Learn essential oils for pregnancy symptoms to improve your quality of life while you’re pregnant. Additionally, discover which essential oils to avoid during pregnancy in order to ensure a safe and timely delivery of your baby into the world.
Best essential oils to take & avoid while pregnant 
If you are considering using essential oils during your pregnancy, read on, because we’ve got some advice on the subject. So, let’s start at the beginning: What are essential oils anyway?
Essential oils were termed from the phrase “quintessential oil,” which, as it turns out, comes from the great philosopher, Aristotle. His opinion was that while earth, wind, fire, and water made up the natural resources around us, there is a fifth element which he coined, “quintessence,” which makes up the “life force” of those resources. Enter essential oils, which are made up of plants, seeds, and flowers, and are therefore very fragrant and useful in aromatherapy. These oils are distilled from plants and then concentrated into a liquid.
Some people believe that our sense of smell is closely connected to our overall sense of well-being. Essential oils are meant to be inhaled from a few drops on a cotton ball or used as a diluted solution topically, as in for a bath soak, where they would be absorbed by the skin.
Are essential oils dangerous?
Amy Galper, who is the executive director and founder of the New York Institute of Aromatherapy, located in New York City, says, “When we experience a scent, it triggers all sorts of responses in our body that affect our well-being. That’s why smelling something delicious can make us hungry or smelling something sexy can get us in the mood. When we’re feeling ill or uncomfortable, our stress response is triggered, and aroma can be a profound tool to help rewire the way we respond to stress.” To learn more about this, see Using Essential Oils When Pregnant Can Be Helpful But Dangerous–Here’s How To Do It Safely.
Essential oils have gained popularity with pregnant women because so many treatments and medications are off-limits for symptoms during pregnancy. Unfortunately, there are no conclusive studies that have been done to prove the safety of essential oils, so doctors are sometimes not willing to endorse their use. It must be remembered that essential oils do cross the placental barrier, and there have been very few studies on this subject.
Pregnant women especially are realizing that essential oils are nature’s gift to us and that we should take advantage of safe alternatives to medications that may have side effects. This may be why their use is rising in popularity recently. There was a study done on the Physical and Psychologic Effects of Aromatherapy Inhalation on Pregnant Women.
The International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists observes in its pregnancy guidelines, “essential oils by their very nature, being organic substances, will cross the placental barrier and have the potential to affect the fetus.” It is for this reason that essential oils should be used during pregnancy only after a conversation with and subsequent supervision by your doctor, holistic practitioner, or other health care provider.
Which essential oils should I never use?
Many health professionals recommend not using any sort of essential oils at all until the second trimester for safety’s sake. It is important to remember that essential oils are highly concentrated chemical compounds that can and do influence the body, so care must be taken.
That said, there are several certain essential oils that should always be avoided because they are known to cause significant pregnancy complications, such as uterine contractions. These are fennel, clove, rue, oak moss, Lavandula stoechas, camphor, rosemary, jasmine, clary sage, marjoram, tarragon, caraway, cinnamon, thuja, mugwort, birch, wintergreen, basil (estragole CT), camphor, hyssop, aniseed, sage, tansy, wormwood, parsley seed or leaf, and pennyroyal.
There are also certain essential oils that are high in the compound methyl salicylate, such as wintergreen and birch, which are not recommended during pregnancy. The reason for this is that methyl salicylate is the naturally occurring version of aspirin, which if ingested can cause thinning of the blood. This is obviously not ideal during pregnancy.
“Making the decision to have a baby is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
– Elizabeth Stone
Now for the good news: Essential oils can treat a lot of your unpleasant pregnancy symptoms with no medication. After you speak with your health care provider, try using lavender, Roman chamomile, ginger, and/or peppermint as a home remedy for treating nausea and morning sickness. Sweet orange or mandarin oils can also be helpful for this problem. Just put a drop or two on a tissue or cotton ball or sniff directly from the bottle to relieve your symptoms.
In a 2012 study, it was conclusively shown that the use of certain essential oils can reduce cortisol levels in people who suffered from high blood pressure as compared to a placebo group. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and its levels can be indicative of how much stress a person is experiencing.
Further, the NAHA asserts that, “Even in a relatively small closed room, and assuming 100% evaporation, the concentration of any essential oil (or component thereof) is unlikely to reach a dangerous level, either from aromatherapy massage, or from essential oil vaporization.”
What pregnancy symptoms can oils help?
If you are suffering from muscle aches, try lavender, ylang-ylang, ginger, chamomile, and/or frankincense. It is advised that you add 12 drops of your chosen oil to two tablespoons of a base oil, like almond or jojoba oil, and then rub it into your achy muscles.
Are hemorrhoids a problem for you? Then feel free to break out the lavender, geranium, tea tree, and/or cypress oils. For maximization of topical healing properties, blend all three essential oils together (two drops each) and then add them to two tablespoons of aloe vera gel.
