Aromatherapy During Pregnancy, Part I: Essential Oils—To Use or Not to – Tazeka Aromatherapy
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Aromatherapy During Pregnancy, Part I: Essential Oils—To Use or Not to Use?
  • So, that little blue or pink line has appeared on the home pregnancy test.

    Once you’re past the “Whoa!” and “Whoopee!” and “Oh, boy, now what?” stages (which, by the way, will return repeatedly throughout the coming months), the questions start bubbling up. Not just “Where do we put all that stuff?” and “Will everything be okay?” but the always-complex question, “What am I supposed to eat/not eat and do/not do?”

    With three pregnancies quite literally under my belt, I can say that the official “rules of conduct” have been different every single time. Let’s not touch the ever-lengthening Do Not Eat list. (I know I broke a few of those decrees in the name of extreme cravings, but every woman makes her own choices in that regard. NB: No medical advice is being offered here.)

    If you have, up to this point, been regularly using essential oils for aromatherapy, you may well wonder what to do now that you have one or more passengers along for the ride. The use of essential oils in pregnancy has been extremely controversial: some medical experts state that total avoidance is crucial for safety’s sake, while other medical and alternative-medicine experts advise caution and moderation. Some animal studies have been done on the safety of various essential oils during gestation, but animal pregnancies are difficult to compare with human pregnancies. Basically, not a lot of data other than anecdote is available on the question.

    On this basis, many medical practitioners will advise you to stay away from essential oils while you’re pregnant, while others will say that the body is designed to absorb and process essential oils in the same way it absorbs and processes both healing and toxic substances from the environment; therefore, the same rules should apply to oils. The issue is, shall we say, fraught.

    We at Tazeka always suggest that you speak to your medical practitioner about any health-related issues or questions—and that, at the same time, you give yourself the gift of solid research and your own factual knowledge. Most medical specialists aren’t trained in or even familiar with aromatherapy and essential-oil use, so it’s up to you to know your stuff.

    Many expectant mothers have made good use of essential oils to ease the aches, pains, nausea, and emotional challenges of pregnancy. That said, essential oils are powerful substances. Even when used in a diffuser rather than topically, essential oils enter the body through the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth—and these oils cross cell membranes swiftly.

    At Tazeka, our focus is on aromatherapy: we never suggest oral ingestion of any essential oils save a select few in very small quantities, so of course we would never recommend oral ingestion of any essential oil during pregnancy. Skin application exposes you and your baby both dermally and aromatically to essential oils’ effects. Diffusion may offer more control over oil dilution, but again, the mucous membranes are swift conductors of essential oils’ powers. When you’re pregnant, everything you touch or consume affects both you and your baby—so, of course, if you’re using essential oils, your wee one is too.

    It has been asserted that moms-to-be should use particular caution during the first trimester, since miscarriages most often occur during this time. Reasons given for avoiding essential-oil use during these first 13 to 14 weeks include fetal toxicity, impaired cell development, and uterine stimulation. Basically, rapid and fundamental growth and development occur during these weeks, and your baby is only recently attached, so special care is important. But crucial development occurs throughout pregnancy, so an oil that’s unsafe during the first trimester is likely unsafe throughout.

    Papers are available on the Internet regarding the topic of essential-oil and aromatherapy use during pregnancy (here’s one, and here’s another). But let’s cut to the chase: which oils do most practitioners say should be avoided, and which oils can be particularly beneficial during pregnancy?

    Let’s start with the Avoid list, just to get that out of the way so we can move on to brighter topics. This list errs on the side of caution, but anything labeled Toxic is a big no-no. This list is not comprehensive, so, once again—yes, we sound like a broken record—check with your practitioner before using any essential oil while pregnant. (Note: this list applies to the essential-oil form of these products, not necessarily to the food form.) Our thanks to Esoteric Oils for this list.


    • Bitter Almond (toxic)
    • Aniseed (anethole-rich, with estrogenic properties – let’s leave our hormone levels to do their own thing unless your medical professional is supervising! No conclusive evidence exists regarding the effect of anethole-rich essential oils, but why take the chance?)
    • Angelica (an emmenagogue, meaning it stimulates uterine contractions – not what you want until the Big Day)
    • Basil (possibly irritating)
    • Birch (possibly irritating)
    • Black pepper (makes skin sensitive)
    • Boldo leaf (toxic; the leaves are used in herbal medicine, but the oil causes convulsions)
    • Buchu (liver damage can occur)
    • Calamus (toxic; can cause convulsions as well as liver and kidney failure)
    • Camphor (oral ingestion is toxic)
    • Cassia (sensitizes skin)
    • Cedarwood (emmenagogue—stimulates the uterus)
    • Chamomile (emmenagogue)
    • Cinnamon (emmenagogue and sensitizes skin)
    • Clary sage (emmenagogue)
    • Clove (skin sensitizer)
    • Elecampane (skin sensitizer)
    • Fennel (rich in anethole, with estrogenic properties)
    • Fir (possibly irritating)
    • Ginger (emmenagogue)
    • Horseradish (toxic)
    • Hyssop (possibly toxic)
    • Jaborandi leaf (toxic)
    • Jasmine (emmenagogue)
    • Juniper (emmenagogue)
    • Lemon (possibly irritating)
    • Lemongrass (possibly irritating)
    • Marjoram (possibly irritating)
    • Melissa (possibly irritating)
    • Mugwort (toxic)
    • Mustard (toxic)
    • Myrrh (emmenagogue)
    • Nightshade (toxic)
    • Nutmeg (could cause skin irritation)
    • Oregano (skin sensitizer)
    • Parsley seed (toxic and possible abortifacient—i.e., could cause loss of pregnancy)
    • Pennyroyal (toxic)
    • Peppermint (emmenagogue)
    • Pine (sensitizes skin)
    • Rose (emmenagogue)
    • Rosemary (emmenagogue)
    • Rue (toxic)
    • Sage (thujone-rich)
    • Sassafras (toxic)
    • Savin (toxic)
    • Savory (potentially toxic)
    • Southernwood (toxic)
    • Stinging nettle (toxic)
    • Tansy (toxic)
    • Thuja (toxic)
    • Thyme, both Red and Linalol (irritant)
    • Wintergreen (toxic)
    • Wormseed (toxic)
    • Wormwood (toxic)

    Whew! That’s a long list of Don’ts and Be Carefuls. In our next blog, we’ll talk about the benefits essential oils can offer during pregnancy and offer some recipes to use as springboards. Until then, we wish you wellness and peace!

    • Zena Hallam
    • aromatherapyessential oilspregnancypregnantsafety

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