Do Essential Oils Cross the Placenta?

Our post today is from guest blogger Stephanie Pearson. Stephanie Pearson has worked with herbal medicine for over 25 years and is a clinical herbalist, functional nutritionist, and clinical aromatherapist master, in process. She created an e-course, Essential Oils for the Birth Kit, that is a comprehensive, evidence-based, and unbiased five-hour course on using essential oil therapy during each phase of pregnancy and in infant care. See below for the e-course preview video.

close up of pregnant woman touching her bare tummy

Do Essential Oils Cross the Placenta?

Despite the ever-growing body of research on essential oils, there is only a sippy cup full of study conducted on essential oil use during pregnancy––this owing to the unethical nature of conducting research on pregnant women.

The quick answer, though, is that yes, many essential oils do cross the placenta (and cell membranes and the blood-brain barrier), which is why it is especially important to be mindful of dose and quality during pregnancy (Tillett & Ames 2010).

The placenta provides a natural barrier against positive and neutral molecules and molecules with weight more than 1000 atomic mass units (AMUs). Since essential oils weigh less than 250 AMUs and many are negatively charged, it is fair to imply that essential oils cross the placenta. Despite this, there is virtually no evidence that, when used correctly, essential oils have a negative impact on the fetus in utero. The immaturity of the fetal liver may even offer a degree of protection, since fetuses are not capable of metabolizing compounds into more toxic forms, a process which requires phase two liver enzymes (Tillett & Ames 2010).

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Week of Wellness: Birth Kit Essentials

During the Week of Wellness at AromaTools™, Stephanie Pearson came to teach a class on using essential oils during pregnancy and labor as well as using oils to help care for yourself and your baby afterward.

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Stephanie Pearson has worked with herbal medicine for over 25 years and is a clinical herbalist, functional nutritionist, and clinical aromatherapist master, in process. She created an e-course, Essential Oils for the Birth Kit, that is a comprehensive, evidence-based, and unbiased five-hour course on using essential oil therapy during each phase of pregnancy and in infant care.

General Safety Guidelines for Essential Oil Use During Pregnancy

“The most confusing part about using essential oils during pregnancy is trying to figure out what is safe to use and what isn’t,” Stephanie explains. One major issue is that it isn’t ethical to do research on pregnant women, so there just aren’t many studies on the subject. Because of this issue and a couple others, there isn’t a definitive list for safe essential oils. So, Stephanie suggests you follow these four guidelines:

  1. Use essential oils only in normal, healthy pregnancies.
  2. Receive the mother’s consent.
  3. Work within the scope of your practice. If you are not a licensed practitioner, then you need to be careful what you are recommending essential oils for.
  4. Use only high quality essential oils.

The key to using essential oils correctly is to use high quality essential oils with the proper dose and recommended dilution amount.

Dilutions&Dosages_BirthKit-EDITED
Stephanie recommends using the French dilution equivalents, since the French have been using essential oils for therapeutic use for quite a while. The best application of essential oils during pregnancy is to dilute the oil in a carrier oil and apply it topically or aromatically. When first starting out, Stephanie suggests using the greatest dilution (1%) and working your way to more as needed. If it doesn’t seem to be working, use a higher concentration the next time.

Some general safety guidelines Stephanie recommends include the following:

  • Start with the lowest effective dose, as mentioned above.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to any one oil.
  • Test for skin sensitivity. Your sensitivity may change during pregnancy; so even if you used oils neat before pregnancy without any issues, always start with a dilution and test for skin sensitivities when pregnant.
  • Keep essential oils out of reach of children.
  • Avoid internal use during pregnancy unless formulated by a physician or reputable company.

Stephanie also recommends knowing the herbal actions for the essential oils you are using. As an example, she showed the following list:

  • Photosensitizers – citrus peel, bergamot, fennel (These oils may cause a skin reaction when exposed to sunlight.)
  • Cardiac stimulants – nutmeg, cinnamon, cassia (These oils may increase heart rate. If you are pregnant, your blood volume is nearly double, so it is prudent not to influence circulation unnecessarily.)
  • Uterine contractors – clary sage, jasmine, myrrh (These oils are more appropriately used once labor has naturally begun.)
  • Hormone influencers – fennel (Avoid internal use because of potential oxytocin levels.)
  • Emmenagogues – lavender, Roman chamomile, peppermint, clary sage, black pepper, fennel, frankincense, jasmine, orange, rose (Used appropriately, these oils are fabulous during pregnancy.)

Knowing the herbal actions of essential oils can help you know how to use the oils properly. For example, clary sage is not recommended during pregnancy because it could cause the uterus to contract, which isn’t advisable, but if used after labor has begun, it can increase the effectiveness of the contractions. Stephanie Pearson suggests putting a few drops of clary sage on a handkerchief during labor and inhaling in between contractions to help each contraction be more effective and to reduce pain.

General Safety Guidelines for Infant Care

When using essential oils on infants, Stephanie suggests following these guidelines:

  • Apply to breasts after nursing so baby doesn’t get oils in the eyes.
  • Use very small doses: 1 drop essential oil to 1 Tbsp. carrier oil.
  • Always dilute in carrier oil.
  • Disperse in emulsifier before adding to baths. Some emulsifiers that are good in baths include hand soap, whole milk or cream, and Epsom salts.
  • Test oils on skin for sensitivity.
  • Never put essential oils in ears, nose, eyes, or mouth.
  • Do not use internally.
  • Keep out of reach of children.
  • Use gentle oils only.

