Essential Oils are a relatively new love of mine. Since I discovered them a little over a year ago, I have used them for everything from cleaning the house, to healing sicknesses, to aromatherapy (all day, every day, thanks to my handy dandy diffuser!), to healing cavities, to easing aches and pains… the list is endless.
But I also have a special soft spot in my heart for pregnancy and babies, and for my precious friends who are either pregnant or nursing right now – so I thought I’d combine the two passions and help you navigate how to use essential oils safely during pregnancy and nursing!
(And now that I’ve discovered Eden’s Garden as a very affordable, effective, charitable, and faith-based alternative to the more popular MLM companies, I am thrilled to be able to use my essential oils more often and not worry about the cost, or worry about sacrificing quality.)
To start with, some practitioners suggest avoiding ALL essential oils during your first trimester since they have strong medicinal properties. Some oils should not be used at any point during pregnancy. With that in mind, let’s sort through how to use essential oils safely during pregnancy and nursing:
Roman & German Chamomile
Safe for Pregnancy? No. These oils are often used to combat emotional imbalances as they have very soothing, calming properties. They are both excellent at treating skin conditions such as eczema, rashes, burns, bites, stings, and itching. However, both German and Roman Chamomile are uterine stimulants (meaning, they can cause contractions or trigger menstrual flow) and therefore should not be used during pregnancy.
Safe for Lactation? Probably. Both Roman and German Chamomile are considered safe during breastfeeding – and they can actually be used to soothe sore breasts and nipples.
Safe for Pregnancy? No. Clary Sage often promotes feelings of joy, well-being, and elation, which also makes it a prime candidate for combatting emotional imbalances. However, it is also NOT for use during pregnancy since it, too, is a uterine stimulant and can increase blood pressure.
Safe for Lactation? Probably not. This oil is debated for safety of use during lactation, and so is best to avoid.
Safe for Pregnancy? No. Among other reasons, Peppermint can increase blood pressure and so should be avoided during pregnancy.
Safe for Lactation? Depends. Peppermint can be used to dry up or decrease your milk supply – therefore, use peppermint only when this is the goal you would like to achieve.
Safe for Pregnancy? No. According to Eden’s Garden, “Wintergreen may have negative effects on young children, nursing women, pregnant and those suffering with liver or kidney disease.” Wintergreen should not be used on your skin or taken internally, unless in small quantities occurring naturally in the foods you are eating.
Safe for Lactation? No. See above. Wintergreen may be toxic to nursing infants.
Safe for Pregnancy? No. Eucalyptus is known to increase blood pressure as well and should be avoided during pregnancy. It’s also considered toxic when taken internally.
Safe for Lactation? Generally not considered safe for lactation either.
Safe for Pregnancy? No. Also known as a uterine stimulant. It is also considered unsafe for even dietary use except in small, infrequent quantities.
Safe for Lactation? Generally not considered safe in essential oil form. Cinnamon is safe for dietary use during nursing, but some babies may object to the way it flavors a mother’s milk!
Other oils considered UNSAFE for pregnancy and lactation include Aloe, Anise, Basil, Bay, Bergamot, Cassia, Cedarwood, Dandelion, Clove, Cypress, Elemi, Fennel, Garlic, Ginger, Juniper, Lemongrass, Marjoram (uterine stimulant), Nutmeg, Parsley (except in small amounts naturally found in food), Pine, Red Clover, Sweet Basil, Thyme, Yarrow, and Ylang Ylang. Talk to your healthcare provider if you wish to use a specific essential oil during your pregnancy!
How Essential Oils Can Help Nursing Mamas
Word to the wise: when using any oil directly on the nipple or breast, it’s wise to wash it off before your next feeding.
Mastitis (Breast Infection) and Clogged Breast Ducts – Lavender works miracles for clogged milk ducts! Apply 1-2 drops to the affected breast, avoiding the nipple, and massage gently. Repeat use until you get relief. For Mastitis, Melaleuca (Tea Tree) and Oregano oils are recommended. Use with alternating hot and cold compresses multiple times a day for short periods of time (5-10 minutes). Raw cabbage leaves are also a popular remedy for clogged ducts! Simply place a cabbage leaf inside of your bra, directly against your breast. Replace with a new leaf when it becomes wilted and warm.
Sore, Cracked, Dry, Painful Nipples – Lavender wins again! It is wonderfully effective in treating most skin conditions. Simply rub directly on the nipple after nursing, then make sure to wash your nipple off before nursing baby. Calendula and Roman or German Chamomile can also be used to heal nipples.
