Essential Oils During Pregnancy and After Childbirth

Written by NPN Guest on April 29th, 2011

Alternative Medicine, Healthy Living, Holistic Health
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Increasingly, pregnant women and new parents are looking for natural alternatives. Although conventional medicine can be helpful in certain cases, natural alternatives like Essential Oil Therapy can prove to be just as effective, if not more so, for common ailments associated with childbirth and parenting. Here are just a few ways Essential Oil Therapy can help with a more natural pregnancy and childbirth.

Prenatal

Stretch Marks

Massaging yourself with nourishing carrier oils with a few drops of essential oils of neroli and mandarin during your pregnancy may help to reduce the chance of stretch marks and alleviate dry, itchy skin. Be sure to massage your breasts and thighs along with your growing belly. A study on preventing stretch marks showed that a sample group treated with a massage ointment was less likely to develop stretch marks than a control group that received no treatment.1

Headaches and Migraines

If you are suffering from headaches and migraines, using essential oils can be an alternative to conventional pain relievers. Essential oils such as peppermint, chamomile and lavender added to a carrier oil can be used in a roll-on applicator and applied to the temples and nape of the neck.2

Nausea

The essential oils of peppermint, chamomile or ginger can be effective in relieving the nausea associated with morning sickness. Ginger has been found to be more effective than vitamin B6 for relieving the severity of nausea, and is just as effective for decreasing the number of episodes.3  Ginger was also found to be as effective as dimenhydrinate in treating nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.4 Pieces of dried ginger can be chewed or the capsules taken internally. Peppermint and chamomile tea can both ease nausea. Simply inhaling peppermint and ginger essential oils can ease the nausea for many women.

Emotional Well-being

A warm bath with a few drops of essential oils added can soothe your sore muscles and help you to relax, which can be very emotionally uplifting. Research has confirmed that the mother’s emotional state affects the child, both pre- and post-natal. Massage yourself, or even better, have a partner massage you to help with sore muscles, relaxation, strengthening the emotional bonds, and help preventing fluid retention in your legs and feet.

Perineal Massage

For years, many midwives have recommended massaging your perineum daily during the last six weeks of pregnancy to help reduce the chances of tearing or having an episiotomy. Three trials involving more than 2,000 women concluded that prenatal perineal massage reduces the chances of perineal trauma (mainly episiotomies) and ongoing perineal pain.5

A resource on how to perform the massage can be found here.

Skin Conditions

For inflammation, acne, and other skin issues, toners with lavender and chamomile hydrosols are soothing and calming to the skin. Many women see changes in their skin and some develop acne during pregnancy, similar to when they were in their teens.

Labor

The essential oils of neroli (Citrus aurantium) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) can be used to help with fear and anxiety during your labor.6 If you have a long labor and fatigue has set in, the essential oils of peppermint (mentha piperita) and sage (salvia officinalis) can be used for energy or alertness.7 Also during a long labor, misting your face with the hydrosols of lavender, neroli, or rose (rosa damascena) will refresh you. Use any hydrosol that you enjoy.

During labor, have your labor partner massage your lower back with the essential oils of chamomile (Roman – anthemis nobilis and/or German – matricaria chamomilla), clary sage (salvia sclarea), and lavender in a carrier oil. A compress with the essential oil and hydrosol of clary sage will greatly reduce labor pain when applied to the lower abdomen and back. If you are having a water birth, the EO and hydrosol can be added directly to the tub. One study has shown that the essential oils of clary sage and chamomile are effective in reducing pain during labor.8

Essential Oil Therapy during pregnancy:

  • can help reduce stretch marks
  • can help deal with stress and promote relaxation
  • can ease cramping and pains experienced during pregnancy
  • can help you keep in tune with your body and your baby
  • can provide relief from ailments such as headaches, nausea, varicose veins, and edema
  • can aid in ‘recovery’ after childbirth

