Aromatherapy for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

by Sherilyn Siegmund-Roach


Chances are, if you are reading this, you are either pregnant or know someone who is or will be. Congratulations! Pregnancy is a particularly beautiful time for a family, but it is not always the most comfortable time for the pregnant parent. Plant extracts, in the form of whole herbs, herbal infusions, essential oils, and hydrosols, can calm a parent’s anxiety, lift a parent’s spirits, and help with a parent’s discomfort.

Pregnancy is also a unique condition where one must take into consideration how the plant affects a parent’s mind and body, and then, ultimately, how that might affect the developing baby. Unfortunately, we do not usually know how susceptible any given fetal developmental phase is to any one influence and doing controlled scientific experiments to determine these phases is unethical. These issues provide us with unique challenges when we use plant extracts to help pregnant mothers.

This also means that we rely more on traditional and anecdotal information and less on blinded, controlled scientific studies for our knowledge base, when it comes to using plant extracts with pregnant parents. Our observation and listening skills become even more vital, as we work together with the parent, within the known bounds of plant extract safety, to find the best plant extracts to help the pregnant parent with the unique and individual needs that person has.

Safety

  • What do you think of when you think of essential oil safety?
  • Do you think of contraindications? Skin irritation? Allergies? Toxicity? Risk?
  • How does one navigate that grey area between “can” and “can’t,” “should” and “shouldn’t?”
  • When does a hazard become no longer worth the risk?

Safety does involve all those considerations, but it is not only about the negatives. Safety also means security, defense, invulnerability, assurance, shelter, and refuge. During this time when both the parent and the growing baby are more vulnerable to environmental insults than they are at other times, feeling safe is even more important. Fortunately, essential oils can support pregnant parents safely from the second trimester through postpartum in numerous ways.

Clinical Evidence

Although it is difficult to collect research data on pregnant human beings for ethical reasons, we do have an ever-growing collection of clinical studies that address the efficacy of essential oils during this challenging and unique time in a person’s life. Most of the studies do not directly address the safety of the essential oils, but we currently know enough to assure us of the relative safety of a number of botanical extracts, including essential oils.

The studies have also given us the confidence to say that during pregnancy, essential oils can alleviate:

  • feelings of nausea and number of vomiting episodes
  • anxiety and anxious thinking or overthinking
  • depressive thinking
  • stress
  • pain

Often, we find that the essential oil interventions are as effective as other known interventions, with fewer adverse effects. Proper essential oil use during labor has also resulted in a decreased need for further interventions, such as Cesarean sections, analgesic use, and babies needing NICU support.

We have learned that those well-known essential oils that are in everyone’s essential oil cabinet like Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Lemon (Citrus limon) can be our strongest allies during pregnancy. We have ample clinical evidence that Lavender can help with anxiety (Guo et al., 2020, Tabatabaeichehr & Mortazavi, 2020), depression (Go & Park, 2017), stress (Chen et al., 2017), and pain (Abbaspoor & Mohammadkhani, 2013) during pregnancy. We are also confident that Lavender, when used correctly, is very safe (Tisserand, 2011). At this point, Lemon is the only essential oil with clinical evidence of efficacy against morning sickness in week 10 of pregnancy (Yavari, et al., 2014).

Application

During times of stress, and during pregnancy in particular, people tend to be hypersensitive, including having a heightened sense of smell. Although this often manifests as nausea, headache, and discomfort in pregnant individuals, it can also work to our advantage during pregnancy.

The beauty of aromatherapy is in its very name – aroma-therapy. When we take advantage of the various ways we can inhale essential oils, we have a powerful way of delivering support to someone struggling with various challenges and discomforts in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. For emotional support for stress, worry, or depressive thinking, inhaling appropriate essential oils can bring significant relief, and with a heightened sense of smell, a person would need to use less oil to bring about the desired effect.

Aromatic Inhalation Blend for Worry and Stress

This blend can be used in an inhaler, diffuser, or dripped on a cotton ball or tissue.

