When you’re navigating through pregnancy, it can feel like all you hear is a constant stream of don’ts. Don’t eat lunch meats, don’t consume too much fish for fear of mercury (but do incorporate healthy fish into your diet), don’t scoop the kitty litter. (OK, we don’t mind that last one.)

With all that you have to avoid, it can make you nervous anytime you want to use a product of any kind.

So the question we’re looking at in this article is this: Do you need to worry about using essential oils during pregnancy? We’re breaking down the important details that you need to know to make an informed decision if you decide to incorporate essential oils into your pregnancy routine.

We’ll highlight best practices as well as outline which oils are safe — and which ones fall on, you guessed it, the don’t list.

Let’s start by saying there’s not a wholesale ban on the use of essential oils while you’re pregnant. There’s evidence that some essential oils may provide therapeutic benefits that can reduce common pregnancy ailments as well as calm anxiety.

When used properly, certain essential oils may provide the following key benefits:

  • help minimize nausea and upset stomach
  • soothe achy muscles
  • help reduce irritation and swelling associated with hemorrhoids
  • improve sleep
  • improve skin elasticity
  • reduce the appearance of stretch marks
  • help reduce anxiety during labor

There’s a common concern that essential oils can metabolize into toxic compounds when absorbed through a mother’s bloodstream. However, experts have generally determined that when used in the right dosages, this isn’t an issue.

The key is sticking to recommended amounts and following all suggested guidelines (below!). Be sure to check in with your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns.

First off, avoid using essential oils during the first trimester. The first trimester is the most critical period during pregnancy, and any risk of exposing the fetus to a toxic substance should be avoided at all costs.

But in your second or third trimesters, keep the following safety protocols in mind when you’re using approved essential oils.

Don’t ingest essential oils

Even if you aren’t pregnant, essential oils aren’t meant to be taken orally unless under the direct supervision of an expert or physician. Many essential oils can pose toxicity risks when ingested — for you and potentially your baby.

Focus on aromatherapy

In general, most medical experts agree that aromatherapy is a safer option for pregnant women as opposed to topical applications. This simply means that you should use your essential oils in a diffuser rather than applying them to your skin.

Dilution is key

Regardless of whether you’re pregnant or not, if you do decide to use oils topically, you’ll need what’s known as a carrier oil to do so safely. This is because essential oils are very concentrated and can irritate skin when applied directly without being diluted.

Common carrier oils include:

  • jojoba
  • coconut
  • sweet almond
  • apricot

Pregnant women should always speak with their physician or homeopathic expert before attempting to use them topically.

Don’t exceed dosage recommendations

While there aren’t any studies showing that normal use of essential oils is dangerous, exceeding the recommended dosages can be — especially if you’re using them topically. Carefully dilute the oils.

Lavender oil

Of all the essential oils, lavender is one of the most well researched and most promoted options that is also widely available for pregnant women to use. Studies, including this one from 2016, have shown that when used properly, lavender is an excellent aromatherapy treatment that encourages relaxation, especially during labor and delivery — a stressful moment.

A 2018 review of studies even boldly concluded that lavender reduces labor pain.

Bring a portable diffuser with you to the hospital and add a few drops of pure lavender oil to set a relaxing mood. Avoid inhaling the steam directly from your diffuser though as this can irritate the mucous membranes in your nose.

You might also ask your labor partner to massage you with diluted lavender oil during labor.

Rose oil

Rose oil is another great option for reducing anxiety, encouraging calm, and helping you get those coveted 40 winks at night. Similar to lavender, rose oil can help ease anxiety during delivery.

Since most people like the smell of roses, this might be a great option if you’re not a fan of how lavender smells. This oil is good for aromatherapy uses and should be added to a diffuser.

Peppermint oil

This is a controversial one as many experts — including aromatherapy and homeopathic practitioners — avoid the use of peppermint oil on pregnant women entirely.

But there’s preliminary evidence to suggest that when used solely for aromatherapy, peppermint oil can be a great option for reducing nausea in pregnant women.

Chamomile oil

Most people know that a cup of chamomile tea can be very calming. But chamomile is also an essential oil.

It turns out that there are two types of chamomile, each of which serves a different purpose.

Roman chamomile is a great aromatherapy option to help encourage relaxation and banish severe migraine attacks, according to a 2014 study. But German chamomile can be used topically with a carrier oil after you give birth to help repair the skin’s elasticity and reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

Related: 12 essential oils to help heal or prevent stretch marks

Lemon oil

Lemon oil is another great option if you’re dealing with nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. A 2014 study in pregnant women showed that when used consistently in aromatherapy, lemon oil reduced the frequency of nausea and vomiting.

Geranium oil

There’s no shortage of anti-anxiety aromatherapy options for labor and delivery. If lavender and rose oil aren’t your things, geranium oil is another floral option with a proven clinical track record of reducing anxiety during the first stage of labor.

Other oils

Additional essential oils that have therapeutic benefits and are safe for pregnancy (after the first trimester) include:

  • bitter almond
  • argan
  • patchouli
  • pomegranate
  • ginger
  • cardamom
  • fennel
  • cypress
  • myrtle essential
  • frankincense

The list of oils to avoid is significantly larger than those that are safe for use during pregnancy. But as a whole, it’s because these oils lack sufficient testing and research to prove that they’re safe for use while you’re pregnant even when taken according to dosage recommendations.

Like we mentioned earlier, the concern with many of these essential oils is that if a pregnant woman takes more than the recommended amount, there’s a toxicity risk.

  • aniseed
  • sage
  • basil
  • wormwood
  • rue
  • mugwort
  • oak mass
  • tarragon
  • birch
  • hyssop
  • camphor
  • parsley
  • pennyroyal
  • tansy
  • thuja
  • wintergreen

Essential oils may be a smart option for reducing some common pregnancy symptoms — like nausea — without the need for medication. And they’re also a great way to help naturally reduce anxiety during labor when used as part of an aromatherapy strategy.

You should always use oils according to the recommended amounts, and work with a certified aromatherapist or your physician before you begin an essential oil-based therapeutic regimen when you’re pregnant.