Essential Oils during Pregnancy

Essential Oils during Pregnancy
Myths Exposed & Some Facts

by Martin Watt 2013-14

Several ladies have emailed me about this issue. They have been scared about
the effects on their baby after using essential oils while pregnant but only later
reading about the dangers. Below I am providing some facts to dispel the
common aromatherapy nonsense on this issue.

Disclaimer: If someone believes what they read elsewhere on this issue, and
the natural process of miscarriage happens. I cannot accept responsibility for
such an event claimed to be due to following advice given below.

The use of most essential oils during pregnancy by means of massage, or in
the occasional use of diffusers should be safe. That is as long as the inhalation
is not constant or in badly ventilated rooms. As with everything the key is
volume used.
During pregnancy to use essential oils internally as medicine is
not a wise move. However, to have them diluted in massage should be fine. By
diluted I mean to around 2% of their original concentration. Likewise a few
drops in a bath should be OK. Numerous essential oils are permitted food
flavours under International regulations. If they are considered safe for
ingestion in foods then they are even safer when used externally. However,
beware of the many 'novel' oils being sold that have not been tested
for safety issues.
They may be safe, but without testing no one knows.

Beware of the dangerous and unscrupulous information on the many Young
Living and DoTerra web sites, their distributors blogs and similar social media
where they promote the use of undiluted oils. Ignore their claims of
medical or other research, they take facts of no relevance to aromatherapy
and then twist them to suit their marketing scams.

Ingestion of essential oils at greater levels than the small amounts
allowed in food is risky for anyone but even more so during pregnancy.
There are two main safety issues:

1. The potential for causing development problems in a fetus.

2. The high risk of consuming an oil that is not half as natural as the suppliers
claim. As pointed out in other articles, adulterated oils can contain all kinds of
dangerous chemical residues.

Other precautions: It is not unusual for mothers-to-be to develop
hypersensitive skin during pregnancy. Skin application of essential oils in such
circumstances may trigger a skin reaction. If the skin is too sensitive it may be
that a little oil in a diffuser for relaxation can be tolerated.

General comments on the misinformation over
essential oils in pregnancy.

Most of the claims you will come across on aromatherapy web sites and in
books relating to the dangers of essential oils in pregnancy are either
inventions or corrupted science. They mostly originate from known and
suspected data on the consumption of the herb in which the oils occur. The
early authors had little to no knowledge of the fundamental chemical
difference between herbal preparations and essential oils.
Therefore if a
herb had a reputation as an abortifacient, they just assumed the oil from the
same plant would do the same. That is one of the biggest blunders made in

Another error is assuming that because an essential oil is toxic if consumed,
that therefore using it diluted on the skin will also cause fetal toxicity. This gets
back to the question of skin absorption. There is no sound evidence that
enough of most diluted essential oils can penetrate the skin from massage as
to cause systemic toxicity.

There are always exceptions to the above of course and there is some evidence
that wintergreen and birch oils may be absorbed in dangerous volumes.

Therefore, these should not be used during pregnancy. Incidentally,
neither of these products are "natural" in the same way as distilled oils. They
are in fact chemicals made from processing plants.

Another common scientific error is in the testing of oils and their component
chemicals. Frequently the oil to be tested is applied to a piece of isolated gut or
uterus from a lab animal. Then when the tissue contracts they classify the
substance as an "abortifacient" and build a whole story around that unsound

Numerous essential oils are classed as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) for
food additives by the FDA. The World Health Organisation also classify many
oils as food flavours. Most of the essential oils that aromatherapists are told
"not to use on pregnant women", are in reality, in small amounts, permitted
food flavourings. Please note though that GRAS status is not a passport to use
the oil anyway you like. It is always related to the volumes in common use in
the industries concerned and at the volumes they use. These volumes can be
very low compared to what some aromatherapists use.

Dangerous natural chemicals in some oils.

There is a lot of misinformation around on the dangers of some chemicals in
essential oils. This misinformation often comes from National consumer safety
agencies who cannot be entirely trusted on such issues. Some of them list d-
limonene as dangerous. Well we had all better stop eating oranges then or
drinking orange flavoured drinks!! The scientific world is packed with such
misleading information.