Postnatal

Help with Post-birth Discomfort, Healing, and Scarring

Applying hydrosols directly to the perineum or adding essential oils to a sitz bath can aid discomfort and healing of the perineum. As some women find it uncomfortable to use the sitz bath method, a spray is a more convenient method of application. Applying witch hazel (hamamelis virginiana), lavender, and chamomile hydrosols with a cotton pad can relieve hemorrhoids and aid in healing. The cotton pad can be left in place for added relief. Some women have also found that it helps to use a pad that has been in the freezer with the spray applied. A common chemical used to treat wounds (such as episiotomies) is Povidone-iodine. Clinical trials have shown lavender to be more effective.9

For women who have had a cesarean section, the essential oil of helichrysum (helichrysum italicum) has shown amazing results for skin regeneration and healing.10 There are a number of nutrient rich and essential oils to help heal and decrease scar tissue, such as calendula (calendula officinalis) infused olive or sunflower oil.11 These oils can also helps with the healing of wounds, old and new scars, and stretch marks.

Emotional Well-being

If the baby blues have set in, postpartum depression can be helped with many citrus oils, which are anti-depressants and help with anxiety. Some of these oils include orange (citrus senensis), bermagot (citrus bergamia), neroli, and grapefruit (citrus paradisii). Using the pure hydrosol of these plants may help as well and can be used as a room or body spray. Aromatherapy massage has improved the physical and mental states of mothers and bonding with your baby.12

Breastfeeding

Engorged breasts can be helped with a compress of geranium, as well as a cabbage leaf being inserted into your bra. For cracked and sore nipples, calendula has amazing healing properties. For dry skin during breastfeeding, there are a number of essential and carrier oils that can be used.

Summary and Safety Precautions

Below is a summary of some of the essential oils and hydrosols that can be used during pregnancy as well as some of their benefits:

  • Calendula – skin irritations, minor infections, wound healing
  • Chamomile – muscular pain, labor, morning sickness, perineum healing
  • Clary Sage – muscular pain, headaches, labor
  • Cypress – edema, prevent stretch marks
  • Ginger – morning sickness
  • Juniper Berry – edema
  • Lavender – muscular pain, headaches, labor, stress, perineum healing
  • Mandarin – prevent stretch marks, stress, and depression
  • Neroli – anxiety, prevent stretch marks, depression
  • Peppermint – headaches, morning sickness, nausea, alertness
  • Witch Hazel – apply the hydrosol to hemorrhoids and varicose veins
  • Yarrow – apply the hydrosol for postpartum healing

There has been some debate as to whether essential oils are safe for use during pregnancy and on babies. There are some essential oils which are not recommended for use during the first trimester such as rose, jasmine and chamomile, to name a few. Generally, though, the use of flower and citrus oils can be considered safe for use throughout the entire pregnancy. You should consult with a certified aromatherapist to be sure. It’s best to check the label for any warnings and/or directions as they are usually printed on commercially available essential oils. Note that there are many grades of essential oils, and only therapeutic grade should be used. During pregnancy you should use a dilution of 1-3% essential oil, or 3-9 drops in 15 ml (1 tablespoon) of carrier oil. That being said, as with all alternative forms of therapy and non-prescribed drugs, especially during pregnancy and on newborns, you should consult with your health care professional before use.13

Photo Credit: tinpalace

_________________________

Michelle Reynolds is a Certified Aromatherapy Health Professional with Aromatic Health. Her goal is to educate others about the health benefits of essential oils and hydrosols. The term aromatherapy is misleading, and Michelle takes a more clinical approach to her practice. Her focus is on prenatal/postpartum healing and natural baby/child care.

This article has been edited from a previous version published at the Aromatic Health blog.

Statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with your health care provider. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis or courses of treatment.

