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Aromatherapy during pregnancy

Tips for the pregnant woman for essential oils and aroma massage

Author: Doreen Corbey June 18 2008

pregnant woman holding a dummy

Aromatherapy - the use of essential oils extracted from natural or plant souces to treat an ailment or maintain a person's well-being – is a very popular treatment at beauty salons these days.

An aromatherapy session can be of two types: either the aromatherapist makes up a blend of essentail oils for you based on a detailed consultation, or a masseuse (who may or may not be trained in aromatherapy) gives a massage using essential oils in the massage oil.

Note: sometimes in salons, you cannot tell the difference between these 2 types of treatment because both are given the same name and the price is often about the same, so you may want to inquire if you specifically want an oil blend to be mixed for you.

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Whichever type of aromatherapy you choose, if you are pregnant you must of course take extra care not to do anything that might harm you or your child.

The risks

No matter how much you may yearn to try aromatherapy during your pregnancy, DO NOT do it during the 1st 12 weeks. The foetus is at its most vulnerable and, although it is not proven that any complementary therapy can cause a miscarriage, it is not worth the risk. The same goes if you have been bleeding during the pregnancy.

There is also the possibility that you undergo aromatherapy or other complementary treatment but don't know you're pregnant. Be honest with the therapist and tell her/him you are trying for a baby and they will treat you as though you were pregnant.

Aroma massage

Some salons do carry out massage specifically for pregnant women. If you feel uncomfortable about lying your tummy, then don't do it, and the therapist should place you on your side with a pillow for support. When pregnant I personally preferred to sit on a chair leaning forward against the massage couch, but the setup all depends on the therapist and you.

If you do decide to have aromatherapy or any type of massage, you should first ask permission from your midwife or doctor. This is because you could have symptoms resulting from the pregnancy such as high blood pressure or varicose veins which contra-indicate a massage.

Essential oils for the pregnant woman

If you want to try aromatherapy at home, it is very easy to obtain some essential oils, put them in the bath, burn them or make your own blend. Never underestimate the potency of essential oils. Even if not applied to the skin, by breathing in the aroma, the oils enter your bloodstream. One of the safest oils to try is mandarin (citrus reticulata). You could also use a carrier oil without essential oils. Here are a few that are good for the pregnant woman:

  • Grapeseed is an all-purpose oil, good for all skin types
  • Almond is oilier, good for itchy skins
  • Avocado, rich in vitamins A, B and D. Suits very dry skin and fatty areas. Better diluted with another oil as can be quite pungent
  • Wheatgerm is very thick and must be diluted with a thinner oil such as grapeseed. 10% dilution. Rich in vitamin E, good for dry skin
  • Peach kernel and apricot kernel are like almond oil but more expensive
  • Evening primrose rich in GLA (gamma linoleic acids) so good for dry skins and premature ageing. Quite thick so should be diluted, 10% dilution
  • Olive oil - a bit similar to almond but has a strong odour.

If you're interested in reading more, a good book is "Aromatherapy Workbook" (see below), which includes a chapter on pregnancy and babies.

Some good aromatherapy suppliers are: Tisserand, Cariad, Mother Earth, Penny Price and Eve Taylor. They sell in shops and do mail order.

Essential oils to avoid

My recommendation is, during the pregnancy, stay away from the following essential oils, which all have emmenagogue properties ie they are used to induce menstruation:

  • marjoram
  • jasmine
  • basil
  • rosemary
  • clary sage
  • melissa
  • thyme
  • juniper
  • rose damascena (until the 3rd trimester if you're healthy).

Jasmine and clary sage are especially risky and these are the oils that, if you are using a "doula", may be chosen for labour!

Stretchmarks

You may have read of potions and lotions which prevent stretchmarks, to name a few: Japanese camellia oil, calendula, St John's wort oil. I’m afraid to say I don't believe it! I have met women who have used nothing on their abdomens, have dry skin but no stretchmarks and those who've religiously plastered themselves in their chosen potion but still get a nasty surprise. Either way seems to make no difference. True, your skin will feel beautifully soft and silky - and the manufacturers will have made a packet because they always price these items more expensively, but if you're gonna to get stretchmarks, you're gonna get them!

Sources

  • "Aromatherapy Workbook" by Shirley Price

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About the Author

Doreen has had a passion for massage since she was 15 years old. She still has that passion, and offers massage, specialist facials and other beauty treatments in her home-based salon in Surrey. With any energy left over she will devour all the beauty pages of all the magazines she can lay her hands on!

