Ready to get started with essential oils for your pregnancy and birth journey? CLICK HERE.
Let’s start with safety.
Essential oils in pregnancy is a space of caution. The main reason being that essential oils really are incredibly potent and can be enormously beneficial supports for so many bodily functions but if not used correctly could potentially cause harm.
Much like any therapeutic product really.
Take a whole packet of paracetamol and you’ll probably land yourself in ED. Take 2 and it could relieve a headache. Ingest 5 drops of peppermint essential oil and you’ll be feeling pretty poorly afterwards. Inhale deeply from the bottle for a few minutes and it can help to relieve nausea.
It largely comes down to common sense and we shouldn’t allow fear-mongering by people who don’t understand a product (or who have something to gain by encouraging distrust of natural alternatives) to prevent us from safely using and effectively benefitting from it.
In the 1970s and 80s, there were a number of tests done about toxicology of various substances. These studies were generated by and for the fragrance industry and they had a vested interest in ensuring that synthetic substances looked good, while plant substances needed “more research”. This line of thinking is still prevalent and can impact the way we view natural health supports, so it’s important to find a health practitioner who is familiar with and supports the safe use of essential oils.
For ethical and safety reasons, pregnant women are rarely the subject of research studies, therefore most aromatherapists feel more confident suggesting a blanket rule against the topical use of oils in the first trimester.
- While many women are comfortable using oils right throughout their pregnancy, it is extremely rare to find an essential oil that is recommended for topical use during the first trimester. Aromatherapists and essential oil companies are extremely cautious.
- Reputable oil companies will generally label their products with the recommendation to consult a healthcare professional prior to use in pregnancy, breastfeeding, if you have a medical condition or are taking medication.
- After the first trimester, oils may be applied topically, but always patch test first.
- When creating roller blends, half the regular adult dilution is recommended.
Oils to Avoid in Pregnancy
Any herb or other botanical that is considered an emmenogogue (something that increases menstrual activity), should be avoided during pregnancy. There are a lot of really obscure plants that fall into this category, but in terms of commonly used essential oils, these include: juniper, Nigella sativa (Young Living’s Black Seed Oil is derived from this), fennel, cassia, cinnamon bark, bay laurel, celery, parsley, German chamomile, oregano, myrrh, anise, sage, nutmeg, rosemary and marjoram.
In traditional medicine, these plants were used as infusions or extracts to increase menstruation.
Oils which are never to be used in pregnancy:
- Rue – it is a uterine stimulant
- Hyssop – it is a uterine stumulant
- Wintergreen – contains methyl salicylate which can produce the same effects as a blood thinner
- Clary sage – not to be used before 38 weeks as it may increase oxytocin levels (further reading)
- As a general rule, if you’re using Young Living oils and it has a child-proof cap, it should be avoided for use by children and pregnant women
Essential Oils in First Trimester
So what are we to do? If essential oils are not recommended for topical use during the first trimester, how can we still enjoy the benefits?
Certainly we can still diffuse oils during the first trimester, but what we diffuse will largely depend on what we can handle. Many women feel so unwell in early pregnancy that they don’t even want to wear their regular cosmetics – never mind diffusing a bunch of oils!
One of the most effective ways to use essential oils in the first trimester is to help relieve nausea. The biggest thing to remember in managing nausea is that whatever you use has to be able to be removed rapidly if it’s not working or if it’s triggering worse symptoms, so I always recommend popping a few drops on a hankie that you can inhale when you need to (or just straight from the bottle), putting in the diffuser (which you can then switch off if required) or on diffuser jewellery which you can remove.
The best oils for nausea relief are peppermint, spearmint, lemon, ginger or Young Living’s DiGize blend.
Essential Oils in Second/Third Trimester
The second trimester can be a time of relative ease for many women. If the nausea has passed and you’re still feeling relatively comfortable, essential oils will be helpful in maintaining wellness during this time and into the final months of pregnancy. The great news is you can start to use oils topically again and they can help to ease indigestion, reduce stretch marks, improve sleep and keep you above the wellness line.
Here are some remedies to save.
Indigestion can be incredibly uncomfortable but the good news is there is a lot we can do to ease it and one of those is to inhale lemon essential oil straight from the bottle after eating. From the second trimester, you can dilute 1-2 drops of lemon oil with a teaspoon of carrier oil and rub over abdomen and chest.
