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Aromatherapy in Pregnancy

by Wendy Mackay MIAAMA

Aromatherapy in Pregnancy

People are often very concerned about the use of aromatherapy and essential oils during pregnancy. Some, including some aromatherapists, even advise not to use any essential oils at all. I personally think that is a bit extreme, and also a great pity, as essential oils can be quite useful in helping the prospective mum through this time.

There are a number of reasons that the area of aromatherapy and pregnancy has become the subject of so much concern. There is little specific research relating to essential oil use in pregnancy. (The ethical problems of conducting such research prevents anyone really wanting to step into that area.) So much of what we know comes from anecdotal evidence from practitioners as well as the extrapolation of our knowledge of individual components of essential oils.  Obviously this can result in some differences of opinion, not to mention advice changing over time as more is known (as well as some clinging to outdated advice.) But the problem remains that with conflicting or changing advice often people are left not knowing what, if anything they can use.

The fact remains however that there are some specific considerations and concerns when using essential oils while pregnant, and it is often a good idea to see a qualified aromatherapist for some specific advice for your situation.  However there are some general guidelines that will help you to use essential oils safely during pregnancy.

Obviously the first issue is which essential oils can you and can you not use safely whilst pregnant. 

There are of course some essential oils that are considered generally to be toxic and which shouldn’t be used at all.  Many of these essential oils are not widely available so it is not difficult to avoid them. But in addition there are a number which may have some uses normally (although with varying guidelines – always check before use.), but which should be avoided during pregnancy due to specific pregnancy-related risks. The essential oils to avoid altogether in pregnancy include -

Ajowan, aniseed, anise star, araucaria, artemisia vestita, atractylis, birch sweet, buchu ( diosphonol and pulegone chemotypes), calamint, carrot seed, cassia, some types of cedarwood , cinnamon bark, costus, cypress blue, dill seed (Indian), bitter fennel, fennel sweet, feverfew, genipi, hibawood, ho leaf, hyssop, lanyana, lavender Spanish, mugwort, myrrh, myrtle aniseed, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, pennyroyal, rue, sage common (Dalmationa) & Spanish, savin, tansy, thuja, wintergreen, wormseed, wormwood, yarrow, zeodary

Some essential oils may be able to be used in very limited amounts or in limited ways during pregnancy. (Please seek professional advice if you want to use these oils, to ensure you stay within safe limits.) These oils include-

basil(lemon), boswellia papyrifera (a variety of frankincense), champaca (orange)absolute, lemon balm Australian (eucalyptus staigeriana), lemon leaf, lemongrass, may chang, melissa, myrtle (honey), myrtle (lemon), tea tree (lemon scented), thyme (lemon), verbena (lemon)

Most other commonly available essential oils will be safe to use in some respect. These oils include

lemon, orange sweet, mandarin, grapefruit, lime, bergamot, lavender, geranium, spearmint, frankincense, sandalwood and tea tree.

However, it is important to remember is that which essential oil or oils you can use is only one part of the safety consideration.  How you use the particular oil (the method, how much how often etc) is also vitally important in ensuring safety for mother and baby.


Inhalation is a generally safe method of using essential oils.  This involves merely inhaling the aromas and is useful in particular for mental and emotional effects. You can inhale directly form the bottle, but I prefer to put a couple of crops on a tissue or to use an aroma inhaler. For general use you can also use one the wide variety of vaporisers, diffusers or oil burners that are available. Be wary of diffusers to which you attach the essential oil bottle as you can use a large amount of essential oil in a short time.  These type of units should be used for short bursts (30 minutes or less) only at a time, with a long break in between. 

Baths are another way to use essential oils.  These can be a full bath or just a hand or foot bath for specific conditions.  Always use a dispersant to incorporate essential oils as they do not dissolve in water.  You can purchase specific dispersants for use with essential oils, or use a carrier(vegetable) oil, cream or full cream milk. Mix the essential oil into the dispersant and then add to the water. Limited the amount of essential oil used to a maximum of 4 drops in a full bath or 2 drops in a hand or foot bath.

Body application is another way to utilise essential oils and is particularly useful for skin condition association with pregnancy.  Always dilute your essential oils in a carrier oil before applying to the skin.  Never use essential oils on the skin undiluted or “neat”.  Use a maximum of 3 drops for every 10ml (2 teaspoons) of carrier.


Some general guidelines that are particularly applicable to pregnancy –


Some useful and safe remedies for use in pregnancy -

Nausea - put 2-3 drops of ginger or spearmint oil on a tissue and inhale. Or add several drops to an aroma inhaler. (This can be useful to keep by the bed for use first thing in the morning.)

Oedema (swelling of legs and/or feet) - put 4-6 drops of one of the following oils in a tablespoon of dispersant and add to a foot bath (sweet orange, geranium, grapefruit) and soak

Indigestion - dilute 1 drop of spearmint essential oil in 1 teaspoon of jojoba oil and massage into the abdomen in clockwise direction.


(This information is meant as general advice.  Please consult your health practitioner or a qualified aromatherapist for advice on your specific situation.)


Wendy Mackay is a qualified Aromatherapist and a member of the International Aromatherapy and Aromatic Medicine Association (IAAMA). Wendy along with her husband David is the Founder and Director of Essence of Wellbeing. Essence of Wellbeing is dedicated to the best in Aromatherapy and Pure Natural Skin Care and is located in Mornington on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia.


Essential Oil Safety 2nd Edition – Robert Tisserand, Rodney Young

The Complete guide to Aromatherapy – Salvatore Battaglia

A to Z of Aromatherapy – Daniele Ryman

Aromatherapy for Women – Shirley Price

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