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Essential oils contain very concentrated properties of the plant they are derived from. A very small amount of it often has the qualities of many cups of herbal tea from the same plant. For instance, one drop of peppermint essential oil is equivalent to 26-28 cups of peppermint tea. If not used properly, essential oils can affect hormones, trigger menstruation and affect other aspects of health during pregnancy and nursing. Therefore, essential oils should be used safely with proper education.
When used properly, essential oils can also help during labor and postnatal care. Pregnant women develop a thicker layer of fat underneath the skin, which acts as a safety area between the baby and the essential oil. Essential oils dissolve in fat and will be more likely to rest in the fatty layers, giving a slow-release treatment rather than an immediate one into the tissues. The main benefits of aromatherapy use during pregnancy are relief of tension and stress, relaxation, relief from minor ailments and breathing practice for labor.
Here are a list of things to consider when using essential oils during pregnancy:
1. As the first trimester is the most crucial in terms of fetal development, it is suggested that essential oils be used only on occasion, such as inhaling for morning sickness.
2. Pregnant women should only use essential oils with guidance from a midwife and Aromatherapist.
3. The concentrations should be a maximum of 1% dilution or less for all skin applications (as an example, 5 to 6 total drops essential oil to 30 ml carrier oil) and no more than 4 drops of essential oil for bath.
4. Application of neat essential oils is not advised at all during pregnancy. Pregnant women have raised melanin stimulating hormone levels, which are more likely to burn in strong sunlight. Therefore the use of undiluted oils is not permitted.
5. Oral, rectal, and vaginal uses of essential oils are inappropriate during pregnancy.
6. The regular, daily use of essential oils while pregnant is not advised.
7. The choice of essential oils used should be limited to those with a history of low toxicity. There is no “accepted” or “authoritative” list of oils that are safe or unsafe, as all information is based on common sense rather than proven hazards during pregnancy.
8. Avoid the use of all solvent extracts (absolutes) and any poor quality oils, as well as perfumes.
9. It should also be noted that essential oils that affect blood coagulation (Birch, Wintergreen, Garlic, Onion) should not be used on breastfeeding mothers.
10. Consider routes of absorption.
Skin application offers a smaller dose over a longer period of time. Steam inhalation offers a pretty high dose, but for only a very short period of time. Diffusion offers a smaller dose than steam inhalation. An inhaler offers a dose somewhere between a steam inhalation and room diffusion.
11. The sensitivity of the skin may vary at different stages of the pregnancy, even on those who do not have a history of sensitive skin. Chamomile and Tea Tree essential oils in particular have been known to create skin irritation.
Other than that, here are a list of essential oils (and its botanical name) that should be restricted and avoided during pregnancy:
Source: Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young's Essential Oil Safety Book. Second Edition.