Essential oils have been used for thousands of years and as women continue to make informed choices during pregnancy and childbirth, they’re also turning to natural remedies like essential oils to ease common aches and pains, ease anxiety and get more sleep, experts say.   

In fact, a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at data from 2007 and found that 37 percent of pregnant women used complementary and alternative medicine within the last year.

What are essential oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts that are naturally found in different parts of a plant, including the leaves, flowers, twigs, peel of the fruit and the bark root.

The oil sacks that protect the plant from disease can also help women during pregnancy to feel better, both physically and emotionally, said Stephanie Fritz, a licensed midwife and a certified professional midwife in Sierra Vista, Ariz. and author of “Essential Oils for Pregnancy, Birth & Babies.”

Here are some essential oils that can help manage common pregnancy complaints.

Morning sickness
Ginger and cardamom, essential oils that come from the same family, can block the nausea receptors in the brain, Fritz said. They, along with peppermint can also help heartburn, gas and bloating.

Cold and flu
Drink a cup of water, hot or cold, with lemon essential oil to raise the pH levels in your body and ward off infections and the flu. Lemon can also help to gently detox your liver.

“There’s a lot going on in your body and your liver has to process everything. It is doing a happy dance when you give it any sort of citrus oils,” Fritz said.

You can also massage lemon onto the soles of your feet. Since the bottoms of your feet have the largest pores and the most pores per square inch, the oil will be absorbed into your body within just 30 seconds, Fritz said.

Anxiety and insomnia
Lavender is one of the most effective essential oils to ease anxiety, promote relaxation and help you sleep. You can put lavender on your pillow, on the bottom of your feet or rub it on your hands and breathe it in. Since the nose is connected to the limbic system, the part of the brain where emotions and memories are stored, you may immediately feel calm the minute you inhale the scent, Fritz said.  

Other essential oils that can help with relaxation include cedarwood, ylang-ylang, neroli and chamomile, which can be made into a tea.

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Add peppermint or eucalyptus to a diffuser to help open up your airways. Using the diffusor while you sleep can also help relieve symptoms.

Helichrysum, known as the “oil for pain,” is one of the most effective essential oils for tension headaches. Peppermint, basil and white fir can help, too.

Aches and pains
Whether you have bleeding gums, back pain, ligament pain or some other type of inflammation, frankincense can help ease pain. Place 2 to 3 drops of the oil under your tongue at least once a day to reap the most benefit.

Massage cypress oil on your legs or feet to promote circulation and reduce swelling.

Tips for using essential oils safely:

Before using essential oils, you should talk to your doctor to rule out a medical condition or pregnancy complications.  Some essential oils aren’t safe during pregnancy, such as “moving oils” because they can cause contractions and pre-term labor, said Dr. Kecia Gaither, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and director of perinatal outreach at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Plus, since essential oils are not regulated by the FDA, many contain synthetic fillers, contaminants and toxins such as pesticides and herbicides. So it’s a good idea to speak with a naturopath, midwife or expert who uses essential oils and can recommend a reputable brand, especially if you’ll be ingesting them.

“If you go to someone who is familiar with essential oils and they’re using them, you’re going to be much safer,” Fritz said.

Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at