If you’re anything like most mamas-to-be, you’ve become very aware of what you put on and in your body. You’re reading labels, avoiding undercooked food, and steering clear of any restaurant with a grade-pending sign in the window. And if you’re an aromatherapy enthusiast, you may have put away your trusty bottles of essential oils. But, what if I told you you don’t have to say goodbye to most of your favorite oils? You just need to know how to use them.
Equipped with the right info, most women can safely use essential oils throughout their pregnancy. With these five steps, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the benefits of aromatherapy during your pregnancy, safely.
Step 1: Choose the right oil.
The first thing you want to do is choose an oil that is safe to use during pregnancy. While most oils can be used safely during pregnancy, there are some that should be avoided. This is where knowing the scientific name of an oil can come in handy. That’s because some oils go by more than one name or share a common name with another oil.
For example, let’s say you’re looking for lavender. There are a ridiculous number of lavenders on the market; and some are safe during pregnancy, while others are not. Spanish Lavender, Lavandula stoechas, is not recommended during pregnancy, but Lavender (aka English Lavender or True Lavender), Lavandula angustifolia, is a safe and effective choice to manage muscle pain, insomnia, and headaches.
Step 2: Dilute, dilute, dilute.
Proper dilution is one of the most important things to learn when you start using essential oils. Diluting them lowers your risk of adverse reactions. During pregnancy, a one percent dilution is typically what’s recommended. For some oils, you’ll want to go even lower. Here are a few examples:
- Lemongrass - 0.7%
- May Chang - 0.8%
- Melissa - 0.9%
- Honey Myrtle - 0.9%
- Lemon Myrtle - 0.7%
- Nasturtium Absolute - 0.26%
- Lemon Tea Tree - 0.8%
- Lemon Thyme - 0.8%
- Lemon Verbena - 0.9%
To dilute an oil, you add drops of essential oil to a carrier, which can be a vegetable oil, vegetable butter, hydrosol, unscented cream, lotion or soap, whole milk, aloe vera gel, aloe water, vinegar, honey, and even plain water. For 1 percent dilution, you add 6 drops of an essential oil for every 1 ounce (about 2 tbsp) of your carrier.
Step 3: Inhale and apply, but don’t ingest.
Both inhalation and topical application of an essential oil that has been properly diluted are considered safe during pregnancy, but oral use is generally frowned upon during pregnancy.
This doesn’t mean you need to avoid using toothpaste or mouthwash or eating food flavored with essential oils. The amounts found in those products are considered safe to take in during your pregnancy. But you definitely want to avoid taking in therapeutic amounts, unless under the direct instruction and supervision of a clinical aromatherapist and health care provider.
Step 4: Practice sun safety.
Though it is safe to apply diluted essential oils on your skin during pregnancy, some oils are phototoxic, which means they can increase your chance of sunburn. For those oils, putting them on your skin isn’t the safest way to use them, especially if you’ll be in the sun soon after you apply them.
Fig leaf absolute, verbena, rue oil, cumin oil, laurel leaf, bergamot, and most citrus oils fall are some of the oils that fall into that category. If you decide to put on a phototoxic oil, you’ll want to avoid exposing the treated skin to the sun for at least 24 hours.
Really love the smell of citrus peel oils and want to use it topically before going in the sun? You can use the distilled version without fear of sunburn. Distilled citrus peel oils are not phototoxic like their expressed counterparts. You can also look for bergapten-free bergamot (you may also see it labeled as bergapten less, FCF, furanocoumarin-free).
Step 5: Keep some extra carrier oil on hand.
Sometimes no matter how many precautions you take, things will still go wrong. You may accidentally spill an undiluted oil on your skin or notice irritation after applying a diluted oil. If that happens, try rubbing a plain carrier oil into your skin. If the irritation persists, you’ll want to contact your healthcare provider.
Essential oil safety is important no matter what stage of life you're in, but even more so when you’re growing a tiny human inside of you. Following these five steps, you'll be able to use essential oils confidently and safely during your pregnancy and beyond.