Looking to ease pregnancy pain and stress? Aromatherapy essential oils may offer natural relief — but only if you know which ones to choose.
Pregnancy is a miraculous time (you’re growing a little person inside of you!), but between the achy back and swollen feet, there’s no denying that it can also trigger anxiety and some physical discomfort. If you’re feeling less glow and more pain and stress these days, you’re probably seeking a safe form of relief. And if you’re a natural-minded mama-to-be (or even if you frequent spas or hamams), you may be considering aromatherapy — a technique featuring essential oils extracted from plants to boost your health and overall well-being. Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians and Romans to alleviate aches and ailments and inspire relaxation. Scented oils are typically diluted with a carrier oil for massage, dropped sparingly into a warm bath, or put into a vaporizer so the aroma can be diffused and breathed in. The effects of aromatherapy can be wide-ranging, from helping alleviate insomnia to easing nausea.
But before you book an aromatherapy massage, note that the use of essential oils during pregnancy is controversial, as experts don’t have clear data on the safety. These plant oils contain chemicals that can be absorbed by your body — which means they have the potential to cross the placenta and reach your growing baby. While the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) notes that there are no records of birth defects or miscarriages due to the “normal” use of aromatherapy during pregnancy, it’s still very important to proceed with caution. It’s also safest to hold off on aromatherapy during the first three months of pregnancy when your developing baby is most vulnerable.
If you’re interested in giving aromatherapy a try, be sure to check with your medical practitioner first, and follow these safety precautions:
- Never put an essential oil directly on your body; instead, mix it with a carrier oil at a concentration that’s half the standard usage (or what’s recommended on the bottle).
- Avoid using any one particular oil over a long period of time — for instance, every day for several weeks.
- Keep oils away from your eyes and out of the reach of young children and pets.
- When using a vaporizer with an essential oil, don’t leave it on for longer than 15 minutes per hour, and make sure the room has good ventilation (otherwise the scent can become overpowering and may lead to nausea — which you don’t need to experience anymore when you’re expecting anyway!).
- Choose your essential oils carefully — and never use one if you don’t know what it is.
These essential oils are generally considered beneficial during pregnancy — but still make sure to check with your practitioner before using any:
- Citrus, such as neroli (may lower blood pressure and anxiety levels)
- German and Roman chamomile (may help calm, relax and soothe)
- Lavender (may help alleviate stress, insomnia, and depression)
- Ylang-ylang (promotes calm and may help alleviate insomnia)
- Cardamom (warming and comforting)
- Frankincense (may help reduce stress and tension)
- Geranium (may help alleviate swelling and stress)
- Ginger (warming and may help alleviate nausea)
These essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy, as they can trigger uterine contractions (not something you want if you’re not in labor!):
- Clary sage
You may also find that your beauty products and lotions contain some essential oils — but don’t worry; the concentration is very low, so they’re almost always safe to use. But if you’re concerned, as always talk to your doctor.
The key to using aromatherapy safely during pregnancy is to research the essential oil you’re considering and clear it with your doctor or midwife before using it. When used correctly, it can be soothing and provide some much-needed stress relief.