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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