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Education » Pregnancy & Child Birth

Essential Oil Guidelines for Pregnancy & Childbirth

If new to essential oils, please familiarize yourself with their usage on the Oil Usage page.

I found it very difficult to put a list together of oils to avoid during pregnancy. As I searched various sources, I found that each author held his own opinion, and depending on his frame of reference, the list changed.

Carrying an unborn child is an incredible responsibility, and we strongly recommend that you use authentic, high-quality oils and use them in moderation. Many long-time essential oil users feel that high quality oils that are appropriately diluted, applied topically and in moderation should not cause a problem. Using any oil improperly or outside the realm of moderation may be unsafe.

These comments from well-respected people in the aromatherapy field of service may be helpful:

Clinical aromatherapist Jane Buckle RN, PhD writes: "The use of essential oils in pregnancy is a contentious subject, especially during the vital first 3-month period. . . . To put the [warnings] in context, remember that perfume does not carry a warning not to be used in pregnancy. It is extremely unlikely that a nightly bath containing a few drops of essential oils will cause any problems for the unborn child" and later states "there are no records of abnormal fetuses or aborted fetuses due to the 'normal' use of essential oils, either by inhalation or topical application.

Holistic therapist and former international aromatherapy lecturer Chrissie Wildwood wrote: "A common myth in aromatherapy is that massage oils containing essential oils such as Clary Sage, Rose or even Rosemary can cause a miscarriage and hence should be avoided throughout pregnancy." Authors such as Ron Guba, Kurt Schnaubelt and Chrissie Wildwood have all pointed out that there have been "no recorded cases of miscarriage or birth defect resulting from aromatherapy massage using therapeutic applications of any essential oil."

Ron Guba points out that toxicity during pregnancy is almost exclusively due to pregnant women taking large, toxic doses of essential oils, notably pennyroyal (rich in the ketone, pulegone, which is metabolized to the highly toxic furan epoxide, menthofuron) and parsley seed (rich in the dimethyl ether, apiol) in an attempt to abort the fetus.13 And Battaglia writes: "The judicious use of essential oils together with appropriate forms of massage by a skilled therapist can help ease the discomforts of pregnancy and provide a sense of nurturing that will comfort the mother at times she is likely to be feeling rather fragile. . . . Caring use of aromatherapy treatments should help reduce the stress felt by pregnant women and thereby possibly play a valuable role in reduction of premature births caused by stress and the resulting prenatal deaths associated with it."

Robert Tisserand, author of Essential Oil Safety and world-known aromatherapy lecturer writes: There is no evidence that the external use of any essential oils presents an abortifacient risk. Although positive safety information is not available for many essential oils during pregnancy, the same is true for many prescription and over the counter drugs.

Kurt Schnaubelt, PhD in science and founder and science director of the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy says:
"some of the oils designated as "forbidden use" are among the most therapeutically useful, and "even the safety of essential oils during pregnancy discussion seems to abate due to the stubborn absence of reports of any adverse effects."
Oil Usage -- see the section "Safe Use of Essential Oils for Health Issues"

Essential Oils Considered Safe for Pregnancy and Lactation:
from Essential Oil Safety by Tisserand/Young

