A frequently asked question we get in our safety group is about using essential oils during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This post will give you the information you need to know so that you can safely use essential oils during these special times.
Before we go over the lists of essential oils to avoid, and why, let’s take a peek into why there is caution needed.
When a woman is pregnant, the first trimester is considered the most delicate stage. Midwives and doctors may caution us about the foods we consume, the cleaning products we use, and the skin care products we apply to our skin.
Aromatherapists are also concerned with these first several weeks, when toxicity can manifest as structural defects. It is wise to use caution throughout the entire pregnancy, as functional defects can evolve even during later stages of development.
When it comes to crossing the placenta, we know that in varying amounts prescription drugs, nicotine, and heavy metals have been detected in the fetal environment. Essential oils are just the right molecular size to make this journey as well.
We use caution when using essential oils around babies out of the womb, and just as much caution needs to be considered while the baby is still inside a mother’s body, doing its job of growing.
Everything a woman consumes can get into her breastmilk – at least to some degree. We know that even the foods we consume can affect the flavor of breastmilk. Moms to gassy or colicky babies may be asked to adjust their diet so their baby can better metabolize the breastmilk.
The amounts may vary, but it is presumed that less than 1% of essential oils get into breastmilk. Unless ingesting, the general, safe use of essential oils while breastfeeding should not present an issue for your baby.
By the way…
There are some essential oils which should not be used by anyone – pregnant, breastfeeding or not. You can find that list here: Essential Oils to Avoid Using Internally and Externally.
What is the harm of using essential oils if pregnant or breastfeeding?
Some essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding (lactation) due to a variety of reasons. These reasons are one or more of the following:
- carcinogenic – causes cancer
- hepatotoxic – toxic to the liver
- nephrotoxic – toxic to the kidneys
- *abortifacient – causes abortion/terminates pregnancy
- *embryotoxic – toxic to the growing baby (specifically in the first 8 weeks of gestation)
- *fetotoxic – toxic to the growing baby
- *teratogenic – ability to cause malformations in a growing baby
*it could be argued that these are only a risk if using while pregnant, not breastfeeding. I leave that decision up to you.
Essential Oils to Avoid Using During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
The following essential oils should not be used internally, topically, or inhaled.
|Essential Oil||Latin Name||Why|
reproductive hormone modulator
|Anise (Star)||Illicium verum||carcinogenic,
reproductive hormone modulator
|Birch (Sweet)||Betula lenta||toxic,
|Black Seed||Nigella sativa||fetotoxic|
|Buchu||Agathosma betulina ct. diosphenol||hepatotoxic|
|Buchu||Agathosma crenulata ct. pulegone||abortifacient,
|Calamint (lesser)||Calamintha nepeta||abortifacient,
|Carrot Seed||Daucus carota, Daucus carota subspecies sativa||may interfere
|Chaste Tree||Vitex ugnus castus||reproductive hormone modulator|
|Cinnamon Bark||Cinnamomum verum,
|Cypress (Blue)||Calitris intratopica||fetotoxic|
|Dill Seed (Indian)||Anethum graveolens||abortifacient, hepatotoxic, nephrotoxic|
|Fennel (Bitter)||Foeniculum vulgare||carcinogenic, reproductive hormone modulator|
|Fennel (Sweet)||Foeniculum vulgare||carcinogenic, reproductive hormone modulator|
|Hibawood||Thujopsis dolobratta||toxic (reproductive)|
|Ho Leaf||Cinnamomum camphora||neurotoxic|
|Hyssop||Hyssopus officinalis||carcinogenic, neurotoxic|
|Lavender (Spanish)||Lavandula stoechas||neurotoxic|
|Mugwort (common)||Artemisia vulgaris chemotypes camphor, thujone||neurotoxic|
|Mugwort (common)||Artemisia vulgaris chemotypes chrysanthenyl, acetate||neurotoxic|
|Mugwort (great)||Artemesia aborescens||neurotoxic|
|Myrtle (aniseed)||Backhousia anisata||carcinogenic, reproductive hormone modulator|
|Parsley Leaf||Petroslinum sativum, Petroseliunum crispum||abortifacient, toxic|
|Parsley Seed||Petroslinum sativum, Petroseliunum crispum
||abortifacient, hepatotoxic, nephrotoxic|
|Pennyroyal||Mentha pulegium, Hedeoma pulegioides, Micromeria fruiticosa||hepatotoxic, neurotoxic|
|Sage (Dalmatian)||Salvia officinalis||neurotoxic|
|Sage (Spanish)||Salvia lavandulaefolia||abortifacient|
|Savin||Juniperus sabina||abortifacient, embryotoxic, fetotoxic, hepatotoxic|
|Western Red Cedar||Thuja plicata||neurotoxic|
|Wormwood||Artemisia absinthium||abortifacient, embryotoxic, fetotoxic, neurotoxic|
|Wormwood (Sea)||Artemisia martima||neurotoxic|
|Wormwood (White)||Artemisia herba-alba||neurotoxic|
|Yarrow (Green)||Achillea nobilis||abortifacient|
|Zeodary||Curcuma sedoria||may interfere with gestation|
Essential Oils to Use With Caution During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
These are the essential oils which can be used if diluted as shown below. Using more than the max dilution can risk teratogenicity (deformities in a growing baby). Definitely do not use these essential oils internally. Inhaling/diffusing is OK.
