Essential Oils for Pregnancy: What Is Safe And What To Avoid

Essential oils are safe to be used during pregnancy while keeping in mind their ingredients.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Annal Vaidya, MS Dr. Annal Vaidya Dr. Annal VaidyaMS facebook_iconlinkedin_iconinsta_icon Specialty: Obstetrics & GynecologyExperience: 3 years
Written by Swati Patwal
Last Updated on

The usage of essential oils for pregnancy has become quite common, especially in prenatal massages. Essential oils are concentrated, volatile extracts derived from various parts of flowers or herbs with cold-press and steam distillation techniques (1). These oils help manage symptoms, such as insomnia, depression, anxiety, and nausea (2). However, using essential oils during pregnancy requires expert guidance to avoid any side effects or adverse outcomes.

Read on to know the benefits of using essential oils in pregnancy and ways to use them effectively. You will also find a list of essential oils you can use and avoid.

Is It Safe To Use Essential Oils During Pregnancy?

When used under the guidance of an expert, essential oil use in pregnancy is considered safe (1). Based on your and your unborn baby’s health and usage intent, an expert will guide you about the right essential oil for you, its dosage, and the safe mode of use (diffusion, compression, or topical application).

Selecting the right essential oil and then using it in the right dosages is crucial because compounds in EOs can transfer to the baby via the placenta. When these compounds reach the baby, they have the potential to affect them.

However, post proper dilution, the essential oil amount used for massage is usually very small. In such small amounts, the EO will have no adverse effects on the baby. Instead, it may benefit both baby and mother alike. The next section talks about those benefits.

What Are The Benefits Of EOs During Pregnancy?

According to the NHS, UK, essential oil use during pregnancy could help alleviate several pregnancy-associated health issues, such as (3) (4):

  • Nausea and upset stomach
  • Morning sickness
  • Back pain and leg cramps
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Stretch marks
  • Varicose veins
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Insomnia
  • Water retention and generalized swelling over the body

Additionally, EOs may help reduce anxiety during the birthing process, which helps reduce the perception of pain, making labor less painful (5). Talk to a herbalist or an aromatherapist to know how to use essential oils for managing pain during labor.

Which EOs Are Safe For Use During Pregnancy?

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) lists the following EOs as safe for use during pregnancy (1) (4).

  • Benzoin
  • Bergamot
  • Black pepper
  • Chamomile (German & Roman)
  • Clary sage
  • Cypress
  • Eucalyptus
  • Frankincense
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Grapefruit
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Mandarin
  • Marjoram (sweet)
  • Neroli
  • Petitgrain
  • Rose
  • Sandalwood
  • Orange (sweet)
  • Tea tree
  • Ylang Ylang

Which Essential Oils Are Not Safe During Pregnancy?

There are some EOs that you should avoid using throughout pregnancy, labor, and while nursing. Here’s the list (1)

  • Aniseed
  • Basil ct. estragole
  • Birch
  • Camphor
  • Hyssop
  • Mugwort
  • Parsley seed or leaf
  • Pennyroyal
  • Sage
  • Tansy
  • Tarragon
  • Thuja
  • Wintergreen
  • Wormwood

Note: Unless directed by an expert, don’t ingest essential oils during pregnancy. EO ingestion can be toxic and can affect your and your baby’s health.

Now that you know which EOs can be used during pregnancy, it’s vital to know the right way to purchase and store them.

How To Purchase And Store Essential Oils?

Proper selection of EOs can be tricky as they are manufactured and marketed globally. So, here are some tips you can follow to ensure you buy the best quality product (1).

  1. Know the difference between pure and synthetic EOs. Synthetic oils are sold as perfume or fragrance oils that are cheaper than EOs. Also, they have a mild, pleasant aroma that fades away too quickly. In contrast, pure EOs are relatively expensive and have a deep aroma that lingers longer (6).
  1. Purchase EOs from a trustworthy brand. It will help ensure that the EO is contamination or adulteration-free and poses no health risks for you and your baby.
  1. Read the product label carefully. It will help you ascertain that the product is authentic and up to the industry standards. Here’s what you should look for in the product label
  • Plant’s general/Latin name
  • Country of origin
  • Extraction method (steam distilled or cold-pressed)
  • Which plant part is used to extract the oil (bark, root, leaf, or flower)
  1. Store EOs as mentioned by the manufacturer. Good quality EOs come in dark or tinted glass containers. The manufacturers recommend storing them in a cool, dry, dark place away from heat and direct sunlight to preserve their potency. Keep the bottles locked to prevent accidental ingestion by children and pets.

Once you have purchased the right oil, know the proper ways to use it safely in pregnancy.

Are There Ways To Use Essential Oils Safely?