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) - uplifting, digestion, improve appetite. Dilute 0.4% to avoid phototoxcity risk when applying to skin that will be exposed to UV light.
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) - joints, muscles, metabolism
Blue Tansy (Tanacetum annuum) - anti-inflammatory, itching, skin
Cedarwood Atlas/Atlantica (Cedrus atlantica) - calming, gentle mucolytic, mental clarity, skin
Cedarwood Virginia(Juniperus virginiana)
Chamomile, German (Matricaria chamomilla) - anti-inflammatory, digestion, skin, sleep
Chamomile, Roman (Chamaemelum nobile) - anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, asthma, calming, digestion, skin, uplifting
Copaiba (Copaifera officinalis) - anti-fungal, congestion, skin, pain
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) - calming, digestion, hemorrhoids, pain
Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) - capillaries, congestion, fluid retention, hemorrhoids, muscles, veins
Dill Weed (Anethum graveolens) - digestion, expectorant, promotes lactation. Dilute to at least 1.2%, which is about 6 drops in 1 TB carrier.
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) - joints, muscles, pain, respiratory, sinus
Fir, Balsam (Abies balsamea) - joints, muscles, pain, respiratory, sinus
Fir Needle (Abies sibirica) - joints, muscles, pain, respiratory, sinus
Fir, Silver//White (Abies alba) - joints, muscles, pain, respiratory, sinus
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii, frereana, serrata, sacra) - pain, skin respiratory
Geranium (Pelargonium x asperum) - anti-fungal, insect deterrent, skin, uplifting
Ginger Root (Zingiber officinalis) - digestion, expectorant, nausea, pain
Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi) - digestion, uplifting. Dilute 4% to avoid phototoxcity risk when applying to skin that will be exposed to UV light.
Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum,) - bruising, nerves, skin, veins. Maximum topical use level is 0.5%.
Juniperberry (Juniperus communis) - bladder, fluid retention, pain, skin
Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) - allergies, calming, respiratory, skin
Lemon (Citrus x limon) - capillaries, immune support, respiratory, skin, veins. Dilute 2% to avoid phototoxcity risk when applying to skin that will be exposed to UV light.
Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) - calming, digestion, hemorrhoids, sleep, uplifting, veins
Marjoram, Sweet (Origanum majorana) - anti-fungal, fluid retention, joints, muscle, nerve, pain, respiratory
Neroli (Citrus x aurantium var. amara) - anti-fungal, calming, skin, sleep, spasms, thread veins
Orange, Blood, Sweet, Wild (Citrus sinensis) - appetite, calming, digestion, immune support, uplifting
Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii) - calming, digestion, skin, uplifting. Maximum topical use level is 6.5%.
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) - fluid retention, nausea, skin
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) - anti-fungal, headache, itchy skin, pain. May reduce milk supply when breastfeeding.
Petitgrain (Citrus x aurantium) - antiseptic, deodorany, inflammation, skin, sleep
Petitgrain (Citrus hystrix)
Pine (Pinus sylvestris) - immune support, pain, UTI
Plai (Zingiber cassumunar) - muscles, pain, respiratory
Rosalina (Melaleuca ericifolia) - congestion, respiratory, skin, similar to Tea Tree
Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora) - anti-fungal, calming, skin
Sandalwood, Mysore (Santalum album) - antiseptic, calming, respiratory, skin, sleep
Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum)
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) - anti-fungal, appetite (stimulate), digestion, metabolism, mucolytic. Maximum topical use level is 1.7%, which is about 17 drops in 2 TB carrier.
Spruce, Black (Picea mariana) - adrenals, anti-fungal, pain, respiratory, sinus
Spruce (Tsuga canadensis)
Spruce, Norway (Picea abies)
Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) - anti-fungal, respiratory, skin. Maximum topical use level is 15%.
Thyme ct linalool (Thymus vulgaris) - immune support, infection
Vetiver (Vetivereria zizanoides) - calming, pain, skin, sleep
Ylang Ylang (Cnaanga odorata) - calming, uplifting. Maximum topical use level is 0.8%.

HEO Blends Suitable for Pregnancy/Lactation/Children/Elderly
Breathe Easy - Respiratory, congestion, sinus, colds
Immune Support - Immune system support
Ouch! - Minor aches and pain
Tummy Soothe - Digestion issues, nausea

Essential Oils to Limit during Pregnancy and Lactation with Maximum Dilution Ratios
(for once daily whole body application):
from Essential Oil Safety by Tisserand/Young

Basil, Lemon (Ocimum x citriodorum) - 1.4%
Champaca Absolute, orange (Michelia champaca) - 17.5%
Frankincense (Boswellia papyrifera) - 1.7%
Lemon Balm, Australian (Eucalyptus staigeriana) - 3.4%
Lemon Leaf (Citrus x limon) - 1.7%
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) - 0.7%
Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) - 0.7%
May Chang (Litsea cubeba, Litsea citriata, Laurus cubeba) - 0.8%
Melissa (Melissa officinalis) - 0.9%
Myrtle, Honey (Melaleuca teretifolia) - 0.9%
Nasturtium Absolute (Tropaeolum majus) - 0.26%
Tea Tree, Lemon scented (Leptospermum petersonii) - 0.8%
Thyme, Lemon (Thymus x citriodorus) - 3.7%
Verbena, Lemon (Aloysia triphylla) - 0.9%


