Harnessing the Gifts of Plant Power while Pregnant
When does it start that soul that circles your heart?
And, now you are having a baby...
Naturally, as your baby grows, your belly expands, and this new soul captures your heart, your desire to nurture and protect your little one grows, too. Increasingly thoughtful about your health and what you put on and in your body, you may now wonder how botanical oils will affect your pregnancy. Delightful and intuitive, essential oils are an unparalleled gift for our beauty, and they are life-nurturing elixirs for expectant mothers.
Many women ask me if essential oils, or if any specific oils, should be avoided during pregnancy. Aromatherapy books and bottles make sweeping disclaimers, cautioning us of the potential risks of using essential oils during pregnancy. It is true that the pure plant potency of essential oils uniquely interacts with and influences our bodies, our brains and our cells, and this does raise interesting questions for expecting mothers:
Could essential oils disrupt the normal outcome of pregnancy?
Could they harm the baby?
It is really important to know the source of the essential oils that you use; you want to know exactly what is in that little bottle of oil. The essential oils that are readily available in the market, even those sold in health food stores, are often less than pure and true. Mass distilled for the food and perfume industry, these oils are cheaply produced and may even be imitations. It is inadvisable for safety and effectiveness for anyone to use low quality oils. Only authentic oils, distilled carefully and truthfully from organically grown plant matter can provide the benefits of plant wisdom. Know your source.
There are hundreds of essential oils available in aromatherapy. Most of the oils are elegant and user-friendly, and only a handful of them are best avoided by everyone. With so many choices, it is easy to avoid these oils, so please do:
Dalmation Sage, Mugwort, Thuja, Tarragon, Hyssop officinalis (not Hyssop decumbens) and Pennyroyal. In addition to these, there are a few essential oils that pregnant women will want to avoid throughout pregnancy: Spanish Sage (not Sage officinalis), Parsley Leaf and Parsley seed, Oakmoss, Lavandula stoechas, Lavender cotton (this is not common Lavender) and Savin.
What about the other oils?
In a healthy pregnancy, a woman naturally has more of the hormone progesterone in her body than estrogen. There are a few essential oils, including clary sage, anise, and fennel contain phytoestrogens that closely resemble the natural estrogen produced by the body. The concern raised in aromatherapy books is there may be a chance that the oil will tip the scales toward estrogen thereby destabilizing the delicate and perfectly calibrated balance of hormones putting an expectant woman's body into an unwanted estrogenic phase.
Many plants have estrogenic actions, and many of these plants are common foods, such as potatoes and soy. It is unlikely that a doctor or midwife will request that you refrain from eating or touching potatoes while pregnant to prevent an estrogen imbalance (although, I highly recommend never eating soy). Like potatoes, the estrogenic property of essential oils is mild when used in moderation, as a drop or two. Even the estrogenic oils that are on the no-no list in aromatherapy books are safe to use metered as a few drops. Used in moderation and properly diluted, you receive all of the blessings of the plant oil without creating an estrogen issue that would disrupt your pregnancy. Historically, most of the attempts of using essential oils to cause abortions have flopped.
Another concern is that essential oils may cross from the mother's blood though the placenta and affect the baby. For a substance to cross through the placenta its molecular weight must be under 1000 and the molecular weight of all essential oils are well below 500. So, it is best to assume that every essential oil can cross the placenta. Exposing a fetus to essential oils is only risky if specific components of some oils reach a toxic level. There is minimal data on the affects and concentrations of essential oils, or drugs for that matter, on a human embryo because of the ethics and complications of experimenting on babies in utero.
Neem oil is wonderful oil that frequently comes with cautions for pregnant women. It is important to note that these warnings are due to an absence of testing instead of a proven record of non-safety. A powerful force for health, neem essential oil is versatile and safe and for pregnant women when used with common sense and moderation.
Neem is a tropical tree that grows heartily and rapidly in India. For thousands of years, Indians have used the bark, twigs, flowers and seeds of the Neem tree widely and in every area of daily life: a pesticide and fertilizer for food crops, the tender leaves are added to salads, used as a bug repellent to ward off malaria-causing mosquitos, in skin and beauty products for hair, skin and nail beauty, and some people chew on Neem twigs for oral care.
Neem does play an important role in family planning in India; some Indian women apply Neem oil vaginally as a spermicide and brew the leaves as a strong and bitter tea sipped daily as contraception aid for men. For effective contraceptive activity, concentrations of neem must be much higher than the standard and proper rate of dilution used in health and beauty care.
Neem oil is beneficial and health supportive when used with common sense. In fact, it only takes a tiny drop of Living Libations Neem Enamelizer Tooth Truth Polish on a toothbrush for effective tooth-care.
Hippocrates once said, "Let thy food be thy medicine, and medicine be they food." It may be helpful to heed his advice and regard botanical oils as food instead of drugs. Modern allopathic medicine has trained us to think that efficacy depends on a rigorous dosage schedule: for example, take 10 mg per kilogram of body weight of a pill every day for a week. Essential oils allow us much more freedom!
Think of essential oils more like chocolate than a therapy: one or two portions a day of raw chocolate benefits your body (and soul) with antioxidants and healthy minerals. Eating one kilogram of chocolate every day, while enjoyable, will be a dietary backfire. In the same way, one portion, one or two drops, of an essential oil is all that you need. Oils energetically influence our bodies so that one drop is as effective as 10 drops, regardless of height and weight.
Pregnant women who use essential oils responsibly and properly diluted - enjoying one portion, not guzzling or rubbing on half of a bottle of undiluted essential oil- can continue to enjoy essential oils throughout pregnancy. Instead of worrying about specific oils, (in fact, worry can be harmful to a pregnancy!) simply use oils that you are comfortable with and keep the concentration at or under 2%-5% for a generous application, like in a full body massage. A 2% dilution amounts to 15-20 drops of oil for every ounce of carrier base, like organic jojoba, virgin coconut oil and olive oil.
You can continue to enjoy all of the elixirs and creations that you employ in your daily ablutions and meditations. If you loved particular oils, like ginger and rosemary, before you were pregnant, you can still inhale, apply or even add a single drop to your water without issue.
If you are a newcomer to the wisdom of essential oils, a reasonable approach to explore the world of botanicals is to introduce into your daily life a few drops of the well-known health-tonic oils. These health-tonic oils are broad spectrum and life supporting, and they will keep your body strong and centered throughout your pregnancy. Over time, as you try out different oils you will develop a feel and an intuition for the oils that are best for you.
The health-tonic oils are: cardamom, lavender, cape chamomille, German Chamomile, Roman Chamomile, neroli, sandalwood, frankincense, palmarosa, thyme linalool, coriander seed, patchouli, geranium, petitigrain, ginger and rose otto.
Start with your favorite scent; if you love rose, use rose. All essential oils are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral, and more impressively, they fortify and stimulate the immune system so that you are resistant to bacteria and bugs. A playful and preventative use of rose, or whatever your favorite oil is, throughout your pregnancy will balance your mind and spirit while reducing the odds that you will contract an illness.
Many of the plants and oils that are used in aromatherapy and aroma-medicine have cared for people and blessed their beauty for thousands of years. Here are 3 simple and elegant ways you can include essential oils during pregnancy to bless your health and baby.
1. Give your skin some plant-love.
Your belly is working hard for you, so it is important to keep it happy and your skin well lubricated. Oils like lavender or rose diluted in jojoba oil are great for the skin and safe for you to use frequently. If you prefer a premixed blend, the abundance of skin-loving lipids in the Seabuckthorn or Rose Best Skin Ever will keep your ever-stretching skin soft and supple.
Dry brushing is also a great practice during pregnancy. It's good for your skin and is also an excellent way to keep the fluids flowing. All you need is a bottle of oils, a natural bristle brush and about 5 minutes before your shower. Simply put one single drop VerveTonic, DewDab or an essential oil in your palm and rub the dry brush across it so the brush is just coated on the tips. Gently brush your skin, and remember to always brush toward your heart.
Essential oils that are really helpful and beautiful for dry brushing are rosemary, cypress and laurel. Those are all really great and can be used undiluted on the skin. You can also use VerveTonic which is a blend of cypress, rosemary and laurel along with eucalyptus and yarrow. These oils can also be diluted in jojoba for a much needed back and foot massage!
2. A Garden for Your Gut
Nausea, heartburn and upset tummies are common occurrences during pregnancy. It is excellent practice to boost your intake of probiotics and fermented foods at this time. The helpful bacteria found in fermented foods, like kimchee, and probiotics will keep your digestive system working efficiently.
Also, the carminative oils, cardamom, chamomile, coriander seed and ginger, taste great and gently stimulate so you may savor what’s on your plate. A single drop of any one of these oils in a glass of water, on a piece of fruit or added to a spoonful of honey. You could also try Zest the Best; it is a whole garden of botanicals in a single drop.
3. Harness Flower-Power during Delivery
Essential oils are natural attendants during labor and delivery. Use a diffuser to fill the air of your birthing space with any oil that has an aroma that you like and that creates a great atmosphere. Frankincense is a good oil for labor. As a portal oil, it is used to welcome new places and open us to transitions.
Marjoram essential oil is a very good at melting tight muscles; when I was delivering my baby, Ron, my partner, massaged a 10% dilution of marjoram and lavender in jojoba oil on to my back right in the pelvic region for about an hour. It was amazing!
A relaxed and responsible use of essential oils lets enjoy your pregnancy with balanced health. You should always trust your intuition and common sense as you care for your body. As your baby grows, your intuition and attunement to your needs will also strengthen. Let your body speak to you and guide you.
Nadine Artemis, the founder of Living Libations, is the author of Holistic Dental Care: The Complete Guide to Healthy Teeth and Gums, and Renegade Beauty: Reveal and Revive Your Natural Radiance, which was named one of “The Top 10 Books on Skin Care” by The Strategist of New York Magazine. She is a respected media guest and contributor, and her products have received rave reviews in the New York Times, LA Times, Elle, People, Vogue, and Hollywood Reporter. Described by Alanis Morissette as “a true-sense visionary,” Nadine crafts elegant formulations and healing creations from rare botanicals that have skin glowing around the world. Her concept of Renegade Beauty encourages effortlessness and inspires people to rethink conventional notions of beauty and wellness.
Tisserand, Robert. Tony Balacs. Essential Oil Safety; A Guide for Health Care Professionals. Churchill Livingstone: 1995. pg 111
Tisserand. pg 3.
Tisserand. pg 105
Tisserand. Essential Oil Safety; A Guide for Health Care Professionals. pg111