At the behest of one of my doula friends, I have embarked upon developing a product line to suit the needs that arise throughout the course of the pregnancy, labor & delivery, postpartum, and baby care. Earlier this year, I took a course through the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies on this very subject in addition to my aromatherapy and essential oil safety training. During my research phase, I was shocked to find that while there are hundreds of websites and blogs with information about essential oil use and pregnancy that there was no definitive resource. I found list after list about what oils are safe to use and which ones are to be avoided, but a lack of purpose and reasoning behind them.
In addition to the task of developing a new product line, I found myself consulting my books, course materials, and online resources to get the low down on all things related to pregnancy and aromatherapy in order to provide an accurate resource for professionals in the field and for informed mothers. I pulled together a comprehensive list of safe essential oils that can be used during pregnancy, noting their benefits, and any special precautions in addition to a list of what to avoid and why. I spent a lot of time cross referencing the list with Tisserand & Young's Essential Oil Safety as it is the go-to resource for safety data on essential oils.
Safe Essential Oils
There are many conflicting resources regarding essential oils that are safe to use during and after pregnancy. I have compiled a list of safe oils to use, but some are only used during particular times during and after the pregnancy depending on whether or not you are breastfeeding. There may be other essential oils that are safe to use during pregnancy, but these are the primary ones that can be used during pregnancy.
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) can be used aromatically to combat nausea and to relieve stress during pregnancy and improve concentration. Bergamot is a phototoxic essential oil and prolonged exposure to direct sunlight or UV rays can cause skin irritation or even burns. Be sure to use Bergaptene free Bergamot if used topically.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) helps to relieve, nausea and digestive upsets caused by stress or nervousness, pain relief, improves concentration, and promotes relaxation relieving stress. Cardamom is pregnancy safe, but should not be used on or near the faces of infants or children.
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) helps with stretch marks, immune support, general discomfort, skin support, relaxation, and focus.
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) helps with water retention, stress relief, mood swings, hormonal balance, and general discomfort. Avoid oral use with individuals on diabetes medication and drugs metabolized by CYP2B6.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) helps with nausea, stress, respiratory ailments, circulation, and minor pain relief.
Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) helps to improve focus, stress relief, helps with digestive relief, immune support, and general discomfort. Grapefruit is a potential mild photosensitizer (low), avoid direct sun and tanning booths for up to 24 hours after application to the skin.
Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) supports the immune system, heals the skin, general discomfort, and emotional support.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) helps with abdominal discomfort, stretch marks, immune support, sleep and relaxation, and general discomfort. It can also be used in labor and delivery. So not use Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) during pregnancy.
Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) helps with morning sickness, nausea, and other digestive issues, reduces stress and anxiety, and can be used in labor and delivery.
Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) helps with heartburn, digestive relief, nausea, stretch marks, sleep and relaxation, headaches, and general discomfort from cramps, inflammation, and tension.
Rosewood (Aniba parviflora) is deeply sedative and emotionally balancing, helps with nausea, general discomfort, and immune support.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) can be used to boost energy and improve focus, helps with general discomfort, nausea and digestive relief. If you have GERD and are sensitive to mint based oils, Spearmint should be avoided.
Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis) helps with hemorrhoids, morning sickness, digestive relief, varicose veins, immune support, energy, sleep, relaxation, and improves focus.
See the full list of Pregnancy Safe Essential Oils.
Oils to Avoid
Anise/Aniseed (Pimpinella snisum) avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to its estragole content as it may stimulate contractions and inhibit blood clotting.
Birch (Betula lenta) due to its methyl salicylate content and potential for toxicity.
Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora) is not safe when taken orally and there is no safety data regarding inhalation or dermal application during pregnancy, so it is best to avoid it.
Chaste Tree/Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) can interfere with hormones during pregnancy eventhough it is used to increase fertility.
Cinnamon Bark or Leaf (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) may contain methyleugenol which inhibits blood clotting and can cause embryotoxicity and it can stimulate contractions.
Melissa (Melissa officinalis) can disturb the development of the embryo or fetus. Also known as Lemon Balm.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) in all its varieties is neurotoxic based on its thujone content and should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Oregano (Origanum compactum) avoid all routes due to potential for embrotoxicity.
Parsley Seed or Leaf (Petroselinium sativum) are both potentially abortifacient.
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is hepatotoxic and neurotoxic. In massive doses, it can be abortifacient.
Rue (Ruta Graveolens) is potentially abortifacient.
Spanish Sage (Salvia lavandulifolia) is potentially abortifacient.
Star Anise (Illicium verum) avoid during pregnancy and breast feeding due to its estragole content as it may stimulate contractions and inhibit blood clotting
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) due to its methyl salicylate content and it should be avoided because it can disturb the development of the embryo or fetus in high doses.
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) should absolutely be avoided at all costs during pregnancy and breastfeeding as it causes embryo-fetotoxicity and is abortifacient and also neurotoxic.
See the full list of Essential Oils to Avoid during Pregnancy and Nursing.
Pregnancy by Trimester
All pregnancies are different for each person and issues may manifest in different ways. Since the sense of smell is heightened and can be triggering during pregnancy, it is important for any blend to have a pleasing aroma, but there will always be the chance that even if it smells good that it may trigger nausea or headaches.
First Trimester: Weeks 1 - 12 You may not know that you are pregnant until after week 4, but can start focusing on the changes occurring in your body and what you need during the beginning months of your pregnancy. You might start experiencing morning sickness, moodiness, cravings, fatigue, and other symptoms associated with the early stages of pregnancy. Aromatherapy can help ease some of these symptoms and help you along the way through every stage of your pregnancy.
Second Trimester: Weeks 13 - 28 Some of the early symptoms of pregnancy may reside a little, but new concerns may develop during the second trimester. It is common to feel anxiety as the pregnancy will seem a lot more real during the second trimester as you will become more noticeably pregnant over time. It is important to stay active and healthy throughout your pregnancy and you can continue to use or change your aromatherapy solutions to manage sensitivities to smell and any new issues that may arise. You may start experiencing back pain and as the baby grows you will start to gain weight and may be concerned about stretch marks.
Third Trimester: Weeks 29 - 40 You might start feeling excited about the arrival of the baby not being so far away, but you will still need to support any new or recurring pregnancy symptoms that you may be having at this time in order to prepare for the process of giving birth.
Labor, Delivery, and Postpartum Whether you have a natural delivery or C- Section, be sure to take care of yourself during these delicate days from the first contraction to taking your infant home for the first time. Your body has undergone something major and you will need time to heal your body, mind, and spirit in addition to caring for your newborn child.