25% Lavender EO (Lavandula angustifolia)
25% Lemon EO (Citrus limon)
50% Bergamot EO (Citrus bergamia)

During the second and third trimesters topical application of essential oils can also be an effective tool. Apply appropriate essential oils in up to a 1% dilution to address stress, digestive discomfort, pain, and other challenges. For many essential oils, such as Lavender, 1% dilutions often offer the most efficacious concentration of the essential oil, so using such dilutions during pregnancy is a powerful approach to coping with pregnancy discomforts.

Foot Rub for Tired Feet

Rub 1 teaspoon (5ml) of this lotion into each foot before bedtime.

1 oz. (30ml) unscented lotion
2 drops Peppermint EO (Mentha x piperita)
3 drops Lavender EO (Lavandula angustifolia)

Inhalation and topical application provide a plethora of approaches to practically any issue a pregnant parent might face, while protecting the parent, the pregnancy, and the developing infant. When it comes to pregnancy, it is best to avoid internal use of any essential oil, especially all forms of oral ingestion. The issue of toxicity increases significantly and is not worth the increased risk when there are safer approaches available. The vast majority of reported adverse events during pregnancy have occurred after the pregnant parent ingested some amount of an essential oil or other botanical extract. There are safer alternatives – use them. Your baby is worth it!

There are those essential oils one should avoid during pregnancy, but many of our favorites, Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Lemon (Citrus limon), Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis), Mandarin (Citrus reticulata), Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), and Ginger (Zingiber officinale), have clinical evidence of efficacy in a variety of situations. If you use those six essential oils appropriately, you can feel safe, secure, and confident.

However, if you wish to know more about what to avoid in pregnancy, as well as other oils with positive track records for use, please join us for the Essential Oils in Pregnancy course. This course focuses on the safe and appropriate use of essential oils, especially those with clinical evidence supporting their use. It also discusses how to use some CO2 extracts, absolutes, hydrosols/hydrolats, whole herbs, herbal teas, and herbal infused oils. You will walk away knowing which essential oils to avoid and how to use safe and efficacious essential oils to address pregnancy concerns.

Interested in deepening your knowledge and application of essential oils during pregnancy? Join Sherilyn for her new live online course beginning July 19th:

Essential Oil in Pregnancy


To learn more about Essential Oils in Pregnancy check out our online course HERE!


References

Abbaspoor, Z., & Mohammadkhani, S.L. (2013). Lavender aromatherapy massage in reducing labor pain and duration of labor: A randomized controlled trial. African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 7(8), 426-430.

Chen, P.J., Chou, C.C., Yang, L., Tsai, Y.L., Change, Y.C., & Liaw, J.J. (2017). Effects of aromatherapy massage on pregnant women’s stress and immune function: A longitudinal prospective, randomized controlled trial. Journal of Alternative and complementary Medicine, 23(10), 778-786.

Go, Y.Y., & Park. H. (2017). Effects of aroma inhalation therapy on stress, anxiety, depression, and the autonomic nervous system in high-risk pregnant women. Korean Journal of Women Health Nursing, 23(1), 33-41. DOI: 10.4069/kjwhn.2017.23.1.33

Guo, P., Li, P., Zhang, X., Liu, N., Wang, J., Yang, S., Yu, L., & Zhang, W. (2020). The effectiveness of aromatherapy on preoperative anxiety in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 111(103747). DOI: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2020.103747

Tabatabaeichehr, M., & Mortazavi, H. (2020). The effectiveness of aromatherapy in the management of labor pain and anxiety: A systematic review. Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences, 30(3), 449-458. DOI:10.4314/ejhs.v30i0.16

Tisserand, R. (2011). Lavender oil and pregnancy. Robert Tisserand. Retrieved 20 May 2021 from https://roberttisserand.com/2011/07/lavender-oil-and-pregnancy/

Yavari, K.P., Safajou, F., Shahnazi, M., & Nazemiyeh, H. (2014). The effect of lemon inhalation aromatherapy on nausea and vomiting of pregnancy: A double-blinded, randomized, controlled clinical trial. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 16(3), e14360. DOI:10.5812/ircmj.14360