Nursing Momma's Quick Guide to Essential Oils
One of the areas that has spurred on my essential oil passion is helping families, most often mommas, use essential oils safely for themselves and their family. As a mom, who was blessed with a nursing bond with all 3 of my boys (each over 2 years), I understand very intimately what questions come up during this delicate time.
To begin, I’d like to lay out a little about essential oil practice. There are some foundational beliefs most trained aromatherapists like myself hold to as we practice our therapy.
Dilution – this is the process of using a carrier, (commonly a vegetable oil like olive, grapeseed, avocado, etc.) and adding it to your essential oil creating a usable application for the body to absorb and process. Dilution does not in ANY way diminish the effectiveness of an essential oil, in fact, it helps the body to be able to process the essential oil.
Essential Oil Composition Knowledge – each essential oil is comprised of compounds that make that oil that oil. Peppermint, for example is made up of over 10 chemical compounds. Recognizing these compounds and the levels that they come in for a specific batch of oils can fluctuate the recommendations around that oil.
Drug Interactions – yes, it’s possible! Essential oils can have interactions with pharmaceuticals and it is accepted across the professional collective to be a great consideration when using aromatherapy as a therapeutic modality.
Ingestion – most professional aromatherapists do not recommend recreational ingestion of essential oils and definitely not during pregnancy and lactation.
Age & Demographics – while this area may have some variation on particulars, most aromatherapists agree that children should be addressed differently than adults and considerations like frailty, elderly, current constitution, etc need to be held in consideration with essential oil use.
Outside of these, there is a range of practice that you will see that may vary slightly from aromatherapist to aromatherapist. Just like one pediatrician may give antibiotics for an ear infection and another may prescribe a heating pad and lots of snuggles, the recommendations of different aromatherapists often will vary. Throughout this blog post I will be putting in some do’s and do not’s and will be clear what is a practice preference and what is backed by the professional industry. I’m often asked why there are so many recommendations and who to trust. Hopefully the above example will help you understand as well as this blog post on why I personally believe that erring on the side of safety is of great importance.
This is the current list of essential oils that are restricted or oils that are not recommended during pregnancy and lactation. We will refer to it often during the remainder of the post. You can download and print your own hi-res PDF here. With that foundation, let’s move into some basic safety for mom and baby during different phases of the breastfeeding relationship!
Baby is here and you intend to breastfeed! It may surprise you to know this is one of the most delicate times for mom and baby’s nursing relationship. Baby is driven mostly by smell and instinct to begin nursing upon arrival earth side so it is important to keep mom’s aroma uninhibited immediately postpartum. This is why we do not recommend anointing baby, mom or the umbilical cord with essential oils after birth. Any essential oils that were diffusing during birth should be brought to a close as well.
Newborns 0-3 months – actual age for preemies
Carrying over that delicate state of mind, newborns should be protected from the use of essential oils as well. For my personal practice, I recommend no direct essential oil use (all routes) until after baby is 3 months old. This is supported by what we know as the 4th trimester, a sensitive time of transition, bonding, and nurturing between mom and baby, which we have established smell connection is a part of. I’m also supported in this stance based the book Essential Oil Safety for Professionals, 2nd Edition by Tisserand & Young, namely page 47, concerning the delicate nature of neonatal skin. Baby is still developing outside the womb at a very rapid pace and adding essential oil processing to the baby’s body at this time is just not necessary. Hydrosols, the bi-product of some plant’s steam distillation process, are a great option for mom and baby. Just be sure they are organic and from a reputable company that give distillation dates for each batch.
For mom during this early postpartum period hydrosols are also a great option! In a bath, as a room or body spray, these gentle aromas can invoke feelings of stability, help with transition into motherhood and ease the blues or anxious feelings that may creep in a bit. Aromas like lavender, neroli, or rose can be helpful for soothing these emotions. Moms are also welcome to use lactation safe essential oils during this time but I often recommend it in bath preparations or aromatherapy inhalers (aka aromasticks) so the use is restricted to mom.
Infant 3-6 months
You’ve made it through the first 12 weeks of motherhood. You’re tired. Your baby is likely on their second or third growth spurt and you are now aware the term “cluster feeding” doesn’t refer to a bunch of squirrels fighting over Honey Bunches of Oats. During this period (or shortly following) your baby’s internal clock is going to be switching again and for most babies, it will affect their sleep. Sorry, momma. Good news is we can introduce diffusing and minimal exposure to essential oils. What this looks like:
Well vented space, no closed doors diffusing
10-15 minutes on, 30-60 minutes off
Kid safe essential oils – I personally like to stay within my Kid Essentials Chart but this is a practice preference due to these oils being on the fairly gentle side with the least contraindications, this is not a must do
I also like to guide my moms through using a oil at a time to see if there are any adverse effects on baby like lavender exciting them rather than relaxing them. Trust me, you do not want to discover this at 2 a.m. on minimal sleep. I recommend to try out one essential oil at a time, much like you would introduce a single food to baby at a time and not just slop a piece of lasagna on their tray.