To learn more about diluting read: Diluting Essential Oils Safely – safe dilution guidelines for all ages
|Essential Oil||Latin Name||Max Dilution|
|Basil (Lemon)||Ocimum x citriodorum||1.4%|
|Champaca (Orange) Absolute||Michelia champaca||17.5%|
|Lemon Balm (Australian)||Eucalyptus staigeriana||3.4%|
|Lemon Leaf||Citrus x limon||1.2%|
|Litsea (May Chang)||Litsea cubeba, Litsea citriata,
|Myrtle (Honey)||Melaleuca teretifolia||0.9%|
|Myrtle (Lemon)||Backhousia citriodora||0.7%|
|Nastrurtium 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%|
Where do you come up with this stuff?
There are no ongoing studies which use pregnant or breastfeeding women to test which products are safe for use during pregnancy. That wouldn’t be ethical. However, there have been cases of accidental over-dose and misuse. These results, coupled with data received from animals studies, can give us a good idea if a product is harmful for human use.
It is expected that if an essential oil or constituent cause harm during animal studies, that the essential oil has a strong potential for causing harm to a human baby, too.
The Good News
The good news is there are a lot of essential oils that you can safely use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Some of those include:
- Blue Tansy
- Cedarwood (Atlas, Himalayan)
- Chamomile (German, Roman)
- Cinnamon Leaf
- Clary Sage
- Frankincense (carterii/sacra, frereana, serrata)
- Lavender (Bulgarian, French)
- Lemon Eucalyptus
- Orange (Sweet)
- Pepper (Black)
- Sandalwood (Australian)
- Tea Tree
- Ylang Ylang
There are others that are OK to use as well. If you are not sure, do your research.
Is Peppermint essential oil safe for use during pregnancy? Yes. Is it safe for use during breastfeeding? Yes – but there’s a catch…
Some women…some…may find that Peppermint essential oil decreases their milk supply.
For most women it is probably fine to diffuse and even use topically. As long as there isn’t a topical application to the chest, there probably won’t be a dip in milk supply.
This is the only caution with Peppermint (possible decreased milk supply). And again, many women don’t find it affects their milk supply at all.
But for the teeny percentage of you this may affect…consider yourself cautioned 🙂
Listen to an interview of Lea Harris on the topics of
Essential Oils and Breastfeeding: Stop, Look and Listen to be Safe!
May 16, 2016
You also might want to check out the UEOS app where you can pull up the safety of the 60 most popular essential oils – including whether or not they are safe for use during pregnancy!
Lea Harris is a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist Scholar's Program graduate from Aromahead Institute. This website, and its sister website, LearningAboutEOs, is home to educational advice and information about using essential oils safely. Lea founded and runs the Using Essential Oils Safely facebook group, with hundreds of new members joining each week. Lea is the author of The TRUTH About Essential Oil Safety, and the creator of Safe Essential Oil Labels and the UEOS App. You can find FREE classes here: Free Essential Oil Classes.
Lea received her herbalist certification through The Herbal Academy of New England. Lea is a contributing writer for Natural Herbal Living magazine, and blogs about herbs and natural living on her website, Nourishing Treasures.
Lea is Professional level member of the Alliance of International Aromatherapists.
Businesses, groups, and individuals can hire Lea to consult on safety, product formulation, and more on her website Lea Harris CCA.