Doreen's homepage: Bellessence

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Comments

Posted on 03/08/09 23:11 by: Donna Link-Emery

Can you tell me if it is safe to use a product called called Rescue Oil by Health Point when pregnant? The ingredients are almond oil, peach kernel oil, Evening Primrose Oil and Vitamin E.
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Posted on 06/08/09 10:36 by: Doreen Corbey

There are no essential oils listed in this mixture, all the oils mentioned are carrier oils and yes, they are all safe. The only point of caution is if you have a nut allergy or at least an allergy to almonds, you would avoid using almond oil if you were really worried. Enjoy the oil!
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Posted on 13/11/09 17:54 by: laura

I have been exposed to citronella oil on a couple of occasions while pregnant (I work with horses), have had no adverse effects that I know of but do you think this would be a problem? Thanks.
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Posted on 20/11/09 14:05 by: Doreen

Citronella is one of those oils which can induce menstruation so you should take care if using during pregnancy, although it isn't one of the major ones that crop up on the 'avoid' list. Aromatherapy rules for pregnancies tend to be very stringent, especially during the 1st trimester. Any scent can have more intensity if you're pregnant than if you're not, e.g. causing drowsiness, headache, nausea. If you use an essential oil that you should avoid, but it has no bad effects on you, then don't worry but just try not to use it again, or at least don't use it for too long at one time and in an enclosed space without fresh air. While I was pregnant I was using lots of oils including those from the 'avoid during pregnancy' list. They made me nauseous but I made sure I took breaks. I hope this helps and good luck.
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Posted on 02/02/10 10:44 by: claire rodway

I work as a support worker and someone I work with is an alternative therapist and she is pregnant. She is concerned about using carrier oils such as almond oil because of all the publicity about not eating nuts in pregnancy as it can mean your child then develops a nut allergy. Also she uses the burners frequently and is worried about the oils in these. She will be giving massages to people so I presume she still needs to avoid the oils in the list as they will go into her bloodstream? Thanks, Claire
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Posted on 05/02/10 13:57 by: Doreen Corbey

I think this fear of almond oil might have come about as a result of the fear that eating nuts during pregnancy will cause the baby to have a nut allergy. Fortunately, the FSA overturned this view back in Dec 2008. Carrier oils on the whole affect the skin they are massaged into and 'carry' the essential oils into the bloodstream. They themselves have molecules that are too large to penetrate any further than the outer skin. Having said this, if this lady is still worried, then she can change oil as the worry should not cause her undue stress.  She can use peach/apricot kernel oil which are very similar to almond oil, or even jojoba which has a balancing effect on the skin. With burning essential oils, definitely she must take care over which ones she uses as these will indeed find their way into her bloodstream.
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Posted on 23/06/10 12:42 by: deepti

I'm really thankful to you for such a nice article, I was looking for such a thing for a long time.
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Posted on 21/07/10 09:00 by: Minal

Hi, I am 6 months pregnant. I have dry skin. I would like to try some bath oils for relaxing tub-baths. Can you advise some that may be safe and effective?
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Posted on 26/07/10 22:06 by: Doreen Corbey

You can do a blend yourself with chamomile (Roman or German), lavender or mandarin in a carrier oil.  Use 2 drops per 5ml of oil before mixing it in with the bath water. Alternatively, after drying yourself out of the bath/shower, rub oil into your skin.  Camellia oil is fantastic as it doesn't leave your skin feeling greasy; calendula and St John's Wort together as a blend 50:50 is very nourishing for dry skin. Here are some suppliers that do ready blends: www.aromablend.co.uk and www.penny-price.com have a Mother & Baby range; www.quinnessence.com in their Body Oil range; www.eoco.org.uk.  You can use the blends in the bath or straight onto the skin.
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Posted on 13/06/11 00:21 by: Natalia

I am not pregnant myself but am new to creating bath and body products and am interested in scenting them with essential oils. I am worried that some essential oils can induce labor/miscarriage, so am iffy about using them in my products. I am trying to figure out if there are safe concentrations (like your standard peppermint foot cream doesn't have any "don't use while pregnant" warnings), or if the oil should be avoided altogether in any concentration. Any advice would be much appreciated.
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Posted on 13/06/11 13:55 by: Doreen Corbey

The concentration I usually stick to is between 1-2%, or 2 drops of essential oil to every 5ml of carrier product. If you're concerned about the concentration, go down to 1 drop per 5ml, e.g. in products for children/babies. Make a note of the oils I warn about during pregnancy in my article. Other oils to be cautious of are known skin irritants. This list comes out of Shirley Price's "Aromatherapy Workbook". She says skin irritant oils are: clove leaf, juniper, lemongrass, melissa (lemon balm), origanum, peppermint, savory and red thyme. I would add to the caution list bergamot, but only if you are exposing yourself to sunlight after application. Often, if you are blending the above cautioned oils with other essential oils, you are diluting them down to a point where they may irritate only the most sensitive of skins, e.g. peppermint. If you're using any oils in the bath remember to shake well so they mix properly with the carrier oil.
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