Pregnancy is often a time of wonder, excitement, and more than a few aches and pains. Expectant parents, especially those interested in natural lifestyle and medicine choices, may be interested in trying aromatherapy. It’s true that essential oils are derived from herbs, flowers, and plants found in nature. But is that enough to ensure that aromatherapy is a safe practice during pregnancy?
How Aromatherapy Works
Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years in many cultures to alleviate ailments and promote relaxation. Concentrated, scented oils typically enter the skin through massage or bathing, or are inhaled via a vaporizer that diffuses the oil into the air. Different oils are used for different purposes. Lavender, for example, is often used to promote calmness or even as a sleep aid, while neroli is sometimes used to alleviate heartburn.
Scientists have not thoroughly studied how aromatherapy oils work. The calming benefits may be partially due to psychological associations, and some effects may be due to the compounds absorbed through the skin. Anything that enters your body has the potential to cross through the placenta to your developing baby. Science has not produced conclusive evidence regarding the safety or potential risks of aromatherapy.
Which Aromatherapy Oils Are Safe During Pregnancy?
Before using any essential oil, talk to your doctor or a reputable practitioner with experience in aromatherapy use during pregnancy (a midwife’s association may be able to assist).
Avoid using aromatherapy in your first trimester, since that’s a critical stage of fetal development. Besides, morning sickness may make even a lovely scent seem nauseating if it’s too strong. In the second and third trimesters, some oils that are generally considered safe to use include:
Essential Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy
It might seem strange at first to think basil or rosemary oil could be harmful. After all, no one bats an eye if a pregnant woman orders spaghetti with tomato-basil sauce at a restaurant! Remember that even if essential oils contain familiar ingredients, they’re much more powerful and concentrated than they are in food, or many other cosmetics. Too much of even a common herb could stimulate contractions (not what you want before labor!) or affect the fetus. While scientific studies are limited, it’s a smart precaution to avoid the following essential oils during pregnancy:
Furthermore, you should know that some essential oils are discouraged for aromatherapy use at all. Oils like bitter almond, horseradish, mustard, mugwort, wormwood, and sassafras can have dangerous effects. Avoid topical or vapor use of these regardless of whether you’re pregnant.
Aromatherapy Best Practices
Using essential oils safely means using them in moderation. A drop or two goes farther than you think! Talk to your doctor or practitioner before getting started. If your main source of advice is a seller in a multi-level marketing (MLM) company, seek a second opinion or verify the seller’s credentials before trusting their advice on which oils are safe during pregnancy. Read the directions carefully, and start out with half the recommended amount.
An aromatherapy massage with a little essential oil mixed with a neutral, “carrier” oil (like coconut or sweet almond oil) can be a soothing treatment for sore muscles. A warm bath is another relaxing option.
If you use essential oils in a diffuser, limit the time to about 15 minutes out of an hour. Pick a room with good ventilation or windows so you can freshen the room. If you want to use essential oils during labor, drop your favorite oils on cotton balls and keep them in a sealed bag, so you can sniff them or put them away when you need to.
Under no circumstances should you ingest aromatherapy oils, or use treatments like “raindrop therapy” that layer many oils onto your skin. These oils are too concentrated for strong use. They can cause skin irritation, and consuming them can cause diarrhea and vomiting, and even burn the sensitive tissues in your throat.
When used correctly, certain aromatherapy oils can be a relaxing treatment during pregnancy. Clear your use with your medical provider so you trust that you’re using essential oils safely.