Increasing Milk Supply – In addition to getting adequate rest, nutrition, and hydration, essential oils such as Fennel, Basil and Nettles are widely known to increase a lacking breastmilk supply. Fennel should not be used more than 10 days in a row! Basil and Nettles (not stinging nettles) can be used more regularly. These oils can be rubbed (1-2 drops) directly onto breast tissue (avoid the nipple).
Oversupply / Engorgement – Peppermint can be used directly on the breast tissue to help decrease milk supply. Sage, Jasmine, Parsley, Stinging Nettles (not nettles), and Yarrow can also decrease breastmilk supply.
How to Use Essential Oils for Specific Pregnancy Complaints and Concerns
In general, oils that are considered safe for use during pregnancy AFTER the first trimester include citrus oils (Orange, Lemon, Lime, Tangerine and Grapefruit – however, Bergamot’s safety is debated), Lavender, Patchouli, Tea Tree (Melaleuca), and Ylang Ylang, Jasmine, Rosewood, Neroli, and Geranium.
But what to use when you have a specific complaint or concern?
Early Labor – Lavender can be used to calm an over-stimulated uterus, or simply to ease a tired mama. For early labor, rub Lavender directly on the belly or place 1-4 drops Lavender essential oil in a tub of bath water and soak.
Aches and Pains – Lavender can also soothe those pregnancy aches and pains! Rub directly on the problem area. Use in conjunction with rest, stretching, icing, and/or soothing baths to help create long-lasting ache relief.
Headaches – Frankincense should be rubbed directly on the temples. You may experience relief in 5 minutes or less!
Heartburn and Nausea – Lemon can be rubbed directly on your belly or throat/upper chest area to help calm these common pregnancy symptoms.
Sadness, Depression, Anxiety – Lavender and Ylang Ylang.
Fatigue – Grapefruit and Lime are known to be energy boosters! Apply to the back of the neck or use in aromatherapy.
High Blood Pressure – You may have guessed it this time – Lavender again!
Swelling – Lavender directly on the swelling site can help reduce pregnancy-related swelling of hands, feet, ankles and even the face.
Breech Baby – It may be an old wives’ tale, but it certainly has helped some women – rubbing peppermint on the top of your belly may help “cool” that area of your belly down enough to encourage the baby to turn itself. Myrrh is also said to help align, balance and “righten”, and so could also be useful. Might as well try!
Stretch Marks – Lavender rubbed on the belly 1-2 times daily will help you avoid developing new stretch marks. If you have “old” stretch marks, Lavender can help lighten their appearance.
This may not be a complete list of safe and unsafe essential oils for pregnancy and nursing – so use wisdom and always check with your healthcare provider before using essential oils to treat any condition!
I wish you and your family well. May you be blessed on your journey in motherhood!
I used cinnamon leaf essential oil on my skin (not the breasts) while nursing. What happens? I hear it’s not safe why? I use it as a perfume. I’ve stopped but I’m wondering how I may have harmed my baby. What should I look for?
That is a great question. I am not a medical doctor, but I would not worry that you have harmed your baby, if I were you! (You asked what to look for – if you are that concerned, I would take your baby to a naturopathic doctor, or at least a doctor who is familiar with homeopathic remedies such as essential oils). However, just as a rule of thumb, consider essential oils to be medicine and not perfume, at least during pregnancy/lactation. They are powerful and potent. I do use milder essential oils as perfume (even while pregnant) every once in a while, but not nearly on a daily basis. Use with moderation and all will be well! Enjoy and blessings to you and your baby!
Hi Stacey, Do you know how long it takes your body to process/metabolize essential oils? Just took a wintergreen bath and then researched it’s not safe for nursing moms and am worried about how long I should hold off on nursing. Thanks!
That is a great question! I do not know. I even tried to do some quick research online and it doesn’t seem to be a topic that people agree on. (Typical for non-western medicine!) So, with the caveat that I am indeed not a medical doctor, I would not suggest that you hold off on nursing at all. There are many essential oils that are considered to be “unsafe” for nursing mamas only because they reduce the production of breastmilk, not necessarily because it can harm your nursing infant. I know that this is the case for Peppermint oil, which is closely related to Wintergreen. (That said, I would not use many, if any, essential oils topically or internally for the duration of nursing. Essential oils should be considered a medicine, not a food/perfume/etc. while you are pregnant and or breastfeeding).
Now, if you had ingested multiple drops of wintergreen oil in a tea for some medicinal purpose, I would be more wary of nursing after that, than just taking a bath in a few drops. In conclusion, I you want to be uber-conservative, you could wait 24 hours before nursing again. I’m sure you’ve also considered looking up a naturopathic doctor to have on-call for these types of questions, there are still many questions surrounding essential oils and their usage!
Blessings on you and your baby, have a great holiday weekend!
