In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, we discuss the contentious issue of essential oils for breastfeeding. Plants like fennel and clary sage have been used for hundreds of years to boost breast milk, but since essential oils pass into breast milk and have a taste on the nipple, there are safety considerations to keep in mind.
Using warm face cloths on the breast with essential oils for breastfeeding can be an incredible help. In this article, we look at best practices for using aromatherapy postnatally.
Gifting List of Essential Oils For Breastfeeding
Here is a list of the most valuable oils. The rest of the article will explain why and how to use them.
- Melissa Essential Oil - To help after pains and mood.
- Clary Sage Essential Oil - Phytoestrogenic effect on the milk.
- Fennel Essential Oil - Phyto estrogenic effect on the milk.
- Lavender Essential Oil - Soothing and cooling for pain.
- Roman Chamomile Essential Oil - Soothing and digestive and calming for baby.
- German Chamomile Essential Oil - Same as above but gentler for cracked nipples.
- Geranium Essential Oil - Releases breast congestion.
- Rosehip Carrier Oil - Great carrier, and rose’s lovely postpartum help.
Are Essential Oils Safe for Breastfeeding Mothers?
Let’s start here because if you want to treat someone to a kind gift, you want to know you are doing the right thing, don’t you?
Some would be unsafe; I have included these in the list below. There aren’t many of your everyday oils in there. Most are safe.
The safety concerns aren’t really about which oil you are using; it is more about how it is used.
First, there is a matter of ingestion. We don’t want little ones swallowing oils, so we don’t put it directly onto the nipple.
Next, we need to be sure that if the baby lays her face against your breast, we haven’t done anything to irritate her.
One needs to be open-minded about how your baby will take to them. Just as your baby might not appreciate you eating a spicy curry because the unfamiliar tastes might upset their digestion, we all like different tastes, don’t we? So it seems good sense to me that if a baby starts getting fussy about feeding, the first step should be to stop using your essential oils to check it’s not the taste of myrrh, for example, putting them off.
Babies navigate their world through their sense of smell, so they want mom to smell like mom. If done correctly, using essential oils for breastfeeding can be a great way to use oils to help the baby to learn to sleep too, and we addressed this in an earlier article.
To my mind, even “safe” essential oils are best used in smaller dilutions of 1-2% when breastfeeding.
Essential Oils to Avoid While Breastfeeding
Oils to avoid from a safety perspective are:
- Aniseed Pimpinella anisum
- Basil ct Estragole Ocimum basilicum
- Birch Betula lenta
- Camphor Cinnamomum camphora
- Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
- Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris
- Parsley seed or leaf Petroselinum sativum
- Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium
- Sage Salvia officinalis
- Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
- Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus
- Thuja Thuja occidentalis
- Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens
- Wormwood Artemisia absinthium
Essential Oils Safe for Nursing Mothers
So, this is a short list of the oils I would feel happy about you using postnatally.
Not all of these oils have postpartum indications. You’d use eucalyptus if you had a cold, for example. This list is safe essential oils for breastfeeding times, rather than saying they have any effect on lactation, per sec.
Do Essential Oils Boost Milk Supply?
Legally, we can’t say they do, but certainly, some plants can make a difference in how much milk your body produces.
You might want to avoid Peppermint essential oil and tea, for example. It’s in toothpaste, but in such small amounts, and you’d spit it anyway, but peppermint will reduce your milk supply.
We use peppermint for people whose boobs don’t like the idea of weaning and continue to make way too much milk. We also use it to help women with stillborn children. If you are thinking of doing this, please also consider that peppermint is refreshing and steals precious, healing sleep. Use with care.
Clary Sage and Fennel essential oils are both considered galactagogue plants; that is, they improve milk supply, and thus they are good essential oils for breastfeeding. That said, stories differ about successes. Some women say the milk gets better with clary sage; some say it reduces. It can be trial and error, and we should stress that there can be many external factors that affect milk supply. We’ll look at that as we go.
Ways Essential Oils can Help Breastfeeding Mom
I think it would be fair to say that essential oils for breastfeeding should probably be a broader subject than it appears because breast milk is not a tap that just switches on and off. There can be lots of things that can influence how much milk we make.
