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7 Cautions Breastfeeding Moms Must Take Before Using Essential Oils

There are seven cautions that every breastfeeding mother needs to know before using essential oils.

Only a few weeks ago, someone leveled a big accusation towards me. Her exact words were, “You think that if you didn’t study something in nursing school, it isn’t legit!” Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Admittedly, I’m slow to suggest a remedy if it lacks evidence to back up its safety and efficacy. But I have used plenty of treatments that I never learned about in nursing school. Chiropractic, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, foot reflexology, glucosamine, you name it, I’ve probably used it. Including aromatherapy.

To my utter astonishment, there are literally thousands of scientific studies about the safety and efficacy of essential oils — the basis for aromatherapy. Luckily, during my radio show with Lea Harris, certified aromatherapist, I uncovered seven cautions that every breastfeeding mother should take before using essential oils.

1. Don’t confuse the “essential oil” with the herb

Plants have three parts: the root, stem, and leaves. But essential oils are made (usually distilled) from the plant. So while you should feel no positive or negative health effects from eating fresh rosemary on your roasted potatoes, you may indeed feel some effects from the essential oil, rosemary. The same is true for cinnamon, cloves, and other plants when distilled into an essential oil.

2. Don’t ingest essential oils

Although essential oils may be very safe and effective when breathed through your nose or massaged into your skin, they should not be ingested until you are working with a professional.

3. Some essential oils should not be used in pregnancy and/or lactation

First, substances that are or aren’t safe to use during breastfeeding may or may not be safe to use during pregnancy. Even though, in many cases, the “dose” that crosses into your milk may be very, very tiny, you should carefully consider its possible effects. Interestingly, some writers say that there’s little or nothing to fear. But I would urge you to err on the side of caution.

4. Some essential oils may affect your milk supply

It’s not just about safety. You should also wonder if the essential oil — or any substance — will affect your milk supply. Do we have good evidence? Unfortunately, no. For example, from anecdotal reports, we know that peppermint can reduce milk supply in some but not all women; we don’t have a strong study to support that.

Think it through. If you have an ample milk supply, you might be willing to take the risk. If you’re already struggling, remember that Lea and I both agree that peppermint can affect milk supply in some women. How would you feel if you’re one of the ones it affects? (And, I’ve always believed that sage — the herb — reduces milk supply, and Lea says that sage — the essential oil — absolutely should not be used during the childbearing cycle.)

5. Some essential oils should not be used with some medications

If you’ve had some medical complications from your pregnancy or delivery, you may be taking some medications. Essential oils can potentiate — make more dramatic — the effect of some medications, for example, warfarin or heparin. So even though the drug and the essential oil may be safe while nursing, the two of them taken together might mean trouble.

6. Beware if your baby will be directly exposed

Some essential oils might be harmless if your baby is exposed to them through your milk. For example, plenty of evidence shows the safety and efficacy of lavender for the childbearing woman, but it is not safe to use for children. (You could use a personal inhaler to avoid exposing your baby to it.)

7. Stop, look and listen

Oh, this sounds so trite, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Stop and think about how powerful the essential oil is. Look at the exact name — Bulgarian lavender is different from French lavender. (Lea gives several examples in the show.) Listen to the true experts — not everything in print is accurate. Lea gave some tips for how to spot credible sources. You might want The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness, or perhaps Tisserand’s book.

“Natural” may not be safe. Caution is always a good step.

Have you used essential oils during pregnancy or while breastfeeding? Did you work with a professional? Tell me in the comments below!

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  1. Kallyn Lang


    I’ve listened to the audio interview as well as reading the article and was confused by number 6. It says that lavender should not be used in children. I’ve not read any evidence surrounding that. Could you elaborate more on this or point me in a direction? Thank you! Wonderful information!

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Good question, Kallyn. A couple of things to keeping mind here. (1). There’s a difference between what a child is directly exposed to, and what is “filtered” through the mother’s milk. In other words, because only a tiny amount is transferred through the mother’s milk to a baby, he is exposed to a “dose” that is very different than a child standing nearby and inhaling it himself. (2) Because essential oils are not a “drug”, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not oversee them. So well-designed, robust, air-tight studies are unlikely to be published any time soon, if ever. (3) There is evidence that harm may (underline may!) occur if young children are directly exposed. Young boys who have had exposure have had breast growth, as shown in Henley’s study which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (which is a VERY reputable journal!) They cautioned that the lavender acted as an endocrine disruptor. (There are other studies that suggest the same.) Are there a ton of studies? No. Was this study flawed? Maybe. Can we prove cause and effect? No. But is there enough evidence to make this seem like a caution? In my opinion, absolutely! No sense exposing your child to this just because you are using it yourself. Take Lea’s advice and use the personal inhaler as a simple precaution.

      • Kallyn Lang

        Thank you for the prompt response. I was aware of that study, but upon examining the list of oils that are “safe” for use in children (via Lea Jacobson’s website) it was included. Hence my confusion. Thank you for clarifying!

  2. Julia Stearns @ Healthirony

    As I know, baobab oil helps with pregnancy. By protecting the elasticity of the skin with oil cracks are destroyed. It’s good for the cracks. In abdomen and chest areas, cracks are removed in these areas. It also removes scars after surgery.

