Essential Oils and Pregnant Woman

Essential Oils and Pregnancy

The use of essential oils during pregnancy remains a contentious subject debated by many in the aromatherapy industry. From aromatherapist to aromatherapist you may get varying answers when it comes to prenatal aromatherapy. Some believe that essential oils should be completely avoided during the first trimester. Others believe they should be avoided all together, and then there are others that don’t suggest avoiding them at all.

Essential Oils and Pregnancy

Written by Guest Blogger: Kayla Fioravanti, Ology Essential’s Chief Formulator.

The fears surrounding aromatherapy in pregnancy are found in historical cases in which essential oils were misused purposefully or accidentally. All cases of adverse reactions in pregnancy are related to women drinking large doses of essential oils. Any responsible aromatherapist would never suggest that essential oils should be consumed—pregnant or not. Essential oils, no matter what the circumstances are, should never be taken orally.

There has never been a reported case of a woman or baby being harmed by topical or inhalation therapy used during pregnancy or labor. Aromatherapists all warn their clients away from pennyroyal essential oil due to a case in the USA in which a woman drank a large dose of pennyroyal in order to induce an abortion that proved fatal to her (Gold and Cates, 1980). One out of four cases in which pregnant women accidently drank camphor oil instead of castor oil resulted in the death of the baby (Weiss and Catalano, 1976).

Another reported case in which pennyroyal and parsley seed were taken in large doses caused hepatotoxicity which resulted in the death of the baby. There are two other cases in which women consumed the same large doses of pennyroyal (100 to 200 times the recommended topical application) in which both the mothers and the babies survived unharmed. It is cases like this that give essential oils their warnings and contraindications.

Many midwives and nurses worldwide have become Certified and/or Registered Aromatherapists over the past few decades. Aromatherapy in the labor and delivery room has been a common practice in England since 1987. After 34 years of regular use of aromatherapy by midwives and nurses in England, one would think that if topical and inhalation usage of essential oils was dangerous during pregnancy then there would be a case reported, but there have been none.

The most recent case of a pregnant woman consuming essential oils resulted in a midwife losing her job and license, but no harm came to the mother or baby. The Daily Mail reported that in North Wales, midwife Sandra Hughes, who was trained in aromatherapy, mixed some sweet almond oil with two drops of lavender and one drop of lime in a plastic cup and left it by her patient’s bedside. Her intention was for it to be massaged onto the patient, but while Sandra was out of the room, there was a mix up and the patient drank the blend. The mother and baby were monitored but suffered no ill effects. Communication and proper application of essential oils is vital.

In reality, essential oils have been safely used by pregnant women for thousands of years. Most perfumes on the market use essentials oils, or components of essential oils, combined with synthetic fragrance chemicals. Yet we never see a warning on perfume bottles to avoid use during pregnancy. Chemical components of essential oils have historically been used in the production of fragrance oils and have caused no ill effects during pregnancy. For instance, nutmeg essential oil is one of the ingredients used to make green tea fragrance oil. Below you will find nutmeg on the “essential oils to avoid during the first trimester” list, however, it is a component of a common fragrance oil that pregnant women use every day all over the world with no ill effects.

According to Martin Watt, “There are NO essential oils that, used externally, are proven as harmful to a developing foetus. The vast majority of oils you have listed are common food additives. This is all stuff from the aromatherapy novel writers.”

Be aware that during pregnancy a woman has a heightened sense of smell. The highest percentage of essential oil in aromatherapy products for pregnant women is 2%. Be completely in tune with what essential oils you find repulsive or dislike during pregnancy. I have found that most pregnant women in the first trimester of pregnancy find essential oils that are highly hormonal to be distasteful. My theory is that her body is warning her away from essential oils with properties that it does not need at a given time. I have also found that women crave and adore highly hormonal essential oils when they have PMS or are going through menopause. It is as if her nose is leading her to oils that she needs at given times in her life.

There is no documentation on whether or not essential oils pass through the placenta, but because they have low molecular weights and are negatively charged molecules it is feasible to assume that they do. The placenta acts a barrier to positively charged molecules but negatively charged molecules do cross the placenta (Maickel and Snodgrass 1973) which makes choosing the right essential oils used during pregnancy vital. For instance, savin and Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulifolia) could be extremely detrimental during pregnancy. They are not common essential oils used in aromatherapy. However, they are a good example of why precaution is used by aromatherapists. Savin (Juniperus savina) and Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulifolia) essential oils contain the compound sabinyl acetate which has been proven to have a teratogenic effect (ability to interfere with normal embryonic development) in laboratory animals (Guba 2002).

