Essential Oil Safety During Pregnancy

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Essential Oil Safety During Pregnancy (lactation/breastfeeding)

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or using the essential oils on or around young children, it is especially important to be sure the oils you are using are safe for you to use. Although there is not much information out there on exactly if and how much of the essential oil constituents cross the placenta, it’s safe to assume it does cross the placenta and can affect the growing baby.

Here are some general guidelines for essential oil use during pregnancy and lactation:

  • daily use of any essential oils are not recommended – limiting use to relieving nausea or insomnia is preferred
  • topical use should be limited to a 1% dilution over large areas and no more than 3% for small areas. Using oils “neat” (undiluted) is never recommended
  • steam inhalation should be used with caution – diffusion is preferred
  • internal use is never advised
  • avoid the use of any absolutes or solvent-extracted essential oils (avoiding synthetic fragrance oils goes without saying)

The following essential oils are not recommended for use during pregnancy or lactation/breastfeeding (those marked with a * can be used at a low dilution with caution):

  • Anise Pimpinella anisum due to the constituents anethole (6) and safrole (10)
  • * Lemon Basil Ocimum x citriodorum due to the constituent citral (9)
  • Birch Betula lenta due to the constituent methyl salicylate (3)
  • Camphor Cinnamomum camphora due to the constituent camphor (1) and safrole (10)
  • Carrot Seed Daucus carota as it may prevent implantation
  • Cassia Cinnamomum cassia as it may cause toxicity to the embryo
  • Cinnamon Bark Cinnamomum verum as it may cause toxicity to the embryo, and due to the constituent safrole (10)
  • Dill Seed Anethum graveolens due to the constituent apiole (4)
  • Fennel Foeniculum vulagre due to the constituent anethole (6)
  • * Frankincense Boswellia papyrifera due to the constituent octyl acetate
  • Ho Leaf Cinnamomum camphora due to the constituents camphor (1) and safrole (10)
  • Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis due to the constituent pinocamphone
  • Indian Dill Seed Anethus sowa due to the constituent apiole (4)
  • French/Spanish Lavender Lavandula stoechas due to the constituents fenchone and camphor (1)
  • * Australian Lemon Balm Eucalyptus staigeriana due to the constituent citral (9)
  • * Lemongrass Cymbopogon flexuosus due to the constituent citral (9)
  • * May Chang Litsea cubeba due to the constituent citral (9)
  • Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris due to the constituent thujone (7)
  • * Myrrh Commiphora myrrha due to the constituent elemene (8)
  • Myrtle Backhousia anisata due to the constituent anethole (6)
  • * Honey Myrtle Melaleuca teretifolia due to the constituent citral (9)
  • * Lemon Myrtle Backhousia citriodora due to the constituent citral (9)
  • Nutmeg Mysristica fragrans due to the constituents myristicin and safrole (10)
  • Oregano Origanum anites (and other species) due to emryotoxicity
  • Parsley Leaf or Seed Petroslinum sativum due to the constituent apiole (4)
  • Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium due to the constituent pulegone metaboli (5)
  • Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis due to the constituent camphor (1)
  • Rue Ruta graveolens due to short-chain ketones
  • Sage Salvia officinalis due to the constituent thujone (7)
  • Spanish Sage Salvia lavandulaefolia due to the constituent sabinyl acetate (2)
  • Tansy Tanacetum vulgare due to the constituent thujone (7)
  • * Lemon Tea Tree Leptospermum petersonii due to the constituent citral (9)
  • Thuja Thuja occidentalis due to the constituent thujone (7)
  • * Lemon Thyme Thymus x citriodorus due to the constituent citral (9)
  • * Lemon Verbena Aloysia triphylla due to the constituent citral (9)
  • Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens due to the constituent methyl salicylate (3)
  • Wormwood Artemisia absinthium due to the constituents thujone (7), sabinyl acetate (2), and camphor (1)
  • Yarrow Achillea millefolium due to various constituents

(1) camphor is known to cross the placenta and become very toxic to the growing baby. Avoid all internal and topical use during pregnancy.

(2) sabinyl acetate causes abortions and/or deformities in fetuses. Avoid all internal and external use during pregnancy. In addition to those marked above, sabinyl acetate is found in Savin (Juniperus sabina) and Juniper (Juniperus pfitzeriana). NOTE: Juniper Berry (Juniperus communis) does not contain sabinyl acetate and is safe for use during pregnancy.

(3) methyl salicylate causes deformities in developing mammals at high oral doses. Avoid all internal use and limit external use during pregnancy.

(4) apiole is an abortifacient, and not recommended for internal or external use during pregnancy.

(5) pulegone metaboli can cause liver toxicity for the mother, and is not recommended for internal use; limit external use. In addition to Pennyroyal, this constituent is also found in Peppermint, Spearmint, Buchu, Cornmint, and Calamint.

(6) anethole can prevent implantation.

(7) thujone is neurotixic

(8) elemene can restrict blood vessel growth

(9) citral is teratogenic, which means it can cause malformations to the baby

(10) safrole can cause kidney and liver tumors to develop in the baby. It is recommended that all internal use of safrole-contaning essential oils should be avoided, and external use limited. Actual safrole content varies, so please check the GC/MS reports for exact percentages in the oils you will be using.

It goes without saying these are not recommended as well: Essential Oils Never to Buy.

Essential oils shown to be safe during pregnancy are (please follow max dilution recommendations as provided in  Essential Oil Safety):

  • Copaiba Copaifera langsdorfii, Copaifera officinalis
  • Coriander Coriandrum sativum
  • Cypress Cupressus sempervirens
  • Fir Needle Abies sachalinensis, Abies sibirica, Abies alba
  • Frankincense Boswellia frereana, Boswellia sacra, Boswellia carteri, Boswellia serrata, Boswellia neglecta, Boswellia rivae
  • Grapefruit Citrus x paradisi
  • Juniperberry Juniperus communis
  • Lavender Lavandula angustifolia
  • Spike Lavender Lavandula latifolia
  • Mandarin Citrus reticulata
  • Neroli Citrus x aurantium
  • Rosewood Aniba rosaeodora
  • Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris
  • Sweet Orange Citrus sinensis
  • Norway Spruce Picea abies
  • Tangerine Citrus reticulata
  • Thyme ct linalool Thymus vulgaris

Sources: Aromahead, Essential Oil Safety.

Much of this information can be found in the e-report, Using Essential Oils Safely. FREE when you sign up for our newsletter here.

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Lea Harris is a Certified Aromatherapist with Advanced Graduate training from Aromahead Institute in July 2013, but she is not a doctor. Please consult a trained aromatherapist or your doctor before using any of the suggestions on this website, as the user's age and health conditions must be taken into account before using. The information contained in this website is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.


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