If you are having sleepless nights or suffering from restless sleep, mix lavender oil, ylang-ylang, frankincense, and mandarin, and then add to two tablespoons of distilled water. For the best effect, put this mixture in a spray bottle and mist over your pillows just before you retire.
Which essential oils are safe?
Many women use lavender, chamomile, and ylang-ylang essential oils during pregnancy (after week 13) for their calming and relaxing effects. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) has stated that there is no evidence of problems being caused by the following oils when appropriately diluted: Benzoin, bergamot, black pepper, chamomile (German and Roman), cypress, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, juniper, lavender, lemon, mandarin, marjoram (sweet), neroli, petitgrain, rose, sandalwood, orange (sweet), tea tree, and ylang-ylang.
Also important enough to reiterate is the fact that no essential oils should ever be ingested under any circumstances. Oils to be applied should be diluted in carrier oils, such as coconut or almond oils, and experiencing an essential oil through a diffuser is always the very safest option, rather than applying it to the skin.
If you want to apply some essential oils to your stretch marks, try mixing two drops of lavender or rose oil with your preferred carrier oil and apply topically to your affected areas once or twice daily.
Can I put essential oils on my skin?
If you are experiencing growing pains from your swelling baby bump, try mixing lavender oil with a carrier oil and massaging it into your abdomen. Lavender oil or geranium oil can also help with swelling in the ankles and feet associated with pregnancy. There is a product called a “roller ball” that can help with this problem specifically—you can put the oil in the ball and then massage it into your feet, which may also help relieve any tension you are having.
If you get a cold during pregnancy, you might try a blend of eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils to relieve your symptoms. These are aromatic and soothing, and they won’t raise your blood pressure like some over-the-counter cold medicines will.
Other essential oils that are considered to be safe for pregnant women in the second or third trimester are lemongrass, lime, patchouli, petitgrain, rose otto, rosewood, and sandalwood. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy has this to say about the safety of essential oils: “The informed use of essential oils may create occasional irritation or minor discomfort, but it is extremely unlikely to create serious injury or lasting physical problems, particularly, when basic guidelines are followed.”
Other safety guidelines
The NAHA goes on to say that it is of the “utmost importance” that essential oils used during pregnancy be unadulterated and completely pure, authentic, and genuine. They also advise against using oils saturated with aldehydes and phenols, which are mildly toxic compounds, because they are more likely to cause adverse skin reactions.
It is important to note that the NAHA also advises against using essential oils on damaged, diseased, or inflamed skin. If applied, the oils may exacerbate or worsen any skin conditions present, and more oil may be absorbed than is safe.
“A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten and the future worth living for.”
– Author Unknown
Obviously, do not apply essential oils to your skin that you know you are allergic to, and avoid any that cause blotchiness or reddening of the skin or pain. Some oils known to be common irritants include the following: Bay, cinnamon bark or leaf, clove bud, citronella, cumin, lemongrass, lemon verbena, oregano, tagetes, and thyme ct. thymol.
What if I have a reaction?
Unfortunately, some women have used essential oils in an effort to induce an abortion during pregnancy by consuming large, toxic amounts of oils such as pennyroyal and parsley seed. Authors like Ron Guba, Kurt Schnaubelt, and Chrissie Wildwood have all been quick to point out the fact that there are “no recorded cases of miscarriage or birth defect resulting from aromatherapy massage using therapeutic applications of any essential oil.”
Some other general safety precautions that should be abided by when using essential oils are:
- Do not use photosensitizing essential oils and then go into a tanning booth or lie out in the sun. If you have used photosensitizing essential oils, avoid the sun and tanning booths for a full twenty-four hours after application.
- Steer clear of using the same essential oil for extended periods of time unless you are under the supervision of a qualified physician.
- Avoid using essential oils you are not familiar with.
- Avoid using essential oils that are not diluted.
- Educate yourself about the safety of each essential oil before you use it.
- Always use essential oils in a well-ventilated area.
- Do not use essential oils when trying to become pregnant.
- Keep essential oils away from all flames.
- Do not use essential oils internally.
When essential oils are problematic
If you happen to get an essential oil into your eye, use a fatty oil like olive or sesame on a cloth and wipe across the closed eyelid. Then flush the eye with large amounts of cool water.
If you are experiencing skin irritation, use vegetable oil or cream to soothe the area and do not use the oil that caused the original irritation again. If a child has ingested an essential oil, it is recommended that they drink some whole or 2% milk while you call poison control. Inducing vomiting is not recommended.
All in all, most essential oils are safe and effective for use during pregnancy in the later trimesters. Just remember to discuss their use with your doctor before you try them, and proceed with caution, like when trying anything new in pregnancy. Essential oils can be a wonderful and helpful part of your pregnancy journey and childbirth education when used sparingly and with a safety-first mindset.
A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:
Foods and habits to avoid for the safety of your baby.
Peculiar pregnancy symptoms that happen to be all too common.