One thing Stephanie mentioned during the class is that you want your baby to be able to also experience the smell of her mother because this is part of the learning process and brain development. Don’t overwhelm your baby with so many essential oils by using them every day. Only use the oils when needed, and make sure to give your baby a break from the oils often. When you do need to use essential oils on your baby, a good way to do it is to apply topically on the bottoms of the feet or chest before bed or during a diaper change. You can also use essential oils in a bath, but mix the oils with an emulsifier before mixing into the bathwater. This helps the oils spread throughout the water rather than staying in clumps on top of the water.

An essential oil formula that Stephanie uses for colic, teething, respiratory issues, diaper rashes, fussiness, sleeping, etc. for the baby is 1 drop Roman chamomile and 1 drop lavender mixed with 2 Tbsp. carrier oil. She suggests rubbing this on the bottoms of the baby’s feet or on their chest during a diaper change.

Sunny concept pregnant woman showing hands in shape heart in sum

Tips and Blends from Stephanie

Stephanie shared various tips and essential oil blends that she uses for specific prenatal conditions. We would like to share some of them with you!

Stephanie’s Tips:

  • Take a lavender bath with the essential oil mixed with heavy cream first and then added to the bathwater. You will feel amazing!
  • For morning sickness, put 1 drop of peppermint in your vomit bucket because it may help ground you and may help with the nausea.
  • Use 1 tsp. of vegetable glycerin with essential oils in a spray bottle, and add water for a linen spray or air freshener when you need a pick-me-up or need help sleeping. The vegetable glycerin is an emulsifier and helps the oils spread throughout the water.
  • Breathe in peppermint and frankincense when you are tired or during labor to help your energy.
  • Frankincense, black pepper, and white fir are good oils for back labor. Use with a hot compress (apply oils on back; then place a hot water-soaked towel across the back).
  • Frankincense is useful for extreme anxiety during the transition phase of labor. Apply a little on the forehead during this time.
  • Lavender may support healthy blood pressure.
  • Lavender may help relax mother and baby, but be careful when using it during labor. It may also be a sedative to a midwife or doctor and exaggerate hypotensive effects if drugs are used during labor.
  • Cypress may help with postpartum hair loss. Massage into scalp or add to shampoo.

Pregnancy skin care

Stephanie’s Recipes:

Stretch Mark Blend:

5 Tbsp. sweet almond oil
1.5 Tbsp. macerated carrot oil
8 drops each: frankincense, lavender, patchouli, lemongrass
Apply twice daily.

Perineum Care Blend:

6.5 Tbsp. fractionated coconut oil
10 drops each: frankincense, lavender, helichrysum
Apply to perineum twice daily.

Edema Foot Bath

A bowl of hot water
1 tsp. dissolved salt
1 drop cypress
1–2 drops lemon, grapefruit, or orange
Soak feet for 10–15 minutes.

If you would like more information on using essential oils during pregnancy, try the following links:
Essential Oils for Pregnancy on the AromaTools™ Blog
Books, brochures, and tear pads on AromaTools.com
Stephanie Pearson’s e-course: Essential Oils for the Birth Kit

About the Presenter


StephaniePearsonStephanie Pearson has a unique distinction in her field for integrating traditional practices in nutrition and herbalism with principles of evidence-based research and constitutional medicine. She is a certified clinical herbalist, functional nutritionist, and clinical aromatherapist master (in process). Stephanie is a professional educator and presenter at universities and for wellness conferences and webinars. Her 25 years of botanical medicine study expand outside the classroom and cross-culturally, enriched by field studies in Native American, Western Eclectic, and Latin American herbalism.

Essential Oils for Pregnancy

Essential Oils for Pregnancy
Pregnancy is an exciting time as a couple prepares to welcome a new baby into this world. Even though pregnancy is such a natural process, it seems like a miracle is happening inside the mother as a baby forms and develops. However, even though such happiness and joy can be associated with this time of life, the mother may find that it is accompanied by some physical difficulties. Because a pregnant woman’s options for medical drugs are limited, essential oils are often a relief during times when prescriptions cannot be given. Many oils are safe to use during pregnancy, especially when diluted with a carrier oil. In this post, we will discuss what oils to use for common ailments experienced during pregnancy and motherhood as well as safety data for oils to avoid during this time.

The information on this page is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to be used to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any disease, illness, or injury. Seek professional medical attention for any disease, illness, or injury.

Dilution Recommendations

When using essential oils while pregnant, it is usually best to dilute the pure essential oil with a carrier oil. A good rule of thumb is to dilute 1–2 drops of essential oil with 1/2–1 tsp. of carrier oil. For newborns and infants, dilute 1–2 drops in 2 Tbs. of carrier oil. If the oils are used in a bath, always use a bath gel base as a dispersing agent for the oils. Common carrier oils include fractionated coconut oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, or almond oil.
Pregnancy Dilution Chart

Essential Oil Uses During Pregnancy and Motherhood

Anxiety/Tension: Lavender, ylang ylang, melissa, or myrrh. Diffuse the oil, or dilute the oil and rub it on back of neck, temples, chest, shoulders, back, or reflex points on the feet.

Breasts: Lavender (soothes), geranium (soothes), Roman chamomile (sore nipples), or fennel (tones). (Caution: Fennel should not be used for more than 10 days, as it will excessively increase flow through the urinary tract.) Add 3–5 drops to 1Tbs. carrier oil, and massage on location.
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