Many essential oils are believed to have emmenagogic actions (cause uterine contractions believed to induce menstrual cycle) and are believed to be dangerous to use during pregnancy. However, many aromatherapists believe that emmenagogic actions are not enough to affect a stable pregnancy. The controversy lies in the history of a pregnant woman. If a woman has had miscarriages in the past, it is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid emmenagogic essential oils.

The safest essential oils to use in pregnancy are the citrus essential oils which include bergamot, lemon, lime, sweet orange, mandarin, grapefruit, and tangerine. They all have such low molecular weights that they disperse into the air shortly after application. There are no contraindications, no safety data, and no warnings that are related in any way to pregnancy.

Occasionally you might find them on a list of essential oils to avoid during pregnancy, but that is only when the aromatherapist has taken every essential oil with a warning and included them in their “avoid during pregnancy” list.

The only warning for all citrus essential oils is that they may be phototoxic, which means that they may increase the risk of sunburn when used undiluted. But since you won’t be using any essential oil over 2% on a pregnant woman, you are well within safety limits. I highly recommend the use of grapefruit essential oil for massage throughout pregnancy. It is the only citrus essential oil that is not phototoxic, so you even avoid that warning. It uplifts the spirit, eases the mind, helps with water retention, has an astringent property that leaves the skin feeling great, and is generally known as safe in all cases. If you were to add one essential oil for pregnancy massage, grapefruit is the safest, most universally liked essential oil on the market.

Common Essential Oil Warning for Pregnancy


Emmenagogic essential oils:
basil, carrot seed, blue and roman chamomile, sweet fennel, clary sage (Salvia sclarea), juniper berry, lavender, sweet marjoram, myrrh, rose, rosemary, peppermint.
Safe throughout pregnancy:

bergamot, lemon, lime, sweet orange, mandarin, grapefruit, and tangerine.

Avoid in first trimester:

palmarosa, sweet fennel, peppermint, carrot seed, nutmeg, bay, anise, cinnamon, sage (Salvia officinalis) myrrh, juniper, lovage, roman and blue chamomile, cajuput, peppermint, melissa, marjoram, rose otto, rosemary, clary sage (Salvia sclarea), vetiver, basil, oregano, black pepper, sandalwood.

Essential oils to avoid completely during pregnancy:

savin, Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulifolia), angelica, calamus, buchu, wormwood, davana, mugwort, mustard, wild basil, calamint, wormseed, brown and blue and white camphor, horseradish, blue cypress, turmeric, bitter fennel, Bulgarian geranium, wintermint, star anise, cade oil, latana, Spanish lavender, bog myrtle, dog basil, Brazilian sassafras, parsley seed, lavender cotton, sassafras, tansy, thuja, dill, yarrow, tarragon, caraway, camphor, broad-leaved peppermint, hyssop, pennyroyal, spearmint, rosemary, tagette.

It is critically important to know the difference between various essential oils. For instance, clary sage (Salvia sclarea) is extremely helpful in the last stages of labor, yet Sage (Salvia officinalis) is contraindicated for pregnancy. Aromatherapists use Latin nomenclature to identify essential oils for that very reason. For instance, clary sage is Salvia sclarea and Salvia officinalis is sage. When buying essential oils, always cross check them by using their Latin nomenclature in combination with their common name. This will ensure consistency and safety above all.

Guest Blogger,

Kayla Fioravanti

Kayla Fioravanti has been a leading expert in the natural cosmetics industry for over 22 years. In 1998, she co-founded Essential Wholesale – one of the first all natural cosmetics/ingredients companies – that started out with $50 in her kitchen and grew to a multimillion dollar company (all the while raising her 3 kids)! In fact, Kayla raised her own CEO, Keegan Fioravanti, of Ology Essentials. As Ology’s Chief Formulator, Kayla is able to bring to life her unique ideas and product formulations. Kayla is also an aromatherapist, business consultant, and an award-winning author.

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