There are a lot of do’s and don’ts during pregnancy. Do drink plenty of water and get extra rest. Don’t eat particular foods or engage in certain activities. It’s only natural to want to research each and every thing you consume or put on your body.
Coconut oil, for example, is a popular food ingredient that also gets high marks for being a great skin moisturizer and more. But is it safe to use during pregnancy?
Here’s what you need to know about coconut oil, how to use it when you’re pregnant, and what questions you should ask your doctor.
The medium-length long-chain fatty acid (MCFAs) that makes up nearly half of the fat in coconut oil is called lauric acid, which has antimicrobial properties. A 2014 research review showed that when lauric acid is consumed, it travels to the liver and converts to energy versus being stored as fat in the body.
During pregnancy, the fats you eat play an important role in fueling the growth of the placenta and your baby’s organs. You can use the oil to saute vegetables or to replace other oils when baking. Don’t feel like cooking? You can also toss a tablespoon into a smoothie.
Is consuming coconut oil safe during pregnancy? Yes — provided you aren’t allergic and don’t overdo it. Stick with “virgin” varieties, which are less processed than their refined counterparts.
Some people take a mouthful of coconut oil and swish it around in a practice called oil pulling. According to a
- reduce bad breath
- lessen plaque on your teeth
- prevent cavities
- strengthen your mouth muscles
Beyond that, some anecdotal evidence shows that oil pulling may improve conditions ranging from migraine to allergies to kidney conditions — but more research is needed.
The American Dental Association shares that pregnancy can trigger certain dental concerns, like gingivitis or tooth erosion. While oil pulling appears to be safe during pregnancy, there isn’t much research for or against the practice. Also, oil pulling shouldn’t replace brushing, flossing, or regular appointments with your dentist.
To try oil pulling at home, take a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil, put it in your mouth, and gently swish it around for about 20 minutes.
Oil pulling is best performed in the morning with an empty stomach, which may be hard if you have morning sickness. When you’re done, spit the oil out into a trash can (not the sink — it may clog pipes) and brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with salt water.
The fatty acids in coconut oil make it particularly moisturizing to your skin. Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is one of the most common skin conditions people experience during pregnancy.
If you already deal with eczema, you may find that it flares when you’re pregnant. However, an older 2007 research review showed that
Virgin coconut oil can be applied topically to affected areas as needed. According to a 2019 research review, the oil may provide several important antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties that help with wound healing all while moisturizing dry, irritated skin.
While there aren’t many studies on the use of coconut oil for atopic dermatitis during pregnancy, studies on the general population don’t point out any issues with applying virgin coconut oil to your skin. If you’re dealing with eczema, be sure to speak with your doctor about other treatments or lifestyle changes that may help.
Your body grows as your baby grows. All this stretching of skin can lead to stretch marks on your stomach, thighs, buttocks, arms, and more. Keeping skin moisturized may help with prevention of stretch marks.
While there isn’t much research on the use of coconut oil for stretch marks, its moisturizing abilities make it a potential help for a variety of skin conditions.
Again, applying virgin coconut oil to your skin appears to be safe during pregnancy. Speak with your doctor about other methods to help with stretch marks or if you have any additional concerns about your skin. And let us be the ones to break this to you — sometimes, stretch marks aren’t preventable.
As you get closer to your due date, you might consider preparing your body for delivery by doing a daily perineal massage. The perineum is the area between your vulva and anus that must stretch during a vaginal birth. Massaging regularly with a moisturizing oil, like coconut oil, may help prevent vaginal tearing.
To perform self-massage:
- Get into a comfortable position (e.g., in bed, on the couch)
- Insert your fingers about an inch and a half into the lower vaginal area
- Apply pressure down toward your back and move your thumbs outward to the sides
- Hold for around 2 minutes — you may feel a mild stinging or burning sensation
- Apply coconut oil (or almond oil or olive oil) to your thumbs and massage the area for around 4 minutes
- Repeat two to three times, resting between sessions
Perineal massage is safe during pregnancy. While you may start at any time, it is most effective in the 6 weeks before your due date, according to a 2012 research review.
You can also get up close and personal and use coconut oil as a lubricant for sex. While you may not typically use a lubricant, it can lessen friction and make sex more comfortable. After all, pregnancy can change your vagina’s secretions, so you may be wetter or drier than usual.
There aren’t studies on coconut oil as a lubricant during pregnancy. That said, its moisturizing properties and use as part of perineal massage point to it being a safe option. And some information suggests that coconut oil is protective against yeast infections, but you may want to run it by your doctor first.
But don’t use coconut oil if you use condoms and have concerns about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Oil-based lubricants can damage latex condoms and make them less effective. And if you’re prone to vaginal infections, ask your doctor about other lubricant options.
Your hair may be extra thick and luxurious during pregnancy (lucky you!). Or it may be limp and uninspired. Either way, coconut oil can be used topically on the hair as a conditioning treatment. A
There are no indications that use of coconut oil on the hair is harmful during pregnancy. Anecdotal accounts are mixed on its effectiveness. Some people say coconut oil does wonders for their locks while others report hair loss when using the oil.
Whatever you do, start with just a small amount of virgin coconut oil. Warm it between your palms and apply to the ends of hair, avoiding the roots and scalp.
Hemorrhoids are a common complaint during pregnancy and the postpartum period. They involve swollen varicose veins on the inside or outside of your anus and rectum. One small 2019 study involving pregnant women revealed that coconut oil may ease discomfort (pain, itching, etc.) from hemorrhoids more than lifestyle measures alone.
Participants in the study applied an ointment made with coconut oil twice each day for 2 weeks. They also followed other lifestyle modifications, like eating a low fiber diet, drinking water, and getting movement each day.
As far as safety goes, no adverse reactions are noted from using coconut oil. It’s important to know that the study was on grade 1 and 2 hemorrhoids. If you have hemorrhoids that protrude from the anus (grade 3 or 4), speak with your doctor about other treatment options.
Don’t use coconut oil if you’re allergic to coconut or display any symptoms of a reaction when exposed to this ingredient. Symptoms of an allergic reaction are usually mild and may include:
- itching in your eyes, nose, or skin
- hives or a rash on your skin
- diarrhea/stomach issues
- wheezing/tightness in your chest.
Call your doctor if you experience these symptoms, but get emergency help if you have symptoms of anaphylaxis (a severe, life threatening complication):
- itchy, red or discolored rash
- low blood pressure
- trouble breathing
- persistent sneezing
- stomach cramping
Also, speak with your doctor before eating coconut oil on a regular basis if you have concerns about consuming too many saturated fats. While coconut oil is touted as a superfood, it should only be included in your diet in moderation and as a substitution for other oils, like olive oil or canola oil, that provide unsaturated fats.
Coconut oil may be safe to ingest and use topically for a variety of reasons in pregnancy. More research is needed to assess the full range of benefits and risks, however.
If you’re dealing with pain, discomfort, or just want to try something new, contact your doctor to find out what home remedies, like coconut oil, are safe for use during pregnancy.