Good examples of hyped dangers are:

1. sabinyl acetate in Spanish sage. You can test many chemicals occurring
in essential oils and they will prove to be toxic when administered to mice in
massive volumes. This way of testing for dangers is crazy but common. In the
case of Spanish sage it is recognised as safe for human consumption as a plant
extract (21 CFR section 182.20 [1982]).

Salvia lavandulifolia essential oil was tested with a sabinyl acetate content of
50%. However, the tests involved direct injection of huge doses of the chemical
into the pregnant mice. Hardly surprising therefore that it caused maternal
toxicity and thus abortion, but it was not fetotoxic. Phytotherapy Research
2006. Volume 6 Issue 2, Pages 80 - 83.

2. Apiol in parsley seed, Dill and Celery seed oils. These are commonly used
in many traditional food dishes without any evidence of harm. Rarely do we
hear of doctors advising pregnant ladies to avoid these foods, but of course to
consume these oil during pregnancy would not be wise.

3. Pennyroyal and Pulegone, see the article 'Pennyroyal' in the archive for
greater detail.

4. Rose oil is listed by many aromatherapy sources as an "emmenagogue".
There is not a shed of sound evidence for this and rose oil is a permitted food
flavour. Indeed the ladies in Turkey who spend hours picking the flowers
consider that rose makes for a happy and healthy child.

There are numerous similar examples of nonsense based on a complete lack of
knowledge, much of this is taught to aromatherapists by "approved" course

Toxicity is dose dependent. It is misleading in the extreme to say that
because an essential oil contains a known toxic chemical that by default the oil
it occurs in is also dangerous. You must know how much is in the oil and how
much does it take to cause toxicity. If we always considered such matters we
would die from starvation because nearly all natural foods contain chemicals
which in isolation are toxic.

With skin application of most essential oils, chronic toxicity requires regular
use at high volumes over protracted periods of time. Exceptions being
wintergreen and sweet birch.

With inhalation, chronic toxicity could occur if is someone were foolish enough
to sit in an unventilated room every day using diffusers constantly. Therefore
that kind of exposure would not be advisable during pregnancy.

The Usefulness of Aromatherapy in Pregnancy.

Aromatherapy is an appropriate treatment for easing ailments during
pregnancy. Aromatherapy massage can help relieve backache which is common
as the baby grows, as well as keeping the tissues in supple state. The
fragrance of the oils alone can help reduce stress, improve sleep, relieve
morning sickness, etc.

During pregnancy the use of essential oils should be treated the same as
medicines, if you don't need them don't use them. However, for many of the
ailments that can occur during pregnancy, essential oils are a safer alternative
to chemical drugs.

Summary: To me safety is paramount, but we should look at sound
evidence for and against, rather than to old wives tales and myths. I
am certain that most of the aromatherapy writings on the dangers of
essential oils in pregnancy are mainly urban myths, mixed up weak
knowledge on herbs and corrupted science.

Errors on Internet sites

After doing a search on 'essential oils in pregnancy' I found some appalling
articles written by people who either got all they know from the popular
aromatherapy novels, or low quality courses. Below is one article with the
errors outlined. The writer or web sites either cannot be contacted or
their sites are no longer serviced but are still on the Internet.

“ text...” : Is all from their online article.
Blue text: My comments.

“Aromatherapy and Pregnancy”
“There are many essential oils that need to be avoided during pregnancy. The
following list contains oils that should be avoided during pregnancy and oils
that are recommended for use during pregnancy. Use of essential oils should
be extremely limited or avoided during the first trimester of pregnancy, but has
many wonderful uses in the last two trimesters and especially during labour.”

“Oils to avoid during pregnancy”
“Basil, cedarwood, Cinnamon which one?, clary sage (during labor), clove,
cypress (after 5 months), fennel, hyssop, Jasmine (during labor), juniper,
lemongrass, myrrh, parsley and pennyroyal.” No evidence of harm from
external use of these diluted oils.

