May 03 2023 – Henrieta Haniskova
Pregnancy is great time to focus on our health and reduce the exposure to any dangerous or questionable substances that can potentially be troublesome. We all agree, we want healthy babies and safe pregnancy. As a certified clinical aromatherapist I would like to offer you a look at the use and safety of aromatherapy during this period with some hard facts and supportive research. Although aromatherapy may seem like a relatively new form of complementary medicine, the practice of using oils for perfuming, healing and religious ceremonies can be traced back thousands of years. Hippocrates the father of medicine said that the way to health is to have aromatic bath and scented massage every day.
The female body is capable of creating a miracle, new life and the body during pregnancy undergoes some substantial changes. Hormonal shifts and body chemistry is different during pregnancy. Some of them include a shift in perception of taste and smell.
The body during pregnancy needs to work overtime to support a placenta and the fetus, the baby is nourished through the placenta and we still don't have full knowledge as to what and how much of it crosses the placenta and reaches the baby's body. Placenta is an amazing organ that nourishes the baby, but it is not an impenetrable vault. This is why we want to be very careful with the use of essential oils and perfumes as well. The use needs to be very limited and applied with intention and caution to prevent any development damage of the baby. This is why certain foods and medications are not recommended during pregnancy and why many of us look for natural solutions to the issues we are facing. Often we turn to herbal medicine and it has a lot to offer.
There are companies that sell product and recommend all kinds of different use of essential oils that has not been recommended by aromatherapists. They often produce blends that may not be suitable for the use by pregnant women at all and a lot of caution needs to be used. Pure, natural, safe are lovely labels but if there is no substantial evidence behind the labels, it is best to avoid the product altogether.
Herbal medicine such as herbal teas and even infused oils or tinctures contain a lot less concentrated mix of phytosterols, volatiles and other constituents of herbal medicines than essential oils and some need to be used with caution and sparingly. Extra caution needs to be taken with distilled and highly concentrated essential oils and their blends. Take the simple equation of 1 drop of peppermint essential oil is equal to something like 28 cups of peppermint tea in the volume of menthol, the main volatile constituent in peppermint plant. The possibility of sensitization in excessive use is always a possibility and during pregnancy when the system is so sensitive, extra caution is important. This is why no more than 1% dilution of essential oils is recommended and the application of essential oils orally, rectally or vaginally as well as usage of undiluted essential oils is not safe no matter what you have heard from anyone.
Essential oils can be used throughout the pregnancy for a few different purposes. A few examples are nausea or morning sickness, anxiety, fear, stress, depression, pain and discomfort, which doesn't usually happen until later in pregnancy where more safe oils are available to be used.
Let's take a look at the different stages of pregnancy and which essential oils are safe to use with evidence to back their usage. The different organs of the baby develop at different times and women who have experience miscarriage in the past are considered high risk and need extra care in reducing anything that can complicate their pregnancy.
The early part of pregnancy, first trimester is where the biggest caution needs to be used. There are essential oils that can be helpful, but in general it is best to stay clear of them. Here are a couple that have been shown to be safe to use in inhalation through the diffuser or inhaled from a tissue paper or a cotton pad.
Many of us experience nausea and change of taste and sense of smell, this can be very unpleasant and the use of ideally organic Lemon essential oil may be used in small concentrations. 10 minutes in a diffuser with 3-4 drops. Personal inhaler delivers larger dose over shorter period of time and the total volume depends on the frequency of use, the safest recommendation is to limit the use and apply other supportive remedies such as ginger tea or crystalized ginger.
Peppermint essential oil inhalation in the same volumes as the Lemon essential oil can be also used for congestion, headaches and migraines and nausea, but never use this oil around new baby or infants, because it is very strong even in small dilution and can cause respiratory distress. This is why using blends of essential oils by various companies needs extra caution, because the blends can contain oils that are troublesome for a baby. Read the label and limit their use.
Both of these oils are also suitable to improve mood, help reduce seasonal depressive disorder and reduce congestion when we experience the expected repeating colds and flu that are so common during early pregnancy. Lemon can also be helpful with nosebleeds, these tend to increase during pregnancy. And Peppermint helps headaches. So investing in a good quality organic Lemon and Peppermint essential oils is a good investment and you really only need a small bottle, because a 5ml bottle of essential oil adds up to 100 drops.
The reason to seek out organic essential oil with any citrus plant is because most citrus essential oils are extracted through cold pressing of the peel and with residual pesticides on the fruit, this will deliver essential oils that have concentrated volumes of pesticides in them. And since we know that essential oils do cross the placenta and the blood brain barrier and the baby doesn't have functional organs to filter the metabolized residues out, using oils that are organic and come from a good supplier that does not sell adulterated oils is a smart practice. This is also why we only use certified organic essential oils in our skincare.
Lemon essential oil can be used throughout pregnancy.
After 16 weeks since the conception we can add Lavender essential oil to our list of safe oils.
Lavender essential oil isn't for everyone and your preference for scents may have changed, but please be cautious with the use of products that list Lavender or any other plants as the "aromatherapy" perk because often the scent is not coming from an essential oil and is actually synthetic fragrance, which has endocrine disrupters or chemicals that interfere with human hormones.