  1. Attempt of preventive treatment of striae gravidarum using preventive massage ointment administration. Wierrani F, Kozak W, Schramm W, Grünberger W. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 1992;104(2):42-4. PMID: 1609525
  2. Effect of peppermint and eucalyptus oil preparations on neurophysiological and experimental algesimetric headache parameters. Göbel H, Schmidt G, Soyka D. Cephalalgia. 1994 Jun;14(3):228-34; discussion 182. PMID: 7954745
  3. Comparing ginger and vitamin B6 for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Ensiyeh J, Sakineh MA. Midwifery. 2008 Feb 11. PMID: 18272271
  4. A randomized comparison of ginger and dimenhydrinate in the treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Pongrojpaw D, Somprasit C, Chanthasenanont A. J Med Assoc Thai. 2007 Sep;90(9):1703-9. PMID: 17957907
  5. Antenatal perineal massage for reducing perineal trauma. Antenatal perineal massage for reducing perineal trauma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Jan 25;(1):CD005123. PMID: 16437520
  6. Anxiolytic and sedative effects of extracts and essential oil from Citrus aurantium L. Carvalho-Freitas MI, Costa M. Biol Pharm Bull. 2002 Dec;25(12):1629-33. PMID: 12499653
  7. Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang. Moss M, Hewitt S, Moss L, Wesnes K. Int J Neurosci. 2008 Jan;118(1):59-77. PMID: 18041606
  8. The use of aromatherapy in intrapartum midwifery practice an observational study. Burns E, Blamey C, Ersser SJ, Lloyd AJ, Barnetson L. Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 2000 Feb;6(1):33-4. PMID: 1103365
  9. Healing advantages of lavender essential oil during episiotomy recovery: A clinical trial. Vakilian K, Atarha M, Bekhradi R, Chaman R. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2011 Feb;17(1):50-3. PMID: 21168115
  10. Interactions of antibiotics and extracts of Helichrysum pedunculatum against bacteria implicated in wound infections. Aiyegoro OA, Afolayan AJ, Okoh AI. Folia Microbiol (Praha). 2010 Mar;55(2):176-80. PMID: 20490761
  11. Efficacy of Hypericum and Calendula oils in the epithelial reconstruction of surgical wounds in childbirth with caesarean section. Lavagna SM, Secci D, Chimenti P, Bonsignore L, Ottaviani A, Bizzarri B. Farmaco. 2001 May-Jul;56(5-7):451-3. PMID: 11482776
  12. The psychological effects of aromatherapy-massage in healthy postpartum mothers. Imura M, Misao H, Ushijima H. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2006 Mar-Apr;51(2):e21-7. PMID: 16504900
  13. Please be aware that nothing in this post constitutes expert or medical advice. You need to trust your own instincts, research, and experiences when using any kind of treatment for your family. Consult a physician or other expert if you have questions about the use of any essential oil. The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

9 Responses to Essential Oils During Pregnancy and After Childbirth

  1. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama  

    Thank you for this info! I have been interested in using essential oils more.

    • Jennifer

      Can you imagine the surprise when I found your comment here? I was just about to email you about this page! Glad you had already come across it. See you soon!
      ~Jennifer

  2. Molly  

    This is a great article! I’m especially interested in using essential oils and aromatherapy during my birthing time. Thank you for the information.

  3. Kat

    Great info! I love essential oils and it was great to read all the different uses for them during pregnancy :-)

  4. Brenna

    This post is great. I love the smell of essential oils, I’ll be using the headache recipe above for sure.

  5. Par Gardiner

    Nice to have such a simple break down of the oils and their uses. I’ve only just gotten interested in aromatherapy since being pregnant and have found it to be very helpful and relaxing :)

  6. Lexi Thome

    I have been using a facial cleansing oil on my face that contains Clary sage. I made myself so I know the recipe. The bottle is a 3oz bottle. There are 15 drops of Clary sage essential oil in it. And the rest is a variety of carrier oils such as argan, olive and castor. Is there any harm continuing to use the oil of I may be pregnant? If I am pregnant, I am newly pregnant. I just want to ensure safe use. From what I see online it’s not a recommended oil to ingest or undiluted typically, so obviously I’ll try to stay away from that. But what do you think of my current typical oil?

  7. miranda

    What oils are no nos for use during pregnancy.

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