Nearly all these claims are corruptions from herbal medicine when it is taken
internally. Some are permitted in foods (at low levels of use). No limitations
on the consumption of those flavoured foods during pregnancy are require nor
warning labels. Therefore, externaluse of the diluted essential oil at or below
the same levels of use in foods, should cause no problem to a foetus.

“Oils recommended during pregnancy”
“The following oils will be comfortable for using during pregnancy. As always,
use caution if you have allergies or a family history of allergies. If you feel you
may be allergic to oil, do a patch test first. Good oils for pregnancy include”:

“Bergamot, chamomile, which one? cypress (after 5 mos.)-no valid reason for
eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium (avoid in early pregnancy),-as above
grapefruit, lavender, lemon, mandarin, neroli, patchouli, petitgrain, rosewood,
sandalwood and tangerine. If you are currently pregnant and have been using
any of the essential oils that need to be avoided, but are not experiencing any
bleeding or cramping, then there most likely is nothing wrong. However, it is
strongly encouraged you to consult your doctor or midwife and discontinue use
of the "to be avoided" essential oils.” 99.99% of Doctors know nothing about
these issues.

“Aromatherapy Benefits for Pregnancy”
“Listed below are some of the benefits and therapeutic effects of the essential
oils recommended for use during pregnancy”:

Bergamot: Analgesic-not true, antiseptic, antidepressant, uplifting, and
refreshing. Helpful for cystitis during pregnancy-not true.

Chamomile: which one? Antiseptic, analgesic-not true, anti-inflammatory and
antispasmodic. Soothes pain from muscular aches, headaches, toothaches and
indigestion-not true.

Cypress: (ok after 5 mos.)-no valid reason for this, Antiseptic, antispasmodic,
astringent and diuretic. Helpful for Varicose veins, hemorrhoids and swollen
ankles. All nonsense based on herbal use NOT the essential oil.

Eucalyptus: Antiseptic, antibiotic-nottrue, analgesic, anti-inflammatory,
antiviral-not true, Helpful with respiratory congestion.

Frankincense: Antiseptic, astringent-not true, sedative, warming

Geranium:(ok after 3 mos.)-no valid reason for this, Antiseptic,
antidepressant, astringent-not true, refreshing, uplifting. Eases aching legs and
is good for poor circulation-nonsense.

Grapefruit: Astringent-not true, digestive aid, lymphatic stimulant, helps with
Water retention. All nonsense.

Lavender: Antiseptic, antibiotic-not true, analgesic, antidepressant, healing,
relaxing, helps soothe aches and pains of pregnancy, encourages cell renewal
and helps with fluid retention-that is total nonsense.

Lemon: Antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, astringent-nonsense, stimulant,
tonic. Useful as an inhalant for morning sickness and in Massage for varicose
veins-very Dangerous.

Mandarin: Antiseptic, refreshing, tonic, mild relaxant. Can ease fluid retention
in leg and ankle massages. The massage does that NOT essential oils.

Neroli: Antiseptic, antidepressant, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, relaxing.
Useful in pregnancy to promote healthy skin cell regeneration??? and for
easing nervous tension. OK

Patchouli: Antiseptic, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, nerve sedative.
Eases confusion, indecision and apathy. OK

Petitgrain: Antiseptic, antidepressant, sedative, refreshing, tonic. Helpful in
dealing with pre or postpartum depression. OK

Rosewood: Antiseptic, sedative-doubtful

Sandalwood: Antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, sedative. Helpful
for cystitis during pregnancy. No sound evidence and as most so called
'sandalwood oil' is adulterated, this is a hazardous suggestion.

Tangerine: Antispasmodic, lymphatic stimulant-nonsense, calming, sedative.
Helps to prevent stretch marks-doubtful.

Tea tree: Antibiotic-wrong term and it is not, antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral-
the oil is not, disinfectant. Can be used to treat thrush during pregnancy.

Ylang ylang: Antiseptic, antidepressant, aphrodisiac, sedative, lowers blood
Pressure-evidence? Restorative when overworked or tense.

Summary: You can see what a mash of sound and unsound information
is on most websites such as this. In most cases it is because the
authors of the sites have just copied their claims out of aromatherapy
books and from other web blogs.

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