. If you are pregnant, adapt any recipes by cutting down the number of drops to child sized doses, around half of that for an adult. This softens the effect and also takes account of the fact that when pregnant, a woman's sense of smell is often more acute, so full strength may seem overpowering. For example if a recipe suggests 5 drops in 10 mls of carrier oil, then use only 2-3 drops. Less is often more in aromatherapy!
Essential oils used in vaporiser will carry much less risk than any applied directly to the body, whether in a carrier oil, in a bath or as a compress. But still err on the side of caution regarding how much you use.
Some useful and safe remedies for pregnancy -
Nausea - put 2-3 drops of ginger or spearmint oil on a tissue and inhale.
Oedema (swelling of hands and/or feet) - put 4-6 drops of one of the following oils in a foot or hand bath (sweet orange, geranium, grapefruit) and soak
Indigestion - dilute 1 drop of spearmint essential oil in 1 teaspoon of sweet almond oil and massage into the abdomen in clockwise direction.
Other oils that are generally safe to use include, lemon, sweet orange, mandarin, frankincense, lavender, sandalwood and tea tree.
Always ensure that you are using true essential oils rather than synthetic or fragrance oils. See my article on choosing essential oils for more information.
If you have a personal or family history of miscarriage or your have been advised that your pregnancy is in any way fragile, please seek advice from a professional aromatherapist regarding your particular situation before using essential oils. Professional advice is a good idea for anyone contemplating the use of aromatherapy but especially so in pregnancy. And always let your health practitioner, doctor, midwife or obstetrician know about anything you are using or proposing to use.
(This information is meant as general advice. Please consult your health practitioner or a qualified aromatherapist for advice on your specific situation.)
About the Author
Wendy Mackay is a qualified Aromatherapist and member of the International Federation of Aromatherapists (MIFA). Wendy and her husband David run Essence of Wellbeing a successful Aromatherapy & Massage Supply and Pure Natural Skin Care business. Other Articles and Essence of Wellbeing products can be viewed at www.essenceofwellbeing.com.au