The following is a list of precautions that ensures you use EOs safely and effectively all through pregnancy (1) (7)

  1. Consult an aromatherapy practitioner or alternate medicine expert who can recommend the right type of EO for you with the appropriate dosage. Remember, EOs are natural products, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe. Hence, you should consult a certified expert and use EOs only after your doctor gives you the go-ahead.
  1. Clearly state the usage intent to your doctor. It’s crucial as the purpose of EO use helps the expert decide which EO is suitable for you, via which route, and for how long. For instance, lavender, chamomile, basil, and Frankincense oil may reduce anxiety. On the other hand, bergamot and peppermint oil may help fight depression. So, pick an EO only after consulting your healthcare provider.
  1. Ascertain the EO’s mode and duration of use. Knowing this is essential as some essential oils are safe for topical use, while others are safe for inhalation purposes. Similarly, some EOs may be safe to use for a shorter duration, while others for a longer duration. Understanding these dynamics and then choosing an EO in accordance are essential to ensure its safe and effective use.
  1. Always dilute EOs before use and follow the proper dilution ratio. Generally, mixing three to six drops of an EO in one ounce of carrier oil is considered a safe dilution ratio for most EOs. However, the dilution ratio may vary, subject to the mother and the baby’s health. So, talk to your doctor to know about the appropriate dilution ratio. You can dilute an EO using unscented natural lotions, carrier oil, or distilled water.
  1. Know the different ways you can use an EO. For instance, you can use essential oil for prenatal massage by adding it to the lotion or oil. Alternatively, you can diffuse the same oil using a diffuser or vaporizer or use it to make an EO spray/spritz. Furthermore, you can dissolve EOs in water and bathe with it or soak your foot in it.
  1. Do a patch test before using EO on a body part or the entire body. It’s vital if you haven’t used EOs before. So, apply a small amount of diluted EO on the back of your hand or elbow and look for signs and symptoms of an allergy or intolerance, such as skin rashes (hives), sneezing, and coughing. Some EOs that carry a higher risk of causing an allergy or sensitivity are tea tree oil, lemongrass oil, ylang-ylang oil, chamomile oil, and bergamot oil (4).
  1. Smell EO before you diffuse it. It’s necessary as several women report heightened smell sensitivity in pregnancy, due to which aromatic products such as EOs can overwhelm them. So, take a few drops of EO in a cotton ball and smell. If you feel the aroma of a particular oil is bothering you in any way, don’t diffuse the oil and seek the guidance of your doctor or an EO expert.
  1. Avoid applying EOs directly on inflamed, damaged, or bruised skin. Doing so may cause skin irritation or inflammation. The chances of this are higher for women who have extremely sensitive skin. Therefore, stay cautious while using EOs on the skin and avoid applying them around the eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent accidental ingestion.
  1. Never step out in the sun after applying EOs. Some EOs contain compounds that can cause the development of red, itchy burns, and blisters due to photosensitivity. Pregnant women are more photosensitive than their non-pregnant counterparts due to high levels of melanin stimulating hormone (4). So, take necessary precautions and don’t step out in the sun after applying EO on the skin. Citrus oils are more likely to cause photosensitivity.
  1. Always diffuse EOs in a well-ventilated room for 15 to 30 minutes with proper intervals in between. It’s an important precaution to observe as prolonged EO exposure can cause sensitive individuals to feel tired and nauseous (8). Talk to your doctor before diffusing EOs, especially if you are experiencing high levels of smell sensitivity.
  1. Don’t go overboard with EO use. It’s especially important during pregnancy when overuse of EO can affect you and your baby. So, follow the EO use frequency as recommended by your healthcare professional.

Note: Never put EOs near fire sources such as gas stoves or candles, as they are highly combustible.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I diffuse essential oils while pregnant?

You may diffuse diluted pure essential oils since mixed oils may contain chemicals. You may diffuse essential oils for aromatherapy while pregnant. External use of diluted essential oils is not known to harm the pregnant mother or her baby (6).

2. Can essential oils cause miscarriage?

There is not enough information proving that the essential oils in aromatherapy can cause miscarriage. However, the internal use of oils can be harmful (9).

Essential oils are highly volatile, aromatic products that you can safely use in pregnancy under proper guidance. You can use these oils for massage or make compresses using them. Alternatively, you can diffuse EOs for inhalation purposes. Whichever way you use EOs, use them as directed to mitigate their adverse effects on your and your baby’s health.

Key Pointers

  • You must choose a safe and appropriate essential oil to use during pregnancy as it can cross the placenta and impact your fetus.
  • However, essential oils have many benefits and aid in reducing stress, pains, stretch marks, insomnia, and more pregnancy-related health conditions.
  • Select a natural, non-toxic essential oil such as chamomile oil, lavender oil, tea tree, or sandalwood oil.
  • Note that some essential oils such as camphor, sage, and parsley seed oils are considered unsafe during pregnancy.


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Dr. Annal Vaidya is a former assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the prestigious Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital, Mumbai. He has three years of experience and currently works as a consultant in various hospitals in the city.

Read full bio of Dr. Annal Vaidya
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