Mommas, you are welcome to enjoy anything on the kid safe chart on yourself too! Stay clear of the oils on the Pregnancy & Lactation Chart. If you want to use an oil not on the kid safe chart, just use an aromastick/aromatherapy inhaler!
Baby & Toddler – 6-24 months
Using the Age Restricted Chart to identify safe oils you have a lot of wiggle room now. At 6 months I generally feel confident recommending dermal application of essential oils. It is important to properly dilute your essential oils before applying them to yourself or your little one. I’ve created a simple chart for small quantities here and one for bottles and roll ons here to help you! I personally keep this super handy combo chart magnet on my fridge!
Mommas, you are again welcome to enjoy anything on the kid safe chart! Stay clear of the oils on the Pregnancy & Lactation Chart. If you want to use an oil not on the kid safe chart, just use an aromastick/aromatherapy inhaler!
Kiddo – 2-5 years
The essential oils you can safely use with your growing little one increases by age (not weight) due to organ development and ability of the body to breakdown compounds.
Once kiddos are through the splashing in the bath stage, using essential oils in the bath (with correct preparation) can be incredibly beneficial for relaxation and wellness support.
Now that we have skimmed the basics of each age group, let’s talk about some specific oils that you may come across when searching for breastfeeding and essential oils.
Oh, dear fennel. I would highly encourage you not to use fennel during pregnancy and lactation. Here are some reasons:
Do not put fennel essential oil in your water, tea or on your skin. I’ve seen this recommended so much to new moms and it is just not safe. Don’t use it as a salve and definitely don’t put it on your nipple.
Fennel the herb is very different and is great to promote milk supply. I often drank it in tea with a bit of honey and it tastes very similar to licorice.
Those postpartum headaches may have you reaching for the peppermint but be aware, essential oils in the mint family can affect supply. This is not an caution given by all aromatherapists but those, like myself who have experienced the crushing blow peppermint can have on your supply recommend this oil with extreme caution. I don’t want any momma going through what I did to get my supply back up! Unfortunately, like many areas of aromatherapy, we want a black and white answer on this and the truth is that there is a varied response based on the individual. Some mommas use it with no issue, others like myself, are quickly in a bad place with our supply because of it. So for this oil, use with caution. It is also not a safe oil to use around baby so keep use to an inhaler if possible.
Clove essential oil, like fennel is on the do not use list. Here are some of the considerations with Clove.
I see clove recommended often for sore nipples. I honestly can’t even begin to imagine the pain putting clove oil on that delicate spot would cause. Not only can this unsafe practice cause mom harm but clove oil is very unsafe for baby.
If you own this essential oil, or a blend that contains it, stick it away for a few years ;) I have created a line of pregnancy, birth and postpartum products that are 100% organic AND safe for use with your body and baby during this delicate time. The Nursing Balm is a favorite as it not only is an incredible nipple ointment but doubles as a highly effective bottom balm for baby!
The other instance I see clove most recommended in crunchy groups is for teething. Please, DO NOT put clove oil, in any form or dilution on your baby and especially not on their gums. This is the recommendation of any trained aromatherapist and you can see this card for a safe, very effective alternative!
I hope these tips and safe use recommendations will help you use essential oils more confidently while you are nursing. The most important thing I can recommend is if you have questions, or need help resolving a specific need/issue, please contact a trained aromatherapist. We are educated and qualified to give you a personal consultation that will take into account medical history as well as specific needs like pregnancy, nursing, or even aroma preferences! If you are interested in learning even more we would love to take your hand as you continue your journey. Scentsable Health Facebook Group is a safe use community of over 13,000 people who support and help educate each other.
I also offer online classes like the Essential Oil Basics Class. This is offered online frequently through Scentsable Health –Use code NursingMomma for 50% off ANYJune class! In these online classes you will learn all the basics to using essential oils safely with yourself and your family. I completely cover dilution, safe essential oils, application of essential oils, bust a few common myths and the science behind why this therapy can be so effective for your overall wellness.
Shannon Dennis resides in Ohio with her three bouncing boys and incredibly supportive husband, Jeff. She began a journey in safe use after realizing the majority of misinformation in the essential oil distribution companies. Her desire was to create a space online where people who were making that transition from company based misinformation to safe use of essential oils could come and learn without fear of ridicule and being shamed. After putting herself through aromatherapy school, Scentsable Health was born! Shannon is a trained aromatherapist with over 300 hours of education in the botanical, aromatic and compound structure intricacies of aromatics. She is the owner of Scentsable Health, a full-service aromatherapy company specializing in families and emotional health.
Photo courtesy of Burning Melody Photography