Essential Oils and Pregnancy: Thoughts to Consider

When we think of using essential oils (EOs) during pregnancy our main thought should be to err on the side of caution especially during the first trimester of pregnancy. There are those out there that say EOs should be refrained from use during pregnancy altogether. However, many oils have been used safely and effectively to ease discomfort and maintain health during pregnancy.

The first thing you should remember is that Essential Oils are very, very concentrated plant products and powerful chemical substances. The chemical properties can travel around the body in a matter of minutes. The idea that crossover of the placental border and uncertainty of this subject with essential oils has led many to believe that one should refrain from using EOs during pregnancy.

If you realize that we cannot morally test pregnant women and their unborn fetuses with essential oils there is very little research out there for us to refer to. This leads us to recommend caution and use only of essential oils that are mild and non- toxic as well as use of the oils in very low doses (1%-5% is normal to use, meaning in a 1 oz carrier oil using 10-18 drops of essential oil at most in a topical setting such as massage oil). You also want to consider that the sense of smell of a pregnant woman is heightened during pregnancy and that less is more in these circumstances.

These oils should be avoided altogether during pregnancy:

Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum)
Auricaria (Araucaria araucana)
Birch (Betula)
Black Seed (Nigella sativa)
Blue Cypress  (Callitris intratropica)
Carrot Seed (Daucus carota)
Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)
Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Cinnamon Leaf (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
Costus (Saussurea costus)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Feverfew  (Tanacetum parthenium)
Ho Leaf (Cinnamomum camphora)
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Myrrh  (Commiphora myrrha)
Mustard  (Brassica)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Parsley Seed & Leaf (Petroselinum crispum)
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
Rue  (Ruta graveolens)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
Thuja (Thuja occidentalis)
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Wintergreen  (Gaultheria procumbens)
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

The reason these oils should be avoided is due to potential acute toxicity in humans. For example, Pennyroyal can be hepatoxic (liver).

The quality of essential oils is also important. Please use unaltered & organic essential oils if possible. Altered essential oils can cause adverse reactions due to synthetic additives. 

Certain components are found to be very safe such as Monoterpenes (Pine and Citrus oils), Sesquiterpenes (Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Patchouli, etc). A heads up should be noted about certain chemical properties in some citrus oils: furanocoumarins are found in some Citrus oils and are photo-toxic meaning they will burn your skin if it is exposed to the sun for periods of time. It can take weeks for the skin to heal from phototoxicity (these oils include: bergamot, lime, lemon, grapefruit, angelica, rue and bitter orange (sweet orange is NOT phototoxic and safe to use in topical treatments.))

In general, when not pregnant: essential oils with: 
Ethers should not be used for a prolonged period of time and in minute doses. Aniseed, Fennel, Anise contain phenyl menthyl (absolutely avoid during pregnancy.)

Ketones: These oils can be stored in the body and are not easily metabolized: Sage (Salvia officinalis) & Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis).

Phenols: burning or warming to the skin, avoid due to skin sensitivity unless there is an infection present, Oregano, Thymus vulgaris ct thymol *, Savoury (Satureia montana), Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) and Cinnamon (Cinnamomum camphora)

  1. Note that thyme has many chemotypes (ct). Thyme ct. Linalol is a safe oil to use and is a kid-safe oil. It is very gentle in essential oil categories as compared to Thymus vulgarus ct Thymol.

Camphor: Camphor in high doses can be a neurotoxin: These include: Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium),  Ho Leaf (Cinnamomum camphora), Spanish Lavender* (Lavendula stoechas).*Not to be confused with Lavendula angustifolia which is completely safe as an ester rich essential oil

Angiogenesis: this is the ability to develop new blood vessels. Certain oils have been shown to inhibit this ability and are considered unsafe during pregnancy. While some of the oils are not generally known or used it's important to have them on the list. The oils include Costus (Saussurea costus), Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), Atractylis (Atrachtylodes lancea), Blue Cypress (Callitris intratropica), Auricaria (Neocallitropsis pancheri) and Black Seed (Nigella sativa).

Sabinyl acetate: Oils found with this chemical property can be among the most dangerous in pregnancy. They can cause structural damage to an embryo. AVOID Plectranthus (Plectranthus fruticosus) – this oil is not commercially available BUT has the highest concentration of sabinyl acetate, Savin (Juniperus Sabina), Sage (Salvia Lavandulifolia), Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), and Green Yarrow (Achillea nobilis).

Other info: Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum zylanicum) and Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia) are contraindicated during pregnancy due to embryotoxicity.  Dalmatian Sage Oil(Salvia officinalis) can cause neurotoxicity and embryotoxicity so need to be avoided.

Also, some oils have been used to terminate a pregnancy and used in VERY high dosages: Parsley Seed and Pennyroyal. These oils can cause death in the mother as well as an aborted fetus in very high doses and should be completely avoided.

False information: Certain essential oils have been rumored to cause preterm labor and have been a topic of debate for years. The reason that they are assumed to cause a problem is that they are emmenagogic and some say can lead to abortion but this information is not accurate. These oils are safe during pregnancy: Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), Cypress, (Cupressus sempervirins) Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), Marjoram (Origanum majorana), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Rose (Rosa damascena), Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica), Jasmine (Jasmina officinale).

SAFE LIST OF ESSENTIAL OILS (this list encompasses a well-rounded group of oils used for many things, not just during pregnancy.)

Benzoin (Styrax tonkinensis)
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
Cypress (Cupressus sempervirins)
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus smithii)
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
Geranium (Pelargonium x asperum)
German Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita)
Ginger (Zingiber Officinale)
Grapefruit (Citrus paradise)
Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)
Lemon (Citrus limon)
Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
Neroli (Citrus aurancium var amara)
Orange (sweet) (Citrus sinensis)
Petit Grain (Citrus sinensis)
Peppermint (Menthe piperita)
Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)
Rose (Rosa damascena)
Sandalwood (Santalum album)
Spearmint (Menthe cardiaca)
Tangerine (Citrus reticulate)
Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Ylang Ylang  (Cananga odorata)

Thanks for reading!

Ann MasciaComment