The two top concerns, I would say, are being hydrated enough and mood. Baby blues and postpartum depression can hurt milk supply. We can use all the essential oils for breastfeeding worldwide, but it would be better to address the emotional disturbance first. So let’s start there then. Two plants, in particular, have profound science around how much they help new moms.
These are Rose and Melissa.
Let’s talk about these first.
Essential Oils for Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
We often talk about the stress hormone cortisol. We looked at it extensively when discussing how stress affects the body. However, there is a hidden layer to how this works in newborn babies.
Cortisol has a natural spike of activity each day. Most people have a big surge of cortisol about half an hour after they get up in the morning. It’s our body’s natural caffeine boost, if you will. However, it is known that many people with Asperger’s Syndrome do not have this boost (Brosnan, 2009), and neither do newborn babies.
The cortisol signaling mechanism does not normalize in children until they are two years old. Surprisingly, until that time, the child's signaling follows its mom's.
Think about the ramifications of that for a moment. Mom gets stressed, the baby cries, the mom gets more distressed because she can’t soothe the baby, and then the infant screams more.
Interestingly, a 2018 study of seventy mothers demonstrated that cortisol levels do pass through to breastmilk; they do not seem to be associated with how much a baby fusses. (Heckler, 2018) (Well, that’s something, anyway!) However, other studies show that the lower the cortisol levels in the milk, the fattier and more nutritious it becomes. (Linderberg, 2020)
So, we can see how keeping mom calm can significantly affect her mental health and baby’s, but also from a nutrition point of view.
Rose has excellent postpartum effects anyway. It’s soothing, appeasing, and moistening, which has a beautifully tonic effect on the uterus.
I’d recommend rose (or geranium) in your bath and inhalation ritual. These are proven to improve estrogen and oxytocin. One of the oxytocin’s most essential functions is to help your milk come in. You could perhaps use my rose meditation; a rose from the garden can be good.
The science around Melissa is for herbal supplements and teas rather than the essential oil, but I would still suggest using it. Melissa has a beneficial natural effect on mood anyway, and also on sleep. However, women given Lemon Balm supplements (Lemon Balm - Melissa officinalis) are much less likely to suffer from baby blues. (Beihaghi, 2019) Another trial showed them to be more effective than the doctor’s prescribed medicine, Mefenamic acid, when given to women suffering from birth pains. (Nastjerdi, 2019)
Essential Oils To Increase Milk Supply
I’d recommend using two different types of oils, ones that are Phyto-estrogenic and ones that are reputed to have a positive effect on colic.
Don’t forget too that herbal teas can be fantastic for this. The more active constituents you can find in edible fluid form, the better.
Dill, carrot seed, and roman chamomile all have a lovely soothing effect on digestion that will pass through the breast milk as you feed.
Essential Oils For Clogged Milk Duct
It’s been nearly thirty years since I had my first child, and I can still remember the searing pain in my boobs when my milk came in and a duct got clogged. My daughter would not latch on, and my breasts were huge, burning hot engorged bowling balls.
I can remember lying in the bath. They were so huge there was nowhere to lay my arms. The breasts filled the tub's width, hurting too much to put my arms down.
My mom came to the rescue saying to use geranium compresses. Two hours later, I was back to normal.
So, if we want to make milk flow better, we use warm compresses, and then afterward, we use cold ones to cool them down and slow the milk production a bit. Compresses are used to unblock toxins of all different kinds. The opening and closing of the pores create a suction effect that draws toxicity from deeper cells up and out of the surface.
Put warm compresses on your breasts for 10 minutes before nursing and cold packs for 10 to 15 minutes after nursing. A warm compress can help widen the ducts and allow the milk to come into the breast ducts. Cold packs when you have finished feeding can help to reduce the swelling.
However, essential oils are not water soluble, so putting them into the water doesn’t make sense. Better would be to create a massage oil (see recipes below), put that on, then put your compresses over the oil to help your essential oils for breastfeeding permeate. Rosehip carrier is another way to exploit the healing capacities of roses without spending a small fortune.