Lavender essential oil is very useful in cases where there is stress and anxiety, depression, physical pain, headaches, burns, cuts and abrasions or minor injuries to the skin. It can be used in a diffuse or on a cotton pad for inhalation. 3-4 drops in a diffuser for 10 minutes at the time, turn off your diffuser for at least an hour after. It can be used diluted in a carrier oil, carrier oil is fatty plant oil such as sunflower, coconut, jojoba oils for example. We want no higher than 0.5-2% dilution and reduce the volume if you find the scent overpowering. Less is more! This oil is first aid in the bottle and you need it in your arsenal.
Lavender used during pregnancy can be helpful with prevention of postpartum depression and anxiety. We can all worry and have anxiety around pregnancy and baby's well being, this pressure on the nervous system can carry over into the postpartum and exhaustion, depletion and overwhelm, lack of sleep and support can easily lead to depression and high levels of anxiety. Diluted Lavender essential oil can be used for a massage, on burns to support skin healing, cuts and bruises. It can also be added to bath salts for a relaxing bath. Never use essential oils directly in the bath water. They will stay on the surface and get on your skin, which at a high concentration can cause sensitization. Always dilute essential oils in carrier oil before adding them to a bath or bath salts.
Lavender may trigger Hay fever or asthma, please use caution.
After 24 weeks of gestation we may add Bergamot oil, it is another wonderful oil, which is very helpful in reducing stress and keeping cortisol down. Very effective oil to use for anxiety and depression as well as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Bergamot is soothing in cases of upper respiratory infection and they are very common during pregnancy. Bergamot has antiviral properties and is a supportive oil for cold sores, shingles and chicken pox. It can be applied with a Q-tip diluted in carrier oil directly to the sore area, but please be aware that Bergamot makes your skin photosensitive. Either only use it indoors or at night if applied to the skin, or make sure that the oil you are using is Bergaptene free. This type of Bergamot oil is distilled, not cold pressed and will not have the photo-sensitizing effect on your skin. It may also be used on acne prone skin in carrier oil at a dilution no higher than 2%. It is one of my favorite essential oils I use to boost my dopamine levels.
Petitgrain essential oil is oil made from the leaves and twigs of the orange tree. It has a herbaceous smell and powerful calming effect. Great to be used to reduce stress and anxiety, to uplift mild depression and improve our mood and as a lovely room spray.
For high risk pregnancies there is still support that can be found in essential oils.
Neroli essential oil is wonderful and also one of the most expensive essential oils available because it is distilled from flowers of the orange tree and produces only a small amount of essential oil from the flowers used. Petitgrain is a lot more affordable version with not as refined and light scent. Another favorite of mine, Neroli essential oil is wonderful for calming stress and panic, uplifting for depression and fantastic support for sensitive and dry skin. It should not be used above 0.5-2% in dilution.
Any of the oils mentioned so far can be blended in second and third trimester, but the full combination of the oils should not be in excess of 1-2% in any use.
There are many blends of essential oils available on the market and some of them may be your favorite blend to use, these oils can contain as many as 8-15 different essential oils and more. And as we can see here the amount of essential oils that have evidence based safety behind them is limited to a handful. Please check the list of oils in your favorite blend and reduce their use accordingly for the duration of your pregnancy to ensure your and your baby's safety.
Let's talk about specific conditions and how aromatherapy may be applied to support you and your health.
Morning sickness/nausea, most often occurs in the first trimester. Lemon or Peppermint essential oils are helpful when inhaled, either a drop on a cotton pad or in an inhaler 3-4 drops for 10 minutes maximum every hour.
Nosebleeds are common during pregnancy and more frequent than usual often due to the higher amount of blood supplying the placenta and baby causing higher blood pressure. Lemon essential oil in 1% dilution in aloe vera gel or carrier oil applied to the root of the nose to help stop bleeding.
Anxiety in second trimester may be supported with Lavender essential oil in inhalation with a drop on a cotton pad or in a diffuser for 10 minutes at the time. Use small amounts of this oil, 0.5-1% will be sufficient. A blend of Lavender and Lemon can be very nice.
Headaches/migraines can be soothed with Lavender essential oil and Peppermint (if also nauseated). Inhalation or massage with oils diluted in carrier oil on temples, forehead and back of the neck.
Depression in second trimester may be relieved by the use of Lavender and/or Lemon through inhalation, in a diffuser 10 minutes at the time or as a room spray.
Pain in third trimester may get relief through the use of Lavender and/or Peppermint diluted in a carrier oil at 0.5-1%and applied to the skin and through a massage.
Panic or fear in third trimester can be soothed with the use of Neroli via inhalation, in a diffuser.
Depression and anxiety in third trimester can be supported with Bergamot, Neroli, Petitgrain, Lemon and/or Lavender by inhalation, in a diffuser, with a massage in a carrier oil, or in a room spray.
Varicose veins will get relief from Lemon essential oil diluted in Aloe Vera gel and applied to the area.
If you find the scent too much or not pleasant, reduce the volume you are using, blend with other oils or use a different oil that is also safe. The therapeutic properties of these oils overlap in some cases and can be used interchangeably. And hydrosols can also be used in similar ways also in sits baths and as compresses and have a lot less of the essence in them. These are waters used for distilling of essential oils that also retains a lot of the volatiles and have healing and soothing properties, they smell a lot less intense.