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Essential oils and pregnancy

For some mums-to-be, aromatherapy is a saviour during pregnancy. Are there any side effects? 

Essential oils can help with many common pregnancy symptoms such as back pain, nausea and pelvic girdle pain, along with providing further benefits during labour. However, it’s important to be aware of a few safety tips when using essential oils during pregnancy.

Content/Quick links

  • What is aromatherapy?
  • Is aromatherapy safe during pregnancy?
  • What are the benefits of using aromatherapy during pregnancy?
  • How to use aromatherapy during pregnancy
  • Essential oils for morning sickness
  • Essential oils for relaxation during pregnancy
  • Essential oils to give you energy during pregnancy
  • Essential oils for pregnancy insomnia
  • Essential oils to reduce stretch marks
  • Essential oils for labour
  • Essential oils for the postnatal period
  • Essential oils for breastfeeding
  • To sum up

What is aromatherapy? 

Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic benefit. This holistic therapy has been proven to help improve both your mental and physical wellbeing.

During aromatherapy, you will inhale the aroma of essential oils. The scent is detected by sensors in your nose which connect directly to the limbic system within your brain. This limbic system is responsible for controlling your emotions, meaning that the essential oils inhaled are able to have a direct influence on your emotions.  

Is aromatherapy safe during pregnancy?

The benefits of aromatherapy during pregnancy are vast. However, caution should always be taken when using aromatherapy during pregnancy.

All essential oils have the potential to cross the placenta to your baby due to their chemical composition, but this does not mean that all essential oils are harmful to your baby.

Some essential oils are safe to use at specific times during your pregnancy whilst others should be avoided completely. For this reason, we’d always recommend speaking to a qualified aromatherapist who is trained in the use of aromatherapy during pregnancy before deciding which essential oils to use.

If you decide to use your essential oils topically during pregnancy, say for a prenatal aromatherapy massage, it’s best to do a skin patch test with your chosen essential oil and carrier oil to make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin. Rub a small amount of the mixture onto a small patch of your skin 24 hours before your prenatal massage.

Read more about performing a patch test with essential oils here

If your partner is giving you an aromatherapy massage, check with your midwife which massage strokes are safe during your pregnancy. If you decide to use a massage therapist, ensure that they are qualified and insured to treat pregnant women.

Essential oils that should always be avoided in pregnancy include aniseed, arnica, basil, cypress, fennel, juniper, nutmeg, sage, juniper berry, marjoram and rosemary.  

What are the benefits of using aromatherapy during pregnancy?

Many women find essential oils very beneficial during pregnancy. Some oils are diffused and inhaled with the aroma promoting your mental wellbeing, whilst others are mixed with a carrier oil to be used topically, for example through massage.

During pregnancy, aromatherapy can help to reduce the stress, fear and anxiety that many women feel. This could be worries about the birth or about parenthood in general. Essential oils can also be helpful for mothers who are experiencing both prenatal and postpartum depression or anxiety.

Aromatherapy can also help with some of the common pregnancy symptoms, including nausea, tiredness, backache, swollen ankles and insomnia. Reducing the discomfort and inconvenience of these conditions can enhance the mother’s enjoyment of her pregnancy, allowing her to look forward to the birth of her baby.

Many women also choose to use essential oils during their labour to promote relaxation and enhance their birth experience. More and more hospitals are beginning to realise the benefits of aromatherapy during labour, with many hospitals now actively encouraging its use.

How to use aromatherapy during pregnancy

There are many different ways that you can use essential oils during your pregnancy. This includes topically during massage, inhalation by diffusion, and by adding essential oils to your bath.

Aromatherapy massage for pregnancy

  Aromatherapy massage can be particularly beneficial during pregnancy, but you’ll need to dilute your essential oils first. Mix one or two drops of your essential oil with a teaspoon of carrier oil such as sweet almond oil, coconut oil or grapeseed oil.

Inhaling essential oils during pregnancy

Many women enjoy the benefits of inhaling the aromas of essential oils during their pregnancy. Simply add a few drops of essential oil to your diffuser and enjoy the gentle aromas that it creates. Of course, some of your favourite scents may actually become turn-offs or make you feel ill in pregnancy where they didn’t before, so play around with scents until you find the ones that work for you.

Aromatherapy bath during pregnancy

Warm baths can be particularly soothing during pregnancy, especially if you’re suffering from the aches and pains that childbearing can bring. Essential oils can enhance these benefits.
To add essential oils to your bath, you’ll first need to mix a few drops of the essential oil with a teaspoon of carrier oil. If you haven’t got any carrier oil on hand, full-fat cow’s milk can also be used to help the oil disperse throughout the water.

Aromatherapy for morning sickness

Many women experience nausea or sickness during their first trimester. Often referred to as morning sickness, this unpleasant pregnancy symptom can actually occur at any time of the day, and some women are debilitated by their sickness.

Aromatherapy can help to ease your sickness, allowing you to better enjoy those early days of pregnancy. Women may find essential oils particularly useful if they are suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a more severe form of morning sickness that may result in weight loss and may persist throughout the second trimester as well as the third.

Different women prefer different essential oils for helping with sickness in early pregnancy, so you may need to try a few before finding the right essential oil for you. Common oils which are used to help with pregnancy sickness include lemon oil and peppermint oil.  

