Essential Oils and Pregnancy

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Disclaimer:  I am board certified Internal Medicine.  Please follow the recommendations of your obstetrician if you are considering using essential oils or aromatherapy during your pregnancy.

I was recently asked what essential oils to use during pregnancy.  I thought I could answer the question easily, since I’ve used essential oils for a few years now, and I’ve often recommended essential oils without much thought.  I recently read Bottle of Lies, a chilling reminder not to take drug safety for granted. I decided that before I would answer her, I should check some references.  There is always a concern about safety of a chosen drug or treatment. Even more so, pregnancy is a unique time. Fetal development can be affected by many factors, and there many historical reminders of assuming at treatment is safe during pregnancy when it really isn’t.  

I was surprised to find that most of my trusted references concerning aromatherapy, essential oils and use in pregnancy are sparse, with very little information.  I decided to search the database Pubmed for answers. .

I approach this subject with caution because throughout the history of medicine, treatments deemed to be safe initially are later to be found unsafe.  There are many blogs and post that will give a list of essential oils to use during pregnancy, but I caution readers not start any therapy while pregnant without speaking to your physician. Essential oils are natural, but like any treatment, they are highly active within the human body.  

Pregnancy is typically a time of many symptoms.  Women are often seeking relief from nausea, vomiting, fatigue, insomnia, and postpartum depression.   I did a general search term of essential oils/aromatherapy and pregnancy. I initially reviewed 39 medical journal articles seeking some guidance.  I was able to narrow my search to a few relevant articles, any my search list can be found here

   

Nausea and Vomiting Relief

This is the most common symptom pregnant women must cope with.  Pregnancy related nausea and vomiting is unfortunately not very well understood.  Prior to actually researching the topic, I assumed, like many people, that peppermint, ginger, and lavender are the best essential oil to relieve nausea. 

When peppermint oil was tested in a small study consisting of 56 pregnant women suffering from nausea and vomiting in the first and second trimester, it was found to have the same effect as placebo for relieving nausea and vomiting(1).

1.Joulaeerad N, Ozgoli G, Hajimehdipoor H, Ghasemi E, Salehimoghaddam F. Effect of Aromatherapy with Peppermint Oil on the Severity of Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy: A Single-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled trial. J Reprod Infertil. 2018 Jan-Mar;19(1):32-38. PubMed PMID: 29850445; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5960050.

I found another study here also showing that peppermint is not likely to reduce pregnancy related nausea and vomiting. A systematic  review of the effects of complementary medicine conducted by researchers also confirmed that peppermint was not effective at relieving nausea (2).

 

2. Ozgoli G, Saei Ghare Naz M. Effects of Complementary Medicine on Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy: A Systematic Review. Int J Prev Med. 2018;9:75. doi: 10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_430_16. eCollection 2018. Review. PubMed PMID: 30319738; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6177529.

Lemon essential oil was found to be effective in relieving nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy in two of the articles I found (2, 3).

My recommendations with the information I have available is that Lemon Essential Oil is a good idea to relieve nausea.  I would recommend to use the aromatherapy by inhalation only, breathing the oil in on a tissue or cotton ball a few times a day to relieve pregnancy related nausea. 

Aromatherapy for Easing Labor Pain

Treating labor pain is likely going to be of the utmost concern. Many women these days are opting to forgo traditional anesthesia techniques and use holistic care to assist during labor. Women choosing to forgo regional anesthesia such as epidural injections may opt to use aromatherapy during the labor process.

A study consisting of 104 young women in labor with uncomplicated pregnancies showed that overall pain levels throughout early labor were reduced in those  that received aromatherapy. (4).

Tanvisut R, Traisrisilp K, Tongsong T. Efficacy of aromatherapy for reducing pain during labor: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2018 May;297(5):1145-1150. doi: 10.1007/s00404-018-4700-1. Epub 2018 Feb 3. PubMed PMID: 29397442.

Women in labor in an Iranian hospital showed reduced pain an anxiety during labor when they received Rose aromatherapy (5).  

Hamdamian S, Nazarpour S, Simbar M, Hajian S, Mojab F, Talebi A. Effects of aromatherapy with Rosa damascena on nulliparous women’s pain and anxiety of labor during first stage of labor. J Integr Med. 2018 Mar;16(2):120-125. doi: 10.1016/j.joim.2018.02.005. Epub 2018 Feb 9. PubMed PMID: 29526235.