💧Reduce stretch marks
To help prevent stretch marks, make a roller blend with 5 drops Frankincense, 5 drops Lavender and topped with carrier oil and apply over abdomen and thighs from the beginning of the second trimester.
If you already have stretch marks and they’re causing some discomfort, definitely try Geranium as it has astringent and skin-health benefits.
Young Living has some beautiful carrier oils which are definitely worth trying. The Relaxation blend is great for second and third trimester massage. Cel-Lite Magic is perfect post-birth.
If you’re after a single carrier oil, Jojoba is a great choice as it closely mimics the wax that human skin produces and can help to keep the skin smooth and supple. It is absorbed rapidly and penetrates deeply into the skin, making it ideal for facial moisturisers. It’s high in Vitamins A, D and E as well as Omega 3.
💧Ease the symptoms of fluid retention
If you’re struggling with oedema (swelling of legs and feet) in your pregnancy, it will be important to ensure you drink plenty of fluids, keep your feet elevated when sitting and gently massage the area. Be careful not to massage too deeply as some pressure points can induce labour.
In a 30 mL bottle, blend 2 drops Eucalyptus, 2 drops Peppermint and 2 drops Lemon with a carrier oil of choice.
💧Stabilise mood and ease nervous tension
Mood stabilising is really quite unique to each person. What works for one person might not work for another, so it’s best here to choose what you feel has an impact. But generally speaking, Lavender, Frankincense, Orange, Stress Away, Bergamot, Valor, Peace & Calming and Lemon are all great oils for helping to stabilise mood. Try 1 drop of your chosen oils in a tablespoon of Epsom salts in a bath.
Roman chamomile is also a relaxant (remember, German Chamomile is not recommended for use in pregnancy – these oils have completely different chemical profiles).
If sleep is something you’re struggling with as the pregnancy progresses, Lavender, Cedarwood, Roman Chamomile and Orange are all proven relaxants.
Essential Oils in Labour and Birth
When we talk about aromatherapy in labour and birth, key considerations usually centre around pain and stress relief. The great news is that there are many essential oils which can help support this journey and an increasing number of studies prove that they really do work.
It’s important to remember that pain control is centred around our emotional response, so if we can keep calm and in control of our emotional response to the pain of labour, we’ll have a better chance of handling the physical impact.
Any oils that help to relieve stress, fear and anxiety will be useful to us throughout labour as stress and anxiety can block the flow of oxytocin, which our body needs to stimulate uterine contractions.
Essential oils are just one tool in what should be a well-equipped and well-rounded toolkit and a birth support person who knows you and your history will be best placed to help you work out what else should be in that kit.
There are some beautiful essential oils that may become firm favourites during labour and these should be used in conjunction with all of the other support systems you have in place for your birth.
Some of the most commonly used calming/stabilising oils include cedarwood, bergamot, frankincense, orange and lavender. Here are some oils that specifically support labour, by reducing pain or stimulating hormones:
It is recommended to avoid applying essential oils topically to the neck and chest area while in labour as our tolerance for scents can change rapidly. It’s also important to remember that essential oils don’t need to be applied topically to a pain site in order to effect relief.
The olfactory system (our sense of smell) is the only one of our senses that is linked directly to the limbic system. The limbic system is our emotional command centre and has a powerful impact on our perception of pain and simply inhaling oils has been shown to have positive outcomes for pain relief.
Tips for Using Oils During Labour
Similar to the first trimester, it is important to be able to remove the oils quickly should the need arise. Inhaling straight from the bottle or adding a few drops to a piece of gauze is a simple and effective way to access scents without them being ever-present.
If you wish to apply oils topically during labour, I recommend doing so in heavily diluted doses to the lower abdomen, lower back, feet and ankles so that you can’t smell the oils too strongly should you suddenly develop an aversion.
Back ache during labour is a common complaint and any oils with analgesic properties will help with this. It might be helpful to have a pre-made roller ready to be applied and massaged by your support person.
If you’re just starting out with essential oils and looking to use them during pregnancy birth and beyond, Young Living has a Wellness Oils collection. This collection contains 12 oils, all of which have traditionally been used in aromatherapy for their many therapeutic benefits. All of the oils in this collection are listed with the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the collection is probably the best place to start if you want to take oils into your labour and birth.
