Essential oils are becoming more popular as home based businesses like DoTerra and Young Living, and ItWorks! bring oils into the home, but the misinformation and safety of these products can have positive and negative experiences for the user. It is not within the scope of a doula to use bring or use our own personal oils unless we ourselves are certified aromatherapists. Sara Schoenecker, Certified Aromatherapist, and owner of Pneuma shares her knowledge and expertise on the top things you should know about using essential oils in pregnancy.
What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the holistic therapeutic application of genuine plant-derived essential oils for enhancing, harmonizing and balancing the mind, body, and spirit.
What is an essential oil?
Essential Oils are distilled from aromatic plant material and are the vehicle for effective aromatherapy application.
What makes aromatherapy effective?
Our bodies can process essential oils in a variety of ways. Some of the most common uses of essential oils include; direct inhalation (such as utilizing a personal aromatherapy inhaler), diffusing essential oils into a room, or topical application.
Direct inhalation is one of the fastest routes of absorption when it comes to aromatherapy application and on average our bodies can absorb about 50% of the essential oils constituents. When diffusing essential oils into a room, our bodies will only absorb what we take in while in the room, so this method is not quite as effective as utilizing direct inhalation. When it comes to topical application our bodies will absorb roughly 5% of the essential oils constituents.
Direct Inhalation is one of the fastest routes of absorption due to our olfactory system acting like fly paper where the essential oils chemical molecules get “stuck” and make their way to the brain and to the lungs and then circulate throughout our system. As a human being, we are able to identify 2000-4000 different molecules via our olfactory membrane. A single essential oil can be comprised of 10-200+ different molecules and is what contributes to their unique aroma.
One of the things that make aromatherapy so uniquely individual is how we perceive the aroma of a certain essential oil and also the emotions that are tied to a certain scent. Imagine walking into a bakery and smelling freshly baked bread. Instantly you are transported to your childhood in your grandma’s kitchen as she is pulling a fresh loaf out of the oven. All of a sudden you have a huge smile on your face! The power of smell and our psychological well-being truly go hand in hand!
Utilizing Aromatherapy during Pregnancy…is it safe?
As a Certified Aromatherapist, this is a question that comes up a lot. Can you utilize aromatherapy while pregnant? The short answer is yes and no.
The first trimester is the most crucial in terms of fetal development and as a Certified Aromatherapist, I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to utilizing essential oils during this time. You see, essential oils are extremely concentrated plant substances and a lot of plant material goes into making a small amount of essential oil.
To put this into perspective:
It takes roughly .42 lbs of fresh lavender flowers to produce only 1 ml or 20-30 drops of Lavender essential oil. Typically, I recommend utilizing herbally infused oils or hydrosols during the first trimester instead of an essential oil. A hydrosol (sometimes called a hydrolat or floral water) is the byproduct of essential oil distillation. Some of the most common hydrosols that people are familiar with are witch hazel and rosewater. The hydrosol often times carries similar therapeutic properties as the essential oil and is a lot more gentle.
For instance, if you are in the first trimester and are having a hard time sleeping, instead of reaching for Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil, you could use Lavender hydrosol instead.
Now, if you have a wicked case of morning sickness, could you inhale a pregnancy safe essential oil like Ginger (Zingiber officinale) to help? Yes, but only as needed. It wouldn’t be something that I would recommend using every day.
In the first trimester, other ways to combat morning sickness would be to eat something small right when you awake. I know for me personally, apples were my go to. Eating a couple slices of an apple right when I woke up helped me immensely with morning sickness. If my stomach felt off during the day I also loved a cup of ginger tea with lemon.
During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, essential oils should still only be used as needed and be properly diluted at 1% or less (5-6 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier) for safe application. Proper dilution is key, especially while pregnant. Properly diluting an essential oil for topical application will minimize the risk of an adverse reaction or skin sensitization. As always you want to be sure you are using essential oils that are considered safe for pregnancy.
Can I Ingest Essential Oils While Pregnant?
As a Certified Aromatherapist, I do not recommend ingesting essential oils during pregnancy, this would include the vaginal or rectal use of essential oils as well. I would recommend a cup of tea for trying to combat a certain issue while pregnant. Teas do contain small amounts of essential oils and would be a much safer option. Remember, a lot of plant material goes into producing a small bottle of essential oil. Sometimes 1 drop of essential oil could be compared to the equivalent of 40-50 bags of tea. Think about this for a moment, if you had an upset stomach, you wouldn’t brew 40-50 bags of ginger tea in one small 8oz cup, would you? That would definitely be a bit of overkill since one bag of tea would be sufficient. “Neat” use (applying essential oils directly to the skin), is also not recommended during pregnancy.
What are some essential oils that should be avoided during pregnancy?
When the need arises to utilize essential oils during pregnancy, one of the key factors to take into consideration is that you choose an essential oil that is extremely gentle and nourishing. You would want to steer clear of any essential oils that are potentially fetotoxic. Here are some essential oils not recommended during pregnancy…
Please note this is not an exhaustive list, be sure to research each essential oil prior to utilizing it during pregnancy. If you are unsure about an essential oil choice, you can always email me at Sara@Pneuma.online. Also, a great book to add to your essential oil collection would be Tisserand and Young’s Essential Oil Safety 2nd Edition. If you are looking to learn more about hydrosols I would recommend Suzanne Catty’s book Hydrosols The Next Aromatherapy.
Not all oils are created equal and although natural, you want to make sure you are making the best choice for your family. The Green Bay Doulas are there to help you navigate your options and know the available resources for you and your family.
Sara is a level 2 AIA & NAHA Certified Aromatherapist, a Certified Aromatherapy Teacher Level 1 and owner of Pneuma, LLC. She resides in Green Bay with her husband Rick, and daughter Viola. Sara began her journey to natural living 8 years ago when she realized that the “food” she was eating, wasn’t really food at all. After cleaning up her diet and cleaning out her cupboards, Sara began to look at other ways to cut chemicals from her life and began making her own cleaning products; lotions, body butters, toothpaste, laundry detergent and more. Aromatherapy always piqued Sara’s interest and with so much misinformation out there, she knew she had to gain her Certification so she could help others utilize essential oils safely in their day to day lives. Sara believes in the bodies innate ability to heal itself, when given the proper tools, and has a passion for helping others live a more naturally minded lifestyle. Sara is also an abstract artist and cosmetologist. In her free time, Sara enjoys swimming with her daughter and husband, writing, reading, going for bike rides and soaking up as much sun as possible.