One more thing. You might actually know this already, but it’s worth mentioning. Whatever you ingest will not “show up” in your milk supply until 6-8 hours after you eat it. In other words, if you eat eggs at 8 am in the morning, they won’t be part of your milk supply until around your 2-4pm feeding. (I learned this in my midwifery training). It seems like essential oils would show up in breastmilk faster, as the oils in the bath would be almost immediately absorbed into the bloodstream via the skin.
Another consideration (now you’ve got me on a roll!) is that I would consider the age of your baby and what other options there are for feeding him/her. If he is just a couple of months old, and if you would formula-feed instead of nursing due to the Wintergreen bath, then weigh the risks/benefits of the (most likely synthetic) formula against the risks/benefits of having that one Wintergreen bath. If your baby is older and you can simply replace a meal or two with solid foods, then that might be the better, easy way to go.
I hope any of that helps!
Thanks so much Stacey! I did end up calling poison control and you were spot on! They said a few drops in the bath would only require wiping your chest clean, but would be totally different if ingested! Also, I was unaware of the delay in foods transferring to your milk. Good to know 🙂
What about rosemary, rose-hip, and lemongrass? Are these ok to use during pregnancy?
Would diffusing any of the no-go oils be any different?
I recently spoke to a Midwife (last year) who said that diffusing oils should be done in moderation, but it is not the same as applying the oils on your body! But, remember, better safe than sorry. If anything were to go wrong with your pregnancy, and you had been diffusing questionable oils, you may always wonder if that had anything to do with it… because that happened to me. Blessings to you and your little one(s) 🙂
Hello, you had mentioned that fennel, basil and nettles help with milk supply, but you said earlier in article that it is unsafe to use fennel or basil when nursing that they can be toxic to infant.
Thanks Maria, I will have to take a look at that. Sorry for the miscommunication, thanks for catching my mistake 🙂
What about rosehip and lavender essential oils? Are they safe during breastfeeding?
Rosehip and lavender are both considered safe for pregnancy, according to my sources. As with all supplements, use with caution while nursing or pregnant!
I have seen a Huge Increase in milk supply after putting lemongrass oil on each breast near the armpit. Would that also help if I were to diffuse or inhale it?
Hey Courtney! Yay, any boost in milk supply is a reason to celebrate!
It would not have the same effect to inhale or diffuse the oil. Topical application always has the highest percentage of absorption. Not to say that diffusing or inhaling wouldn’t help increase supply, but they would not be AS effective as topical.
You may want to apply the oil elsewhere on your body, since the oil is literally being absorbed directly into your breast tissue and released through your milk. Over time, it could cause damage to your infant’s delicate system.
Other recommended areas for topical use include the back of the neck, back of the wrist, and the soles of your feet.
Best of luck with your breastfeeding and your little one! Blessings upon blessings!
I’m a nursing momma and, without thinking, I took eucalyptus herbal extract, about .5 ml. I’m holding off nursing for a bit, but do you know what danger eucalyptus poses to a nursing baby? I couldn’t find an answer anywhere!
Christina, sorry for the delay! My EO textbook, “Modern Essentials”, did not state much of anything regarding Eucalyptus and breastfeeding. I would not worry about one dose, I would worry more about consistent or daily use. Thanks for asking! Hope you and your little one are very well today 🙂
Just wondering what the verdict on the Basil was for diffusing during pregnancy? I’m specifically wondering about Holy Basil (Tulsi)?
Also, just FYI, essential oils are not homeopathic medicine. Homeopathy is a completely different genre of natural medicine prescribed using the law of similars, or “like cures like”.
Ie, A great excess of arnica can cause bruising and muscle pain, but when properly diluted into a homeopathic medicine, arnica will cure such similar symptoms.
They may both be natural, but they are not both homeopathic.
I know this post was over a year ago and I may not get a reply but I have a cold and I’m 19 weeks pregnant and I used Zarbees chest rub twice, last night and this morning. It has wintergreen oil in it. I’m worried for the baby
Oh friend! I would not worry. I would recommend discontinuing use of that particular remedy for now, but your baby won’t be affected by that small amount of wintergreen additive. The first 10 weeks of pregnancy are the most important weeks to protect, as the baby’s vital organs are developing. At 19 weeks the baby is much stronger. (But do continue to protect him/her!) I hope you are feeling better already, and I hope that your pregnancy is smooth and filled with joy and rest and anticipation 🙂 Have a great Monday!
What is the difference between nettles and stinging nettles?
Looks like they are different parts of the same plant, but that doesn’t seem too conclusive. Perhaps they are different names for the same herb. https://www.livestrong.com/article/458817-nettle-root-versus-stinging-nettle/