Essential Oils to Avoid by Any Route during Pregnancy and Lactation:

from Essential Oil Safety by Tisserand/Young

Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum)
Anise, Star (Illicum verum hook)
Araucaria (Neocallitropis pancheri)
Artemisia vestita
Atractylis (Atractylylodes lancea)
Birch (Betula lenta)
Black Seed (Nigella sativa)
Buchu ct diosphenol (Agathosma betulina)
Buchu ct pulegone (Agathosma crenulata)
Calamint Lesser (Calamintha nepeta)
Carrot Seed (Daucus carota)
Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia, Cinnamomum aromaticum)
Chaste Tree (Vitex ugnus castus)
Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum verum, Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Costus (Saussurea costus)
Cypress Blue (Calitris intratopica)
Dill Seed (Indian) (Anethum graveolens)
Fennel (Sweet and Bitter) (Foeniculum vulgare)
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Genipi (Artemisia genepi)
Hibawood (Thujopsis dolobratta)
Ho Leaf ct camphor (also known as Ravintsara) (Cinnamomum camphora)
Hyssop ct pinocamphone (Hyssopus officinalis) - Hyssop var. decumbens is not contraindicated.
Lanyana (Citrus aurantifolia)
Lavender, Spanish (Lavandula stoechas)
Mugwort, Common and Great (Artemisia vulgaris, Artemesia aborescens)
Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha, Cammiphora molmol)
Myrtle (aniseed) (Backhousia anisata)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare, Origanium onites)
Parsley seed or leaf (Petroselinum sativum)
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
Rue (Ruta graveolens)
Sage, Dalmation (Salvia officinalis) - Clary Sage is not contraindicated.
Sage, Spanish (Salvia lavandulaefolia)
Savin (Juniperus sabina)
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) - Blue Tansy (Tanacetum annuum) is not contraindicated.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Thuja (Thuja occidentalis)
Western Red Cedar Leaf (Thuja plicata) - the wood is not contraindicated.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
Yarrow (green) (Achillea nobilis)
Zedoary (Curcuma sedoria)

Issues Related to Pregnancy and Lactation

Aches & Pains

Mother's Moisturizing Spray and/or Lavender. Use as a massage as desired or add a few drops to 1/2 cup Epsom salts and mix in warm bath water.

Blood Pressure (High)

Some find that magnesium supplementation helps balance blood pressure. Magnesium acts as a smooth-muscle relaxant and as a natural calcium channel blocker for the heart, lowering blood pressure and dilating the heart blood vessels.

Lavender - apply over the heart, on the lifeline of the hand, under the ring finger and above the elbow. It may also help to apply Lavender along the spine from the first to the fourth thoracic vertebrae, which correspond to the cardiopulmonary nerves.

Breast Infection

Some midwives believe that dairy consumption may contribute to clogged milk ducts.

Vitamin C (perhaps 1000mg) every hour.

Citrus oils and Lavender - Dilute appropriately with carrier oil and apply to breasts and under the arms twice a day. (Apply after nursing and avoid the nipple area.)

Immune Support - Dilute with carrier oil and apply to spine and/or inner thighs every few hours as needed to support immune response to the infection.

Breech

Skilled midwives have used Peppermint on the abdomen (applied at the head) to coax the baby to turn.

I used Peppermint diluted just because a pregnant belly is a big area to cover. I applied it in a rainbow at the top of your belly. My baby was actually transverse (laying sideways), and I applied it more on my side. She ended up turning and then staying head down. I have found the best time to turn is around 34-36 weeks because there is enough room to turn, but not so much that they can easily flip back. Baby does turn away from the peppermint. I used it a couple times along with other turning methods from Spinning Babies. - Sheri

Constipation

Consider a magnesium supplement such as Mag07.

Tummy Soothe - Dilute with a carrier oil and apply to lower back and lower abdomen.

Contractions / Uterus

Clary Sage has been used to tone the uterus and has been reported in antidotal testimonies to speed up slow labor or strengthen ineffectual contractions. Apply diluted Clary Sage around the ankles. This can be very effective taken as a drop in water and held in the mouth up to two minutes.

Delivery

Clary Sage, Lavender, Mother's Moisturizing Spray may help with circulation, are calming and have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.

Edema

3 drops Ginger, 2 drops Cypress, 2 drops Lavender in 2 TB carrier oil gently massaged on location upward toward the heart. It has been suggested to use this once daily for ten days, then give the body a break before resuming. Consuming fresh, dark leafy greens daily may prevent/improve.

Energy

Mother's Moisturizing Spray
Diffuse - Grapefruit, Orange or another citrus oil
Blend equal parts of Lavender, Grapefruit and Coriander. Mix 6 drops with Epsom salts and add to warm bath water.

Heartburn

Drink more water! The general rule of thumb is to drink 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water daily. Adding raw apple cider vinegar and unprocessed honey to your water should help balance pH (acidity).