So fill your wash basin with water, soak your face cloth and ring it out, then simply open it and lie it over your breasts. Essential oils take nineteen minutes to absorb, so the good thing about doing it this way is they will continue to work, even if the baby gets insistent about feeding. You don’t have twenty minutes to spare with compresses.
Apply to Breast Tissue, Not The Nipples
Hopefully, it will be evident that if we persuade adults not to ingest essential oils, putting them on our nipples where babies hungrily guzzle is not the best plan.
Essential oils absorb through the skin and into the bloodstream, so even if you put them on your feet, they will have some effect. However, applying them to breast tissue is the fastest and safest way.
I’d use Lavender and Chamomile if they are very painful. Geranium or Clary sage otherwise.
Essential Oils For Breastfeeding Nipples
So this situation is slightly different because we need to use oils here. I believe that carrier oils probably have more to offer than essential oils for breastfeeding nipples.
Calendula would be my choice, mainly because of what a great skin healer it is, but it is made from edible petals. And that’s an easy thing to make yourself. We have instructions on how to do that on our grapeseed oil listing.
But oils-wise, a bit of chamomile is safe. If they are cracked, you could make a little ointment with some myrrh. Myrrh tastes bitter, so this tends to work better for moms with a set feeding ritual than those who feed on demand.
You can use the oil and not put it on the nipple. It will still be healing, just perhaps not so fast.
Considerations Before Using Essential Oils During Breastfeeding
- Not Every Oil Works for Everyone.
- Always Dilute With Carrier Oil Before Applying.
- Do Not Apply Directly to the Nipple.
- Wash the Breast Before Feeding The Baby.
- You May Want To Consult Your Doctor or Midwife Before Using Essential Oils While Breastfeeding.
Safety Precautions for EOs Around Baby
Please be clear that essential oils are poisons if they are swallowed undiluted. Please ensure all tops are tightly on and bottles are stored away from children.
Also, be mindful that little faces will also be resting on your breasts. We also need to be aware of their delicate skins. So keep dilutions very light (1-2%) and ensure you never use old oils, which could lead to skin irritation.
Essential Oil Recipes for Breastfeeding Mothers
Easier Breast Milk Oil Treatment
- 1 tbs Rosehip Carrier Oil (Rosa Canina)
- 3 drops Geranium Essential Oil (Pelargonium Graveolens)
- 2 drops Lavender Essential Oil (Lavandula Angustifolia)
- 2 drops Roman Chamomile Essential Oil (Anthemis Nobilis)
- 1 drop Fennel Essential Oil (Foeniculum Vulgare)
- 1 drop Clary Sage Essential Oil (Salvia Sclarea)
Method of use: Apply to fleshy breast tissue. Works better with warm compresses placed on top.
Safety: Not suitable for use in the first 37 weeks of pregnancy. Taking clary sage out would make it safe after 16.
Cream for Cracked Nipples
Essential Oil Bath For Sick Breastfeeding Mom
With winter just around the corner and the Germ That Shall Not Be Named always lurking, it’s worth creating a bath recipe for days when mom feels off color for other reasons than feeding her child.
Method of Use: Add to warm bath water. Be careful of getting out of the bath since carrier oil makes it very slippery.
Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
A reminder of my list of Essential Oils for Breast Feeding with clickable links for you to purchase.
Melissa Essential Oil - To help after pains and mood.
Clary Sage Essential Oil - Phytoestrogenic effect on the milk.
Fennel Essential Oil - Phyto estrogenic effect on the milk.
Lavender Essential Oil - soothing and cooling for pain.
Roman Chamomile Essential Oil - soothing and digestive and calming for baby.
German Chamomile Essential Oil - Same as above but gentler for cracked nipples.
Geranium Essential Oil - releases breast congestion.
Rosehip Carrier Oil - great carrier, and rose’s lovely postpartum help.
I would recommend that anyone feeding their child have some essential oils for breastfeeding at the ready. Apart from being the most natural thing in the world, it’s not easy. There are lots of physical pitfalls, it can be demoralizing at times, and sadly women also need a great deal of mental resilience to cope with stupid people’s negative comments.
Essential oils can help the milk flow itself and be an enormous help for emotional resilience. It’s the perfect gift to yourself, your baby, or of course, for a loved one or friend.