Using essential oils around nursing mothers should be done with care. Precautions around the use of essential oils during pregnancy are well known but the precautions around the use of essential oils by nursing mothers while breastfeeding are perhaps not so well known.
When it comes to precautions during pregnancy, for some the only concern is whether or not the mother might lose the baby. but this should not be the only concern. Just as important is the fact that a baby’s fragile developing system could be exposed to essential oil components that are toxic to it. As we know the baby is nourished through the placenta and anything in the Mother’s blood and pass through the placenta to the developing baby. As all the baby’s systems are still developing it is important not to overtax them. Although the developing baby is particularly sensitive during the first three months of pregnancy, they remain vulnerable throughout the whole pregnancy. Which is why we have the precautions around the Mother’s use of essential oils that we do.
Once the baby has been born many of these precautions remain relevant for as long as Mom is nursing her baby.
Some of the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy are to prepare the body for breastfeeding and sometime during the second trimester the milk duct system will be fully developed. Once the baby has been delivered and the placenta expelled, the estrogen and progesterone levels in the mother’s body drops. At the same time the level of prolactin, a pituitary gland hormone, signals the mother’s body to start producing milk. Prompted by the prolactin, the alveoli take proteins, sugars, and fat from the mother’s blood supply and makes breast milk. It can take between 48 – 96 hours for this to be fully established. Initially, the Mother produces the creamy, high-protein, low-fat colostrum, followed by full milk production. It is the baby’s suckling that stimulates the milk to ‘let-down’. This suckling action also stimulates the release of oxytocin, which in turn acts on the breast and uterine muscles, stimulating them to regain their former shape and position.
The precautions around using the essential oils this time are based on the fact that it may be possible for anything in the Mother’s system to find its way into the breast milk. Whether or not a Mother is nursing, she should keep in mind that when she (or anyone else) holds her baby, the baby will be exposed to any essential oils that have been applied topically. The recommended percentage dilution of 1% is the same for nursing mothers as it is during pregnancy.
In their book, Essential Oil Safety, Second Edition, Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, have a list (Table 11.1): Essential oils that should be avoided by any route throughout pregnancy and lactation: Anise; Anise (star); Araucaria; Atractylis; Birch (sweet); Black seed; Buchu (ct diosphenol); Buchu (ct. pulegone); Calamint (lesser); Carrot seed; Cassia; Chaste tree; Cinnamon bark; Costus; Cypress (blue); Dill seed (Indian); Fennel (bitter); Fennel (sweet); Feverfew; Genipi; Hibawood; Ho leaf (ct. camphor); Hyssop (ct. pinocamphone); Lanyana; Lavender (Spanish); Mugwort (common, ct camphor/thujone); Mugwort (common ct. chrysanthenyl acetate); Mugwort (great); Myrrh; Myrtle (aniseed); Oregano; Parsley leaf; Parsley seed; Pennyroyal; Rue; Sage (Dalmation); Sage (Spanish); Savin; Tansy (common); Western red cedar; Wintergreen; Wormwood (all chemotypes); Wormwood (sea); Wormwood (white); Yarrow (green); Zedoary.
They also have a list (Table 11.2): Essential oils that should be restricted during pregnancy and lactation:Basil (lemon) Toxic constituent Citral; Boswellia papyrifera Toxic constituent Octyl acetate; Champaca (orange) absolute Toxic constituent 2-Phenylethanol; Lemon balm (Australian) Toxic constituent Citral; Lemon leaf Toxic constituent Citral; Lemongrass Toxic constituent Citral; May chang Toxic constituent Citral; Melissa Toxic constituent Citral; Myrtle (honey) Toxic constituent Citral; Myrtle (lemon) Toxic constituent Citral; Nasturtium absolute Toxic constituent Benzyl isothiocyanate; Tea tree (lemon scented) Toxic constituent Citral; Thyme (lemon) Toxic constituent Citral; Verbena (lemon) Toxic constituent Citral
It might be simpler to just stick to the list that we know is safe to use: Bergamot, frankincense, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, mandarin, sweet marjoram, neroli, orange, patchouli, petitgrain, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, tangerine, vetiver and ylang ylang.
Because we know just how concentrated and potent essential oils are, I feel that at this time using hydrosols, herbs and teas instead might be a better approach.
Some essential oils specific to Labour and Nursing include:
Childbirth Stimulating: Cinnamon leaf; Jasmine; Nutmeg
Labour pain: Clary Sage; Lavender; Nutmeg
Facilitate Labour: Clove; Fennel; Juniper; Neroli; Nutmeg; Palmarosa; Peppermint; Spearmint; Sweet Thyme (ct. linalool)
Break down clots after childbirth: Ginger
May help to speed delivery: Laurel; Lavender
Increase Milk Production: Caraway; Cumin; Fennel; Jasmine
Discourages Milk Production: Peppermint