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Plans for studying Essential Oils in Breastfeeding moms?

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  • Plans for studying Essential Oils in Breastfeeding moms?

    I see more and more moms using essential oils while breastfeeding. Is anyone aware of any studies directly related to essential oils and breastfeeding?
    Liz RN, IBCLC in Texas

  • #2
    How are your patients using these oils? Are there any in particular that show up the most often?


    • #3
      I have had a patient ask about safety of basil oil and coconut oil, both applied topically to the breast. Supposed to increase supply. I told her I was unaware of any studies and referred her to her MD.


      • #4
        I can't find any studies on the impact of topical basil oil or coconut oil on milk supply.


        • #5
          I just had a mom who had been exclusively for 5 1/2 month introduce frankinscense and fennel essential oils. Her milk is drying up to the point that her baby is not having frequent urination. Anyone else see a correlation with decreased milk supply and essential oils?


          • #6
            How is she using these oils?


            • #7
              I am also seeing an increase in mention of essential oil use in breastfeeding women. Some examples that I have have heard from mothers include applying fennel oil to the breasts to increase supply or applying tea tree oil to the nipples to treat thrush. Thus in both cases, the breastfeeding infant has a high chance of consuming these oils. I think a reliable source to check safety is very much needed.


              • #8
                examples of EO use

                I do not recommend essential oils rather have been seeking reliable information on their safety and use.

                Here's are two articles:

                I've also collected advice that I've heard given to breastfeeding Moms (usually by other Moms) - not all are for breastfeeding issues. Sometimes the oil is applied "neat" other times in a carrier oil.

                These include: tea tree and lavender oil applied to the infant's skin for eczema, given to the infant for constipation, mother inhaling lavender or wild orange when feeling anxious, humidifiers with essential oils for babies with a stuffy nose, lavender oil applied to baby's skin for a burn, thieves oil applied to infant's ear for ear infection, consumed by breastfeeding mother for migraines, peppermint or eucalyptus on baby's chest or feet for congestion, lavender and coconut oil on baby's feet to help sleep, consumption for a breastfeeding Mom with cold symptoms, anise and lemongrass in a diffuser to increase supply, tea tree, olive leaf, lemongrass, & oregano topically to treat mastitis, lavender essential oil orally and on gums for a teething baby, consumption to treat postpartum depression, Peppermint essential oils in a diffuser for low supply, Panaway blend of several essential oils for headache, massaging into breast for a plugged duct, use as a deodorant, Fennel or basil for gassy baby, Frankincense, lavender and melaleuca essential oils with coconut oil for a rash on breast, doTERRA's DigestZen for baby with reflux, fennel oil to the breasts to increase supply, applying tea tree oil to the nipples to treat thrush . . . so I've seen an essential oil recommended to a breastfeeding Mom for just about everything!


                • #9
                  Thanks, ellenrubin, for providing some specific examples. There is too much here to comment on every permutation and very little medical literature published on most of these products. Let's also bypass the question of whether these oils are effective in treating their respective conditions.

                  In examining the question of breastfeeding safety, a few general principles apply:

                  1. Herbal products are not regulated by the FDA and there can be significant variations in the potency and purity between different products or even between different lots of the same product.
                  2. Herbs can interact with each other and with prescription medications. In some cases, this may increase or decrease the potency of one or both of the substances.
                  3. Topical application of essential oils is unlikely to be a problem for the baby, although allergic reactions are a possibility with any substance.
                  4. If the mother applies an oil to her breasts, she should wash it off completely before feeding.
                  5. I would be hesitant to apply an oil to the baby's mouth or ears. A significant amount is likely to be absorbed and there is no way to "take it back" if the baby starts to have problems.
                  6. Do not feed essential oils to a baby. Not all of these products are "food grade." There are also important differences in metabolism between babies and adults that could make an otherwise safe product into a significant hazard in an infant.
                  7. Do not use home treatment with these products as a replacement for an evaluation by a licensed physician. Doing so may mask a more serious condition or delay your treatment.

                  I don't mean to sound like I am prejudiced against herbs and oils. In my practice, I have to justify the recommendations that I make to patients and I am responsible for their outcomes. There is simply not enough evidence to guarantee the safety of these products to my satisfaction. For most of the conditions that you outlined, I can think of better choices for treatment.

                  I hope this is helpful.

                  -James Abbey, MD


                  • #10
                    This is a helpful start! I believe there are several essential oils that are considered dangerous for children (such as peppermint) and thus I would be concerned about applying them to the breasts. There seem to be many blog style articles available about the safety of essential oils and children, however it is difficult for the lay person to evaluate which are reliable. Like the original poster, I'd be thrilled for research to be done in this area (and to have a version of Medications and Mothers Milk including essential oils).