It's safe to use some essential oils while you're pregnant, as long as you're healthy and you're careful with them. Essential oils are highly concentrated substances extracted from plants. They are powerful, so it's important to use them sparingly.
Essential oils are used in aromatherapy, which is a complementary therapy. The oils contain chemicals which can be absorbed into your body. Essential oils can be diluted with a base or carrier oil for massage, or put in a vaporiser for you to breathe them in. Once inside your body, they work in the same way as drugs or medicines. Because essential oil molecules are very small, there is a possibility that they may cross the placenta and reach your growing baby's circulation.
We do not know exactly what effect essential oils may have on a developing baby. Studies have only tested oils on animals, with varying results. It's most likely that you would need to use huge amounts of essential oils before they could do any harm to your baby.
We do know that many mums-to-be find aromatherapy helpful in easing pregnancy niggles. These include backache, nausea or swollen ankles. If you want to use aromatherapy oils, it's a good idea to take the following precautions:
• Only use one or two drops of essential oil at a time.
• Dilute the essential oil by mixing the drops with at least a teaspoon (5ml) of a base oil before you add it to a bath or massage it into your skin. Grapeseed oil or sweet almond oil work well as base oils.
• You can add drops of the oil to a vaporiser, but don't leave it on for longer than 10 or 15 minutes in each hour. If you leave it on for too long, the smell can be overpowering and make you feel nauseous.
• It's best to start using essential oils once you are past the first trimester.
If you use them in the first trimester, always consult an aromatherapist who's trained in treating mums-to-be.
Oils that are safe for you to use
As long as your pregnancy is going well, it's fine for you to use:
• citrus oils, such as tangerine and neroli
• german chamomile
• common lavender
• black pepper
• ylang ylang
Oils that are not safe for you to use
Don't use the following essential oils while you are pregnant:
• nutmeg, which may have hallucinogenic effects and react with pain-relieving drugs in labour
• rosemary, which is thought to increase blood pressure, and may cause contractions
• basil, which is thought to contribute to abnormal cell development
• jasmine and clary sage, which may trigger contractions
• sage, which may cause bleeding in your uterus (womb)
• juniper berry, which may affect your kidneys
In some circumstances, it's best to steer clear of essential oils altogether. Don't use any oils if:
• you have a history of miscarriage
• you have had any vaginal bleeding in this pregnancy
• you have epilepsy
• you have heart problems
• you have diabetes, blood clotting problems, or have thyroid, liver or kidney disease
It's always a good idea to talk to your doctor or midwife before using essential oils.