ACV TONIC (Drink daily)
1 TB Raw Apple Cider Vinegar (Use the organic, raw, unfiltered)
1 TB Local Raw Honey (if local honey is not available, then at least use raw - unprocessed)
1 Cup (or more) warm, filtered Water

Hemorrhaging

Helichrysum or Helichrysum Substitute Blend - Add a few drops to carrier oil or Mother's Moisturizing Spray and apply to lower back.

Hemorrhoids

Apply Hemorrhoid Care blend topically. A very diluted mixture of Myrtle, Cypress, Basil, Helichrysu and Peppermint essential oils mixed with a lubricating carrier oils such as Almond, Emu or Olive works very well. Our blend is a 9% dilution.

Insomnia

Mother's Moisturizing Spray, Lavender, Dr. Hull's Sleep, Serenity

Labor

Clary Sage and/or Tapestry blend may help kick labor into gear (see testimonies on detail pages).

Mother's Moisturizing Spray

Diffuse Lavender during labor. Lavender has analgesic and antiseptic-like properties. Lavender is soothing and stimulates circulation.

Slow Labor or to Induce

8 drops Clary Sage, 8 drops Lavender, 8 drops Jasmine in 2 oz. massage oil may be useful when trying to induce labor or augment a slow, lazy labor. Some moms report that application on the inner ankles seems to help.

Post Labor

Mother's Moisturizing Spray or Lavender and Geranium
Lavender is calming and has a slight analgesic effect. It also stimulates circulation, which is great for both mother and baby. It also has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Geranium is one of the best oils to stimulate circulation, which in turn facilitates easy breathing. It has a contractive effect and helps pull together dilated tissues, so it is beneficial for the uterus and endometrium after the birth.
Gently massage any of these oils on lower abdomen.

Leg Cramps

Consider a magnesium supplement.

Prepare a foot bath with comfortably hot water and add 10 drops Lavender, 5 drops Geranium and 2 drops Cypress to mineral salts then to the hot water.

Mastitis or Engorged Breasts

To relieve pressure and decongest add a few drops of Mother's Moisturizing Spray or appropriately diluted Healthy Woman to a bowl of warm water. Soak a washcloth in this solution and apply to breasts as a compress. (See Breast Infection)

To help your body fight infection, avoid sugars including grains, white potatoes and foods that convert to sugar. (Sugar feeds infection.)

Immune Support is a blend that you may want to consider to help boost immune response.

Milk Production

Clary Sage (brings in milk), Fennel* or Basil (increase), Peppermint with cold compress (to decrease). Dilute with massage oil and apply after nursing and avoid the nipple area.

Zinc supplement may help increase supply.

*Caution: According to Tisserand/Young in Essential Oil Safety, "Fennel is contraindicated during pregnancy and nursing because it is estrogenic (due to potentially 75% trans-anethole content). This probably explains why it can boost milk supply, but the concern is that it might upset the delicate balance of hormones in an infant. This is only a theoretical risk, but it's one that is perhaps worth heeding." Higley warns: "Fennel should not be used for more than 10 days as it will excessively increase flow through the urinary tract." The herb fennel is preferred.

Miscarriage

Lavender may help prevent a miscarriage.
After a miscarriage massage abdomen with Mother's Moisturizing Spray, Frankincense, Geranium, Grapefruit, Lavender, Roman Chamomile or Spruce topically midway between the navel and base of the sternum.

Morning Sickness

May be caused by a congested liver. If possible, do a colon and then liver cleanse before conception. Tummy Soothe blend diluted appropriately and applied around the navel, and/or behind the ears) Ginger or Peppermint may also be used. Diffuse Lemon or Spearmint. Adequate water consumption will help move the toxins out, and some find that adding fresh lemon to the water helps it to be more palatable. Spirulina, barley grass juice and kelp supplements may help also.

Nipples (Sore)

Nursing Care blend Calendula Blossom (Calendula officinalis), Infused in extra virgin Olive Oil (Olea europaea), Pomegranate Seed Oil (Punica granatum), Roman Chamomile essential oil (Anthemis nobilis) is very healing to sore and cracked nipples.

Calendula tincture (not sold by HEO) helps heal cracked, bleeding nipples also.

