Are essential oils safe to use during pregnancy?

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling, a midwife for over 25 years, is the Director of Midwifery Studies at UTS. She believes research, innovation and good quality midwifery are pivotal to the well-being of mothers and young families. Christine has extensive experience in antenatal education, policy development and research, and has published on workforce issues, homebirth, vaginal birth...
Updated on Jun 14, 2024 · 3 mins read
Are essential oils safe to use during pregnancy?

Essential oils are great for relaxation, sleep, skin problems, detoxification and generally smelling delicious – and while you may have used them extensively in life, pre-pregnancy (or are thinking about trying them now that you are), you might be wondering if they are safe to use? Well, it’s not a black and white answer on that one, some are safe, some a safe only at certain points and some are best avoided altogether.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated substances sourced from seeds, plants, nuts and flowers and are often used in aromatherapy. They also contain chemicals that can be absorbed into the body, usually through inhaling them by breathing them in or absorption through application to the skin.

There is still a lack of research into how exactly they affect the body during pregnancy and their ability to cross the placenta, which is why they should be used with caution while you are expecting.

When should I avoid essential oils?

Some experts recommend pregnant women avoid essential oils in the first trimester and depending on your individual circumstances, medical history and how your pregnancy is progressing, there may be some deciding factors, such as if you:

  • Have suffered from a miscarriage previously
  • Have suffered from vaginal bleeding during this pregnancy
  • Suffer from epilepsy or heart problems such as high blood pressure

Essential oils can also interact with other medications and so it is always advisable to speak with your doctor before trying anything new. Just because something is deemed “natural” doesn’t make it necessarily safe.

Which essential oils should I avoid?

There are a number of essential oils that should be avoided during your pregnancy for fear of complications, stimulating contractions or effects on the developing foetus, they include (but are not limited to):

  • Nutmeg
  • Rosemary
  • Fennel
  • Tarragon
  • Basil
  • Jasmine
  • Clary sage
  • Sage
  • Juniper berry
  • Laurel
  • Angelica
  • Thyme
  • Cumin
  • Aniseed
  • Citronella
  • Cinnamon leaf
  • Marjoram
  • Thuja
  • Mugwort
  • Birch
  • Wintergreen
  • Camphor
  • Hyssop
  • Tansy
  • Wormwood
  • Parsley seed or leaf
  • Pennyroyal

Which essential oils are safe for use during pregnancy?

There are some that are generally considered safe to use if you have a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy, you can contact the Mothersafe people if you are unsure on 9382 6539 or 1800 647848. 

  • Lavender* – can help with sleep and relaxation, nausea, soothing muscle aches and treating haemorrhoids
  • Chamomile – can help with nausea and soothing muscle aches
  • Peppermint – can help with nausea
  • Ginger – can help with nausea and soothing muscle aches
  • Ylang-ylang – can help with soothing muscle aches and sleep
  • Frankincense – can help with soothing muscle aches and sleep
  • Tea tree – can help to treat haemorrhoids
  • Cypress – can help to treat haemorrhoids
  • Geranium – can help to treat haemorrhoids
  • Mandarin – can help with sleep
  • Sweet orange – can help with swelling
  • Grapefruit – can help with swelling

*some experts suggest holding off using lavender until you are in the second trimester

Things to remember when using essential oils:

  • Only buy from a reputable source that uses pure oil
  • Never swallow essential oils
  • Dilute essential oils before applying directly to the skin
  • Do not use during the first trimester
  • Try to give your body breaks by not using the same oil every day

Always check with your doctor or midwife, or consult a qualified aromatherapist trained in pregnancy

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