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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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11 Comments

  1. Kallyn Lang

    Hello,

    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.

  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.

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