Proceed with Caution: Oils for Pregnancy Massage, MASSAGE MagazineThe soothing scents and silky glide of oils almost certainly enhance every massage experience. For your pregnant clients, however, what you apply to their skin during massage may produce some unpleasant or negative effects.

Although you might try to minimize problems by using organic or all-natural products, some of these may contain ingredients that could be toxic or unsafe for pregnant women. To be on the safe side, you should educate yourself on the different products on the market, read labels carefully and abide by a few guidelines when massaging your expectant clients.

Any oil you use gets absorbed into your client’s skin, so harmful ingredients can be absorbed transdermally, deposited into fat, enter the bloodstream and eventually reach the fetus. So sticking to basics should be the first rule of thumb. While blended oils or lotions may help soothe dry skin and improve glide, they may not be the best choice for your pregnant client. After all, your number one priority is the safety of your client and her developing baby.

Herb oils may seem like a sensible choice since they are naturally derived. But some, such as fennel and aniseed, contain chemical components that mimic hormonal activity and could trigger uterine contractions, resulting in possible miscarriage. It’s best to nix these oils until after the baby arrives.

During the first trimester particularly, emmenagogue oils, those that stimulate blood flow to the pelvis and uterus, promoting menstruation, may be harmful if used during pregnancy. The list includes angelica, chamomile, cinnamon, clary sage, ginger, jasmine, juniper, myrrh, peppermint, rose, rosemary and sweet marjoram.

Another class of oils to be avoided is the abortifacient, i.e., toxic oils that may induce abortion, which includes mugwort, pennyroyal, sage, sassafras, tansy and wormwood.

During pregnancy, a woman’s sensitivity to certain environmental and physical factors may increase. In the event that she develops digestive, respiratory and/or photo sensitivities, oils like black pepper, cinnamon, clove, lemongrass, Melissa, pine and tea tree may exacerbate those issues. It’s wise to conduct a 24-hour patch test to see if the area becomes dry, red or itchy. To be on the safe side, you could choose an alternative oil and save these for postpartum massage.

Any massage products that contain vitamin A, retinols and teratogenic agents are definitely on the “do not use” list, as they may cause fetal defects.

With all these restrictions, which oils can you use? Neutral-scented, plant-based oils are the best choice. Almond, apricot, calendula, geranium, lavender, mandarin, peach, wheat germ and vanilla all help to enhance the massage experience without harming the mom-to-be or her baby.

So, welcome your pregnant client and prepare to help her relax and enjoy this exciting time in her life, but be sure to read labels and proceed with caution. There are various resources available to help you determine what is best for you and your cients. One such resource is A Quick Reference Guide for Using Essential Oils, by Connie and Alan Higley, which offers a comprehensive overview and some recipes for massage oils to use when pregnant. When in doubt, consult an herbalist, midwife or alternative health specialist.