Using Essential Oils Safely During Pregnancy & Breastfeeding

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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.

Pregnancy Notes

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.

Breastfeeding Notes

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:

  • toxic
  • 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.

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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
Anise Pimpinella anisum carcinogenic,
reproductive hormone modulator
Anise (Star) Illicium verum carcinogenic,
reproductive hormone modulator
Araucaria Neocallitropsis pancheri fetotoxic
Artemisia Artemisia vestita neurotoxic
Atractylis Atractylylodes lancea fetotoxic
Birch (Sweet) Betula lenta toxic,
teratogenic
Black Seed Nigella sativa fetotoxic
Buchu Agathosma betulina ct. diosphenol hepatotoxic
Buchu Agathosma crenulata ct. pulegone abortifacient,
hepatotoxic
Calamint (lesser) Calamintha nepeta abortifacient,
hepatotoxic
Carrot Seed Daucus carota, Daucus carota subspecies sativa may interfere
with gestation
Cassia Cinnamomum cassia,
Cinnamomum aromaticum
embryotoxic
Chaste Tree Vitex ugnus castus reproductive hormone modulator
Cinnamon Bark Cinnamomum verum,
Cinnamomum zeylanicum
embryotoxic
Costus Saussurea costus fetotoxic
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
Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium neurotoxic
Genipi Artemisia genepi neurotoxic
Hibawood Thujopsis dolobratta toxic (reproductive)
Ho Leaf Cinnamomum camphora neurotoxic
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis carcinogenic, neurotoxic
Lanyana Citrus aurantifolia 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
Myrrh Commiphora myrrha,
Cammiphora molmol
fetotoxic
Myrtle (aniseed) Backhousia anisata carcinogenic, reproductive hormone modulator
Oregano Origanum vulgare,
Origanium onites
embryotoxic
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
Rue Ruta graveolens abortifacient
Sage (Dalmatian) Salvia officinalis neurotoxic
Sage (Spanish) Salvia lavandulaefolia abortifacient
Savin Juniperus sabina abortifacient, embryotoxic, fetotoxic, hepatotoxic
Tarragon Tanacetum vulgare neurotoxic
Thuja Thuja occidentalis neurotoxic
Western Red Cedar Thuja plicata neurotoxic
Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens,
Gaultheria fragrantissima
toxic, teratogenic
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

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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%
Frankincense Boswellia papyrifera 1.7%
Lemon Balm (Australian) Eucalyptus staigeriana 3.4%
Lemon Leaf Citrus x limon 1.2%
Lemongrass Cymbopogon flexuosus 0.7%
Litsea (May Chang) Litsea cubeba, Litsea citriata,
Laurus cubeba
0.8%
Melissa Melissa officinalis 0.9%
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%

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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.

You can find lots of research on PubMed.com and in Essential Oil Safety.

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:

  • Amyris
  • Bergamot
  • Blue Tansy
  • Cedarwood (Atlas, Himalayan)
  • Chamomile (German, Roman)
  • Cinnamon Leaf
  • Citronella
  • Clary Sage
  • Coffee
  • Cypress
  • Elemi
  • Eucalyptus
  • Frankincense (carterii/sacra, frereana, serrata)
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Helichrysum
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender (Bulgarian, French)
  • Lemon
  • Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Lime
  • Mandarin
  • Neroli
  • Orange (Sweet)
  • Patchouli
  • Pepper (Black)
  • Petitgrain
  • Pine
  • Rosalina
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Rosewood
  • Sandalwood (Australian)
  • Spearmint
  • Spikenard
  • Spruce
  • Tangerine
  • Tea Tree
  • Turmeric
  • Valerian
  • Vanilla
  • Vetiver
  • Ylang Ylang

There are others that are OK to use as well. If you are not sure, do your research.

Pregnancy_Use

Peppermint…

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 🙂

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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

www.voiceamerica.com/episode/92320/safe-use-of-essential-oils-while-breastfeeding

Part 2:  The Nursing Mother’s Quick Guide to Essential Oils that Actually Work
June 6, 2016

www.voiceamerica.com/episode/92644/the-nursing-mothers-quick-guide-to-essential-oils-that-actually-work

Do you have a question or a comment? Leave it below, ask me in the FB group, or e-mail me.

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!

 

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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.

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