Aromatherapy for Postpartum Depression

A small, double blinded study of pregnant women, many who were at risk of postpartum depression tested the efficacy of using Rose and Lavender essential oils to reduce the incidence of postpartum depression.  This particular study I found interesting because the subjects were chosen that had risk of depression, which made gathering a large sample size difficult. Most studies tend to select subjects with no history to simplify gathering date.  The researchers tested a combination of rose and lavender essential oil again sesame seed oil and sweet musk oil, and no oil at all. According to the results of the present study, it seems using aromatherapy has a significant effect on reducing depression after delivery (6).

6. Kianpour M, Moshirenia F, Kheirabadi G, Asghari G, Dehghani A, Dehghani-Tafti A. The Effects of Inhalation Aromatherapy with Rose and Lavender at Week 38 and Postpartum Period on Postpartum Depression in High-risk Women Referred to Selected Health Centers of Yazd, Iran in 2015. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2018 Sep-Oct;23(5):395-401. doi: 10.4103/ijnmr.IJNMR_116_16. PubMed PMID: 30186346; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6111664

My Recommendations

  • Nausea Relief:
    • Consider trying Lemon Essential Oil used by inhalation.  I would not recommend it topically since it may cause photosensitivity (sun sensitivity).  I recommend inhaling Lemon essential oils using a diffuser of choice or applying a drop to a cotton ball.
    • Peppermint essential oil is not shown by my evidenced based search to be effective at relieving nausea or vomiting in pregnancy, however, if you find using it helps, consider using only inhaled forms.
  • Mood Improvement:
    • Consider using Rose Essential Oil or Lavender Essential Oil for improving your mood.  Lavender essential oil tends tobe reasonably priced. Rose essential oils is expensive, and I would recommend investing in the purchase form a company with a good track records such as Doterra.  Doterra makes a ready made Rose Essential Oil.

During my research, I discovered the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.  I bookmarked this wonderful online resource.  This organization is primarily for professional aromatherapists but has some wonderful resources.  This link will take you to the websites recommendations on aromatherapy use in pregnancy. 


Please see the citation list below. Please post any additional questions in the comments. Thank you for reading!

Citations

1.Joulaeerad N, Ozgoli G, Hajimehdipoor H, Ghasemi E, Salehimoghaddam F. Effect of Aromatherapy with Peppermint Oil on the Severity of Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy: A Single-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled trial. J Reprod Infertil. 2018 Jan-Mar;19(1):32-38. PubMed PMID: 29850445; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5960050.

2. Ozgoli G, Saei Ghare Naz M. Effects of Complementary Medicine on Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy: A Systematic Review. Int J Prev Med. 2018;9:75. doi: 10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_430_16. eCollection 2018. Review. PubMed PMID: 30319738; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6177529.

3.  Yavari Kia P, Safajou F, Shahnazi M, Nazemiyeh H. The effect of lemon inhalation aromatherapy on nausea and vomiting of pregnancy: a double-blinded, randomized, controlled clinical trial. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2014 Mar;16(3):e14360. doi: 10.5812/ircmj.14360. Epub 2014 Mar 5. PubMed PMID: 24829772; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4005434.

4.  Tanvisut R, Traisrisilp K, Tongsong T. Efficacy of aromatherapy for reducing pain during labor: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2018 May;297(5):1145-1150. doi: 10.1007/s00404-018-4700-1. Epub 2018 Feb 3. PubMed PMID: 29397442.

5.  Hamdamian S, Nazarpour S, Simbar M, Hajian S, Mojab F, Talebi A. Effects of aromatherapy with Rosa damascena on nulliparous women’s pain and anxiety of labor during first stage of labor. J Integr Med. 2018 Mar;16(2):120-125. doi: 10.1016/j.joim.2018.02.005. Epub 2018 Feb 9. PubMed PMID: 29526235.


6. Kianpour M, Moshirenia F, Kheirabadi G, Asghari G, Dehghani A, Dehghani-Tafti A. The Effects of Inhalation Aromatherapy with Rose and Lavender at Week 38 and Postpartum Period on Postpartum Depression in High-risk Women Referred to Selected Health Centers of Yazd, Iran in 2015. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2018 Sep-Oct;23(5):395-401. doi: 10.4103/ijnmr.IJNMR_116_16. PubMed PMID: 30186346; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6111664

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