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Julia, I’ve heard/read that, too. Baobab oil is supposed to be effective for reducing stretch marks. (Which of course can happen at times other than pregnancy.) However, I cannot immediately find any solid research studies that show the safety of using baobab oil during pregnancy. I’m not “qualified” on this topic, but I would hesitate and need to dig deeper before telling a parent to do it.

    • Phoebe King

      Hello, and thank you for this article. It has opened my eyes to what I would have assumed before was ok without taking precaution.
      My question for you is, if I am using an all natural hair growth serum (that actually suggests using 3 times a day), and one of the essential oils is rosemary (the other oils have not come up in research as harmful if used after the first trimester), how harmful could the concoction be if one out of the 6 ingredients is a possibly harmful essential oil?
      Thank you so much for any direction you can lend on the subject

      • Marie Biancuzzo

        Oh, Phoebe, great question. I don’t know! The question would be not about the “hair” per se, but rather, if an essential oil can penetrate the scalp. If so, then such exposure would be considered “topical” (as opposed to inhaling or ingesting). Look on the label to see if it’s truly the essential oil, or if it’s just some leaves crushed up, or what. I would also think that the “dose” would be a factor. This would be a question for a certified aromatherapist. I can’t say for certain. You’ve probably heard my interview with Lea Harris (now Lea Jacobson). You might want to visit Lea’s website, or follow up with her.

  3. Faiza

    Hi, I have bought a vitamin c serum that has peppermint oil, licorice, jojoba oil in some percentage. Can I use it on my face as I’m nursing my baby? It has to be applied at night before sleeping. Plus I have also bought a mask that also includes peppermint in it, it is to be applied for only 10 mins. Please answer my query. Thanks

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Hmmm. I have no idea. It don’t know how much exposure the baby would get. Have you listened to my podcast with Lea Harris Jacobson? I think you would find that helpful. Or, you may want to contact Lea directly. She is certified in aromatherapy, and has a clear understanding of principles that relate to safety during pregnancy and lactation.

  4. Lacy Touchet

    Hello.. I have a question concerning the lavender oil. I’m a nursing mother and I broke out in hives around my breast, my mother in law said lavender would be ok to use and it does seem to be helping, but after reading this article I’m worried about it hurting my baby girl?. It would be great if you could let me know if it would. Thanks

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Thank you for the question. I’m honestly not qualified to answer that. You might want to check Dr. Tisserand’s book. First, you might want to wonder if it’s “hives.” Hives certainly can happen on the breast, but it could be other conditions, too. And then, I think you need to look at Tisserand’s book to get more insight into the lavender.

  5. Cheryl Arnariak

    Hello I had a massage today and I had mentioned that I was breastfeeding but it didn’t cross my mind to avoid the oils peppermint and bargamont And bio freeze until after the massage was done. Are these safe to use while nursing?

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Cheryl, what a good question! I’m not an aromatherapist, so I’m not qualified to say. And I’m not sure that there are any studies out there for guidance on this. While I acknowledge that we are exposed to some of those essential oils while getting a massage, I don’t think it’s really the same as inhaling through a diffuser. Also, I would think (I honestly don’t know) that if you had the massage yesterday, if you were going to see adverse effects, it seems like you would have seen them by now. But if you’re still worried, I suggest you contact Lea Harris Robertson, who is certified in aromatherapy and you could have confidence in her response. Lea was my guest on two episodes of my podcast. You might want to listen to at least one.

  6. Pingback:Les huiles essentielles sont-elles sans danger pour les femmes qui allaitent? Des experts expliquent les risques – Huile Essentiel – Huiles essentielle

  7. Pingback:The Effects Of Using Peppermint Oil While Breastfeeding – callmeoil

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Yes, indeed, thank you for pointing out more precautions. I’m not “against” natural remedies. In a general way, I’m “for” them, and have used them myself. However, I try to remind people that just because they’re natural doesn’t mean they are harmless. The reader or user should scope out these precautions. There’s much more on peppermint, including the use of peppermint water for sore nipples. There are several, but here is a recent study. Again, thank you for adding this.

  8. Pingback:The most common questions moms have about essential oils | The Sensual Mom

  9. Fathima

    Hi there
    If I put a few drops of lavender, rosemary and peppermint oil into my coconut oil for my hair, will it affect my child during breastfeeding or my breast milk supply?

    Thank you

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Oh, good question! I’m not a pharmacist or an aromatherapist, so I have no “real” answer here. However, let me try to shed some light on this. First, if you’ve already use the essential oil on your hair, I’d say, don’t stay awake worrying about it. It would be highly unusual for one “dose” of a substance to cause a problem for a breastfed baby. (Presuming that such a substance is generally recognized as safe in the non-breastfeeding context.) On the flip side, I’d say, be cautious. (And consider the amount in the “dose.”) I was always taught that the scalp was unlikely to absorb substances. However, I can’t find any recent evidence to substantiate that. It appears that substances can and do become absorbed by the scalp or the hair follicles. This article is interesting. I’ll cheerfully take correction for anyone who is qualified to address this, but having no degree in medicine or pharmacy or toxicology, I’m just stringing facts together as I see them.

  10. Maria

    I had a bath yesterday And i added Bergamot oil to my bath. A added 20 drops (not a small amount)
    I breastfed baby after my bath and I now smell begamoth on his hair. Can this harm my baby? What should I do?

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      As stated in the post, I would urge you to err on the side of caution. If you’re pregnant or lactating, it would be wise to work with someone who is certified in aromatherapy.

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