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Essential oils for relaxation during pregnancy

Pregnancy can feel stressful at times. After all, you are growing a new person single-handedly! Essential oils can help to relieve stress and anxiety, allowing you to relax and de-stress.

Lavender, chamomile and ylang ylang oils have been proven to aid relaxation during pregnancy, helping you to relieve tension and find your inner calm. Many women also enjoy the uplifting effects of mandarin oil which can improve your mood and your mental wellbeing.

For ultimate relaxation, try mixing one of these oils with a carrier oil and adding it to your bath. Put on some relaxing music, lay back in the warmth and enjoy the soothing aromas.   

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Essential oils to give you energy during pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body is undergoing huge changes whilst growing and sustaining a new life. It’s no wonder that energy levels suffer during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester. Feeling low on energy may be your body’s way of telling you to slow down and rest. However, if you’re looking for an energy boost, there are essential oils that can help.

Citrus-based oils such as lemon, mandarin and tangerine can give you the boost you’re looking for when you notice your energy levels dipping. Making use of these essential oils can leave you feeling invigorated and refreshed, ready to take on the challenges of your daily life.  

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Essential oils for pregnancy insomnia

Many women struggle to sleep during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester. Your body is already having to work hard growing a new life so it can be hard to function on minimal sleep during pregnancy.

Lavender and frankincense essential oils help to promote calm and relaxation whilst having a sedative effect on your body. This can help to induce sleep, allowing you to have a good night’s sleep when you need it the most.  

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Essential oils to reduce stretch marks

One of the changes that pregnancy often brings is stretch marks. As your skin stretches to accommodate your growing baby, the production of collagen can be disrupted, causing scars known as stretch marks. These will begin to fade over time, but some women are eager to reduce the chances of stretch marks appearing.

Massaging your skin daily with a carrier oil such as jojoba, sweet almond or coconut oil is a great way to alleviate dry and itchy skin which can be common in pregnancy. Add in a few drops or neroli and mandarin essential oils and you may reduce the chance of stretch marks appearing. Be sure to massage your thighs and breasts along with your growing stomach. Massaging your bump is also a great way to bond with your growing baby, helping you to feel closer to your unborn child.  

Essential oils for labour

Aromatherapy is becoming increasingly popular for use during labour. It is often chosen as a natural alternative for easing the pain and discomfort associated with labour, along with any accompanying symptoms.

A 1999 study evaluated the impact of aromatherapy during labour. Women were offered aromatherapy for anxiety, pain, nausea and to strengthen contractions. The study found that aromatherapy treatment during labour reduced the amount of pain relief required. This included reductions in both epidural anaesthesia and systemic opioids.

The study also found that aromatherapy may help to augment labour contractions. The number of women who required a hormone drip or caesarean section was lower in the group who used aromatherapy.

Essential oils such as lavender, chamomile and frankincense can promote relaxation during labour, enabling the labour process to progress naturally and without fear.

Clary sage and jasmine essential oils can stimulate contractions whilst increasing confidence and mental wellbeing. As clary sage and jasmine oils can strengthen contractions and encourage labour, they should not be used until the mother is full term. They should also be avoided if the mother has had a previous caesarean section. Always talk to your healthcare provider first if you’re unsure.

Essential oils for the postnatal period

Essential oils can also be useful during the postpartum period. Lavender is the most common essential oil to choose postnatally, with studies showing that inhaling the aroma of lavender oil after birth can result in better physical and emotional health including reduced pain and improved mental wellbeing.

Lavender oil, along with frankincense oil, can also be used to aid healing. If you’ve had a caesarean section or an episiotomy, a few drops of these oils can be mixed with a carrier oil such as jojoba oil and massaged into your scar, promoting recovery and reducing itching.

As the pregnancy hormones begin to leave your body, you may notice your mood dipping slightly. Essential oils such as orange, mandarin, neroli, rose and bergamot are great for boosting your mood and helping to ease postnatal fatigue.  

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Essential oils for breastfeeding

If you’re breastfeeding, you may be wondering if there are any essential oils which help with milk production. Although no essential oils are proven galactagogues, stress is one of the most common reasons for low milk supply. Relaxing can help to boost your levels of prolactin, increasing your body’s ability to produce milk. Essential oils such as lavender, ylang ylang and frankincense can help you to relax, enabling your body to produce more milk for your baby.

Engorged breasts can be an uncomfortable but completely normal side effect of breastfeeding. The engorgement will reduce as your body learns how much milk to produce for your baby and your milk supply settles down.

In the meantime, geranium essential oil is often effective at reducing swelling and soothing tender and engorged breasts. A warm compress will encourage milk flow before a feed whilst a cold compress can help to reduce swelling between feeds. To make your compress, add a few drops of geranium oil to a bowl of warm or cold water and submerge a washcloth into the water.  

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To sum up

Essential oils have many benefits during pregnancy, from easing morning sickness to reducing your pain in labour, whether diffused, used topically or in a bath. Some can be chosen by preference; however, some are contraindicated at certain points in the pregnancy. Therefore, it’s important to speak to a qualified aromatherapist or a midwife who is experienced in aromatherapy before deciding to use any essential oils. 

For more information about essential oils for aromatherapy massage, you can contact an aromatherapy expert at:

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