Are Essential Oils Safe for Pregnancy?

Make sure your favorite essential oils are safe for you and your baby during pregnancy.

essential oil drip
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While popular, essential oils may not always be safe to use during pregnancy. Essential oils have a rich history as natural, holistic treatments for a whole host of ailments. There is even some evidence that certain oil can help relieve certain unpleasant pregnancy symptoms, but are essential oils always safe during pregnancy? The fact is that there's simply not much research on the effect of the substances on developing fetuses.

Here's what you need to know before sniffing your favorite aromatherapy scent or slathering on an essential oil during each trimester of your pregnancy. (And remember, always ask a medical provider or birthing specialist, such as a midwife or doctor, if you aren't sure!)

Essential Oils in the First Trimester

You shouldn't use essential oils in early pregnancy because they could potentially cause uterine contractions or adversely affect your baby in their early developmental stages, explains Jill Edwards, N.D., an Oregon-based doctor of naturopathic medicine who specializes in prenatal care.

More research needs to be conducted on the topic, but it's always better to be safe than sorry. Pregnant people should also avoid aromatherapy products and treatments in the first trimester, since essential oils are the key ingredients used in aromatherapy.

Essential Oils in the Second and Third Trimesters

"In the second and third trimesters, some essential oils are safe to use, as your baby is more developed," Edwards adds. Essential oils that are generally considered safe later into pregnancy include lavender, chamomile, and ylang-ylang—all of which calm, relax, and aid sleep. But the list of essential oils that are potentially at your disposal during pregnancy is a lot longer.

The following essential oils are generally considered safe in pregnancy, according to the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA):

  • Benzoin
  • Bergamot
  • Black pepper
  • Chamomile (German and Roman)
  • Cypress
  • Eucalyptus
  • Frankincense
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Grapefruit
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Mandarin
  • Neroli
  • Petitgrain
  • Rose otto
  • Sandalwood
  • Sweet marjoram
  • Sweet orange
  • Tea tree
  • Ylang-ylang

Of course, you should ask your medical provider before using any essential oil, including those on the IFPA's list, and you might want to avoid them until the second trimester. Additionally, you'll want to ensure that you always use essential oils safely.

Tips for Using Essential Oils Safely

  • Stick with quality, unadulterated essential oils from a reputable brand, advises the IFPA.
  • Only use essential oils externally.
  • Dilute essential oils with a carrier oil like olive oil or coconut oil before applying them to the skin.

Essential Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy

Oils that can cause uterine contractions are a definite no-no during pregnancy—and that list includes some common ones like cinnamon, clove, rosemary, and clary sage. The following are some of the essential oils you should skip until your baby arrives:

  • Aniseed
  • Arnica
  • Basil
  • Bitter almond
  • Boldo leaf
  • Broom
  • Buchu
  • Calamus
  • Camphor (brown or yellow)
  • Cassia
  • Cedarwood/thuja
  • Chervil
  • Cinnamon
  • Clary sage
  • Clove (bud, leaf, or stem)
  • Coriander
  • Costus
  • Deertongue
  • Dwarf pine
  • Elecampane
  • Fennel
  • Horseradish
  • Hyssop
  • Jaborandi leaf
  • Juniper berry
  • Melilotus
  • Mugwort
  • Mustard
  • Nutmeg
  • Origanum
  • Parsley
  • Pennyroyal
  • Red thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Rue
  • Sassafras
  • Savin
  • Summer savory
  • Sweet birch
  • Tansy
  • Tonka
  • Wintergreen
  • Wormwood
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