Aromatherapy delivers scented oils into the air to naturally ease stress, promote sleep, increase energy, or reduce hunger. Essential oils, heated or vaporized, are released into the air where the scent starts working toward the desired end result. If the scent was the only function of aromatherapy, the natural therapy would be completely safe for pregnant women, but aromatherapy is about more than changing scents. The essential oils are released into the air so breathing in the oils leads to the distribution of the oils throughout the body via the bloodstream. According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, clinical trials are not available to determine safety in pregnancy so aromatherapy is not considered safe for pregnant women.
Why is breathing essential oils unsafe during pregnancy?
When breathing essential oils, you are breathing in high concentrations of the active ingredients in the oils. For instance, eating basil during pregnancy is not contraindicated, but basil essential oils contain high concentrations of estragole. Clinical studies on estragole have shown possible carcinogenic effects – meaning it could cause cancer.
Essential oils to avoid
There are huge lists of essential oils that should be avoided during pregnancy. These lists are generally published by aromatherapy companies or blogs with no clinical support to support their claims. The lax control standards in many avenues of complementary medicine leave pregnant women and obstetricians with very little room for safe suggestions. However, some essential oils are proven to have a negative impact on pregnant women, including possible uterine bleeding, toxicity with regular use, or perceived risk of miscarriage.
Essential oils to avoid during pregnancy include:
- Clary Sage
- Bitter almond
- Juniper Berry
- Parsley Seed
This list is not all-inclusive. Additional essential oils may be deemed unsafe for use by pregnant women for a variety of reasons.
Better to be safe than to risk your pregnancy
There is so little trusted, clinically proven data on the benefits of aromatherapy in the obstetric community that it may be best to skip aromatherapy with essential oils altogether during pregnancy. This is not to say pregnant women can’t enjoy scented candles and air fresheners emitting a light scent into the air. Everyday scented products are generally considered safe, but concentrated essential oils may pose risk.