Using Essential Oils During Pregnancy

What should we be aware of when considering using essential oils during pregnancy?

Although today we are seeing more advertisements for “Aromatherapy” products for anything from dish detergents to household fragrance, the truth is that essential oils have long been used as an ingredient in many regular freely available products.

Essential oils are used all the time for flavoring in the Food Industry and are found in many products including alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, frozen dairy products, candy, backed goods, gelatins and puddings, meat and meat products and fats and oils. However the amount of essential oils to be found in these products is in fact very small. The actual amount used will depend on the essential oil being used but it is in the region of about 0.003% to 0.1%. So in fact very little goes a long, long way. The Cosmetic Industry uses many essential oils extensively as a fragrance component in soaps and detergents. They are also used in creams, lotions and perfumes. Again the maximum safe use level dilution will depend on the essential oil in question but it will be well under 1%. So you can see that we are all exposed to small amounts of essential oil every day hidden in all sorts of products. Most people who have problems with fragrance will find that their intolerance is to the man made fragrance oils and not the genuine essential oil.

During pregnancy women are often much more sensitive to aromas then usual, a good built in safety mechanism. So while pregnant women will be exposed to the essential oils contained in many products in the same way as the rest of us are the amount of essential oil in these products is very small. However when it comes to using essential oils for their therapeutic and emotional properties and creating unique blends and synergies care should be exercised.

While there is some controversy as to whether essential oils, in their entirety, are able to penetrate the skin, it is accepted that at least some of the components found in essential oils do indeed find their way through the skin and through inhalation into the bloodstream. The reason for contra-indicating the use of many essential oils during pregnancy is not always because of the fear of causing a miscarriage but more often because of the fact that these essential oil components once in the mother’s bloodstream are able to pass across the placenta into the developing fetus. Experience has shown that using certain essential oils in very low dilutions no more than ½ – 1% during pregnancy is quite safe. However the old adage, when in doubt, don’t, remains true.

The level of active essential oil components finding their way into the bloodstream varies depending on the method of application.

Application to the skin. When essential oils are applied topically to the skin the absorption rate into the body is slower and more selective than through internal use. Not all the essential oil applied to the skin will be absorbed and find its way into the bloodstream. Some of the essential oil will in fact evaporate off into the air. Things to keep in mind when choosing essential oils to be applied in this way includes whether they have any cautions with respect to skin sensitizing, phototoxicity or skin irritation. When applying essential oils topically during pregnancy stay with blends that are in dilutions of 1% or less. When essential oils have been applied topically one can’t help but smell them so some of the molecules will also find their way into the body through inhalation. An easy rule of thumb would be that for every 2 teaspoons of carrier oil used (10ml) you use 1 drop of essential oil or essential oil synergy for ½% dilution or 1 drop of essential oil or essential oil synergy to ever 1 teaspoon of carrier (5ml) for a 1% dilution.

Inhalations. Here the essential oil molecules are dispersed into the air and then breathed in. Some of these molecules will be absorbed in the lungs and find their way into the bloodstream while the rest of the molecules will be breathed out. Once again we would use lower dilutions for pregnant ladies, in any case as mentioned above their sense of smell is often heightened at this time and so they can only tolerated higher dilutions.

How cautious you need to be during pregnancy will depend on the individual. If one is prone to miscarriage or problem pregnancies it might be best to avoid most essential oils until later on in the pregnancy. Having given you all the precautions and warnings I do have to say as well that using essential oils during pregnancy can be very helpful, one just needs to limit the oils one uses to those that are safer at this time and one does need to keep the percentage of essential oil used right down.

Rather than give the laundry list of the essential oils to avoid during pregnancy it might be easier to list those that are considered safe to use: Bergamot, frankincense, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, mandarin, sweet marjoram, neroli, orange, patchouli, petitgrain, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, tangerine, vetiver and ylang ylang are generally safe to use after the first trimester. It is recommended that one use caution during the first trimester and avoid the use of most essential oils where possible.

Some blends to consider:

Morning Sickness: I have had a lot of success my Morning Sickness Blend which is 3 parts lavender, 1 part ginger. I make this up first and then add just 1 drop of synergy to every 10ml of carrier oil. I like to use the 10ml roll on applicators. I have also found that this can be helpful for headaches.

Stretch Marks: 1 drop of mandarin in 10 mls of jojoba oil and apply to tummy, buttocks and thighs.

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