Nursing

The following oils used individually may increase milk supply. These oils can be applied topically to breasts, but be sure to dilute appropriately with massage oil. Apply after nursing and avoid the nipple area. Rinse off before putting the baby to the breast.
Anise
Caraway
Clary Sage
Dill
Fennel*
Geranium

Use the following oils sparingly as they may decrease milk supply. Rinse off before putting the baby to the breast.
Melissa
Oregano
Peppermint
Sage Dalmation (Officinalis)
Spearmint
Thyme
Yarrow

*Fennel Caution: According to Tisserand/Young in Essential Oil Safety, "Fennel is contraindicated during pregnancy and nursing because it is estrogenic (due to potentially 75% trans-anethole content). This probably explains why it can boost milk supply, but the concern is that it might upset the delicate balance of hormones in an infant. This is only a theoretical risk, but it's one that is perhaps worth heeding." Higley warns: "Fennel should not be used for more than 10 days as it will excessively increase flow through the urinary tract." The herb fennel is preferred.

Pain

Ouch! blend (appropriately diluted) applied to lower back may help.

Placenta

Basil has been used to help retain, and Jasmine may help expulsion.

Placental Abruption

Geranium and Helichrysum applied on placental site may help stop bleeding after a placental abruption.

Premature Labor

Lavender rubbed on tummy may help stop premature labor.

Testimony
1. I have used LAVENDER for years to soothe monthly cramps with great success, so when I went into premature labor with contractions and bleeding at 16 weeks, I immediately reached for my Lavender.
I mixed a few drops of lavender in about a teaspoon of virgin coconut oil and applied it directly on my abdomen and prayed for the Lord to use His oil to stop the contractions. The first application seemed to have no effect, so after an hour, I did it again, and the bleeding and contractions slowed way down. I kept doing it through the day and a few times in the night. Within 24 hours the bleeding and contractions had completely stopped.
I continued using lavender on my belly morning and evening. Not only was this soothing and relaxing for me, my OB was still very concerned about a premature birth. Many prayers were said on my behalf, and I was careful to hang out on the couch or recliner for about a month, but I never had another problem with premature labor or bleeding. Our sweet little daughter was born right on time, and she's the calmest baby I've had yet. I have to wonder if all that lavender had some calming affect on her as well as me. Another bonus to my daily massages with lavender and the coconut oil is that I can't find a single stretch mark.

Sciatica

As the fetus grows, the mother's body changes, causing postural changes that lead to muscular aches and pains. Often expectant mothers will have increased lumbar lordosis due to their increasing size and change in centre of gravity, which may lead to lower back pain and sometimes sciatic pain from trapped nerves. Sciatica is difficult to treat, although many have benefited from applying a lotion (50 mL containing 3 drops each of the following analgesic or/ and anti-inflammatory oils) which is known to relieve muscular aches and pains:
Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)

Price, Shirley and Len, Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, Fourth Edition, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2012.

Stretch Marks

Mother's Moisturizing Spray (apply to tummy daily).

Tearing

Apply Tender Tissue Spray to perineum 3 weeks before delivery, 3 times a day. (Mother's Moisturizing Spray, Lavender or Geranium work well too.) Tender Tissue Spray is anti-fungal and may also help avoid vaginal yeast infection.

Toxemia

For prevention, make sure mom consumes dark, leafy greens daily to help assimilate protein.

Massage swollen ankles and legs with equal amounts of Cypress, Lavender and Ginger (6 drops of this blend mixed with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil.

Varicose Veins

Add 5 drops each of Cypress, Lemon and Geranium to 2oz. unscented lotion or carrier oil and apply over troublesome veins. It is not recommend to massage the veins. Oils that may be helpful include:
Clary Sage
Cedarwood
Cypress
Frankincense
Geranium
Ginger
Juniperberry
Lemon
Myrrh*
Neroli
Peppermint
Rose
Rosemary
Yarrow

*Myrrh Caution: Tisserand/Young note in Essential Oil Safety that Myrrh is contraindicated for use during pregnancy because it may be fetotoxic. Myrrh is not on the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy list to avoid (2014).

Yeast Infection

Tender Tissue Spray applied topically on location as needed. Avoid sugars of all kinds including grains, white potatoes and foods that convert to sugar.

Buckle, J. (2003). Clinical Aromatherapy. Philadelphia: Elsevier Science, page 95.
Wildwood, C. (2000). Of Cabbages & Kings Aromatherapy Myths, part II. Aromatherapy Today, 14, p. 12–14.
Guba, R. (2000). Toxicity Myths. International Journal of Aromatherapy, Vol 10.1/2.
Battaglia, S. (2002). The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. Australia: International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy, page 443.
Tiran, Denise (2005). Clinical Aromatherapy for Pregnancy and Childbirth.
Tisserand, Robert; Young, Rodney (2013-12-02). Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals.