Essential Oils in the Childbearing Years

I love using whole herbs in their created form, or in a form that is easily used with just a few basic cooking techniques like soups, teas, tinctures, infusions, and salves.  However, when I want something a little extra in strength, without needing a pharmaceutical, I am thankful for essential oils.  What is important to keep in mind, though, is just because we have access to these potent therapeutic forms of plants, doesn’t mean they don’t come with potential risks as strong as a prescription.

Essential oils are either made by pressing a plant to extract the oils (such as with citrus oils), or through steam distillation to extract volatile (delicate) oils that contain some of the plant’s stronger medicinal components.  Historically, essential oils were mostly used aromatically, occasionally used topically, and rarely ever internally.  Newer multi-level-marketing (MLM) companies have pushed the over-use of oils, and promote unsafe use of oils, which not only increases the risks of these potent plant parts, but also makes the prices unnecessarily high.

Robert Tisserand is a well-known aromatherapist and essential oil researcher.  He has written numerous articles and books full of research on Essential Oil Safety to support properly select healing oils and safe use as well as understanding their actions.  His main focus is encouraging safe dilution with a less-is-more approach and discouraging internal use of EOs.  EOs should not be used in high amounts, especially long-term.  They may cause skin and respiratory damage, especially with children.

When trying to conceive, and during pregnancy, menthol-containing oils (like peppermint) are often used for muscle relief but can increase bleeding and miscarriage.  EOs like Rosemary and Thyme should also be avoided in pregnancy, but these whole herbs can safely be used in food, teas, or simmered in water for cold and flu.

Clary Sage is often used to relax the mind and stimulate contractions, but overuse may cause overstimulation of the uterus leading to fetal distress or postpartum hemorrhage.  Lemon or Peppermint can help reduce nausea in labor when smelled straight from the bottle.  However, newborns need fresh air when they are born, so avoid openly diffusing oils in labor which can cause breathing, and breastfeeding, difficulties.

Lavender and Frankincense are mild stress and pain-relievers for after-pains which can safely be used near baby.  Be cautious with peppermint oil as it can reduce your milk supply and may cause respiratory distress especially for infants and small children.  Likewise, your baby is adapting to the new environment and your hormones react to baby’s natural smell – so rubbing your baby all over with essential oils (or fragrant lotion) can affect your and your baby’s physiological needs in the first months after birth.

When using essential oils, we need to remember that essential oils do more in our body than just what we’re using them for.  They affect our whole body, especially the liver.  The liver not only helps build blood cells and balance hormones, but also supports the immune system and detoxifies our system. Everything you breathe, eat, or put on your skin eventually ends up in the blood stream and must be “filtered” by the liver.  This not only includes food, drinks, soaps and shampoos, cosmetics and deodorant, and cleaning products, but also essential oils.

We need to be intentional about all the products that we use, especially during the reproductive years when hormone balance and a low-toxin body is crucial for healthy conception, pregnancy, and postpartum. We can’t adopt the perspective that just because it is accessible to us means that we should use it or use a lot of it.  Increasing the toxin-load on our body can reduce the ability to conceive, to grow a healthy placenta, to maintain a healthy blood volume, and increases risks of pre-eclampsia. We can’t adopt the perspective that just because it is accessible to us means that we should use it… or use a lot of it.

Essential oils have a time and place when intentionally selected, used sparingly, and diluted properly.  There truly is an art to the therapeutic use of both whole herbs and essential oils. They function best with nourishing foods and adjusting our lifestyle to help achieve long-term wellness.


Adapted from Robert Tisserand, Essential Oil Safety

  • 0-3 Months – 0.1-0.2%
  • 3-24 Months – 0.25-0.5%
  • 2-6 Years & Elderly – 1-2%
  • 6-15 Years – 1.5-3%
  • 15+ Years – 2.5-5%
  • Face & Cosmetics – 0.2-1.5%
  • Massage – 1.5-3%
  • Bath & Body – 1-4%
  • Pain, Wounds, Cleaning – 5-20%

Dilution % = Base Oil Amount + EO

  Base Oil Amount
Dilution 0.5oz 1 oz
5 % 22 drops 45 drops
3 % 13 drops 27 drops
1 % 4 drops 9 drops
0.5 % 2 drops 4 drops

Dilution amounts help to dose essential oils for topical use based on age and end- use.  Olive Oil or MCT Coconut Oil make excellent base oils for salves or rubs.  Rubbing Alcohol or Vinegar can be used for diluting sprays.  Essential Oils will not mix with water and may cause the oils to burn or irritate the skin so they should not be dropped directly in a bathtub or water bottle.  Do not use Clove Bud Oil stronger than 0.5% diluted.  Do not use Holy Basil stronger than 1% diluted.  Citrus oils can react in the sun and cause skin damage when used topically.  Lemon oil, and similar, can irritate the intestines causing “leaky gut” if ingested.