Essential Oils for Post-Partum
Post-partum skin changes can be concerning for new mothers. It can feel like just one more thing that’s changed about our bodies and we often don’t understand why. Hormonal changes can cause skin issues during and after pregnancy and while many of these issues will lessen and disappear over time, if you’re at all concerned or the issues are worsening, take the time to see a dermal therapist for their expert assessment and support.
In the meantime, there are a huge number of essential oils which have skin health benefits. Some of the most commonly known oils that are used to help smooth, tone and improve the appearance of skin, include:
- Frankincense – used for millenia for its healing properties
- Lavender – traditionally used in aromatherapy as an antiseptic for minor cuts and abrasions
- Geranium – used as an astringent to tighten skin
- Blue Tansy – has a calming affect on the skin
- Tea tree – a very strong oil that should be used sparingly, but particularly good for helping to clear trouble spots
- Ylang ylang – traditionally used in aromatherapy to relieve itchy skin
- Sacred sandalwood – traditionally used in aromatherapy as an astringent to tighten skin, to reduce the symptoms and appearance of mild varicose veins and to reduce skin dryness
You can start by adding just 1 drop of any of these oils to your daily moisturiser.
If you want to create a blend, jojoba oil is my carrier oil of choice for skin support as it closely mimics the wax that human skin produces and can help to keep the skin smooth and supple. It is absorbed rapidly and penetrates deeply into the skin, making it ideal for facial moisturisers. It’s high in Vitamins A, D and E as well as Omega 3.
Hair loss is a common post-birth experience and it can be linked to a lack of important vitamins and minerals or to hormone imbalance, so if you’re concerned about the level of loss you’re experiencing, be sure to get chat with your health specialist about potential blood work and supplementation.
To help support healthy scalp and hair growth, mix 30 drops each of rosemary, cedarwood and lavender in 100 mL of hydrosol or witch hazel. Spray and massage into scalp morning and evening.
Mood, Stress and Sleep
There is so much that could be written on this topic and there’s no quick fix for stabilising moods, reducing stress and getting enough rest, but essential oils are powerful tools in our natural health arsenal and shouldn’t be overlooked. If you can lower your heart rate, slow your breathing, ease that jaw clenching or calm a racing mind naturally, then your body has a better chance of maintaining wellness. Some of the best mood and sleep supporting oils include:
- Lavender – To reduce the symptoms of stress; to reduce the symptoms and occurrence of mild anxiety; as a nervous system relaxant; to calm nerves
- Bergamot – traditionally used in aromatherapy to induce sleep
- Cedarwood – Traditionally used in aromatherapy to decrease symptoms of stress; to aids the body to cope with environmental stress; to support a healthy stress response in the body
- Orange – Traditionally used in aromatherapy to induce sleep; to promote refreshing sleep and healthy sleep patterns; to reduce the time to fall asleep; to reduce the symptoms and occurrence of mild anxiety; to aid in mind relaxation; to increase body relaxation; and as a nervous system relaxant
- Ylang ylang – Traditionally used in aromatherapy to reduce symptoms and occurrence of mild anxiety
CLICK HERE to read more about leaning on our sense of smell during difficult times.
Post-Partum Healing and Pain Relief
All of the essential oils which are recommended for pain relief during labour and birth may be used to help ease after-birth pains: Roman chamomile, clary sage, geranium, peppermint, lavender, lemongrass, jasmine and rose.
For perineal care, you can create a bathing blend using 1 drop lavender, 1 drop Roman chamomile in a teaspoon of salt, mixed through warm water and used to bathe the area.
There are many essential oils which have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and it can be helpful to rinse a washer in warm water with 1 drop of essential oil of choice and wipe gently over the wound area several times a day, once you feel comfortable doing so.
Using Oils Around a Newborn
Above and beyond all of the above suggestions, it is of huge importance to consider your baby and the fact that they will be close to you for much of the day. In particular for the first 6 weeks of establishing feeding, it will be vital not to use any strong scents or products that could interfere with your baby developing a scent association with you and learning to breastfeed.
During this time, avoid all topical essential oil use on your neck, face and chest area. For mood, stress and sleep support, opt for oils in the diffuser, inhaled from the bottle or on aromatherapy jewellery which can be removed before feeding.
Ready to get started with essential oils for your pregnancy and birth journey? CLICK HERE.