In honor of World Breastfeeding Week 2015 I thought I would share a little bit about how essential oils can be used in various ways to help enhance your breastfeeding experience. You will see tons of info about how essential oils should be avoided while pregnant or nursing. But 100% pure, therapeutic grade essential oils when used appropriately can actually help boost lactation, decrease lactation when ready to wean, and even help relieve pressure and aches associated with engorgement or clogged ducts.
Essential oil use should always be practiced safely. Only 100% pure, therapeutic grade essential oils should be used, especially while pregnant, nursing, or with children. Some brands of essential oils contain fillers or synthetic chemicals that you don’t want to expose yourself, or your baby, to. Do your research and make sure you trust your brand implicitly before using.
Please review the general safety guidelines listed in my previous blog post What Are Essential Oils?
Additional Safety Considerations for Nursing Mothers: There is a lot of contradictory information out there about essential oil safety and which oils to avoid while breastfeeding. More often than not literature seems to lump pregnancy and breastfeeding together which makes it much more difficult for consumers to know what they can and can’t use (for instance Clary Sage should be avoided while pregnant as it can cause contractions but it a great oil to use during labor and delivery as it can help speed up labor once contractions have started. But I’ve read conflicting reviews of Clary Sage during breastfeeding – some say that it can help bring on milk after baby is born and will boost lactation other sources say that it will decrease lactation. As a result, I generally avoid Clary Sage just to be safe). I would recommend erring on the side of caution and doing your research before using any essential oil while nursing. Much of the information listed below comes from two of my essential oil bibles Gentle Babies by Debra Raybern (you can buy it here) and Essential Oil Pocket Reference published by Life Science Publishing (you can buy it here).
Essential Oils and Uses:
To Boost Lactation:
- Fennel – Fennel seed is often recommended as an herbal supplement to help increase breastmilk production. Fennel essential oil may be more effective given that the concentration of the oil is much more potent than the plant or seed. Fennel can be used as a dietary supplement, 1-2 drops added to tea or a tsp of honey, or it can be taken in a vegetable capsule. Debra Raybern recommends taking Fennel every 2 hours and follow with a glass of water (hydration is important to keeping your supply up so always make sure you are drinking plenty of water!). Fennel can also be applied topically. For topical use, dilute 1-2 drops of Fennel essential oil with 1 Tbsp of carrier oil (Coconut oil or Young Living’s V-6 Vegetable Complex) and apply directly on the breast and lymph area under the arm, avoiding the nipple area*. (note: Fennel should not be taken internally for more than 10 days as it could cause an increased flow through the urinary tract)
- Basil – Basil is similar to Fennel essential oil in its lactation boosting properties and can be taken internally or applied topically in the same way. Basil does not carry the same warning as Fennel, however, and can be taken internally for longer than 10 days if necessary.
- Joy or Stress Away blends – Stress can have a negative impact on your supply so using essential oil blends such as Joy or Stress away, either diffused, dabbed on your wrist and behind your ears, or combined with Epsom Salt and Baking Soda for a relaxing bath! Other oils that help reduce stress and promote relaxation include: Lavender and Sandalwood.
To Help Decrease Lactation and Relieve Engorgement (For Oversupply or When Weaning):
- Peppermint – Most herbalists recommend avoiding peppermint while nursing as it can have an adverse effect on your supply (However, some mothers, like myself, will report that peppermint does not affect their lactation). However, if you have an over-supply issue or you are weaning your baby, adding Peppermint oil to your routine may help alleviate some of the pressure associated with engorgement. Peppermint is a dietary supplement and can be taken internally. Debra Raybern recommends taking 5 drops of peppermint orally several times a day to decrease supply. You can add a few drops of peppermint oil to water, dip a wash cloth in it and wring out the excess water and apply directly to the breast as a cold compress. Avoid heat application when engorged as this can increase swelling and inflammation.
In addition to peppermint oil, another natural remedy to relieve engorgement and help decrease supply are cabbage leaf compresses. Simply take a chilled or room temperature cabbage leaf and apply directly to the breast between feedings for up to 20 minutes 3 times daily. For weaning, you can leave the cabbage leaf on the breast until it wilts. For more information on cabbage leaf compresses visit Kelly Mom’s blog.
For Sore, Dry, Cracked Nipples*: (Note: painful nursing and dry or cracked nipples could be due to another condition, such as improper latch or tongue or lip tie. Please see a lactation consultant and/or pediatrician for evaluation)
- Myrrh, Helichrysum, Geranium, Vetiver, or Sandalwood – When diluted with a carrier oil and applied directly to the nipple these oils can help moisturize the skin and provide relief from dry, cracked nipples as well as help speed up the healing process.
- Valor blend – a good alternative to the above oils to help provide relief from dry, cracked nipples. Dilute with carrier oil and apply directly on nipple.
- Lavender or Roman Chamomile – Sore nipples? Add a few drops of Lavender or Roman Chamomile to your nipple cream or apply directly on your nipples with some organic coconut oil to help minimize discomfort.
* When applying any essential oil directly to nipples, always make sure they are diluted. I would ensure that the oil was fully absorbed into the skin or wipe off any excess before my next nursing session. While all these suggested oils can be taken used orally for adults it is not recommended that small infants ingest oils just to be safe.
For Clogged Ducts:
- Geranium, Lavender, and Melrose blend – Each of these oils individually or used together can help promote circulation, reduce pressure and alleviate aches associated with engorgement and clogged ducts. Combine 1 drop Geranium, 1 drop Lavender, and 2 drops of Melrose with 1 1/2 pints of cold water. Dip washcloth into the mix and squeeze out excess water. Apply as a cold compress directly to the affected area of the breast. Repeat as often as once per hour for relief. (Recipe from Gentle Babies)
In addition, hot showers, soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath that completely covers the breast, breast massage, frequent pumping or nursing, pointing your baby’s chin towards the affected area of the breast while nursing, and “dangle nursing” (where you nurse from a position of hands and knees and dangle your breast towards your baby’s mouth) are all recommended to help alleviate discomfort associated with clogged ducts and to prevent development of mastitis.
For Mastitis: (Note: Mastitis is a serious infection and should always be diagnosed and treated by a health professional of your choice. You may choose to use the following blend to help provide some relief as a supplement to your prescriber’s treatment protocol.)
- Breast Blend Recipe – combine 3 drops Myrrh, 3 drops Vetiver, 2 drops Copaiba, and 1 drop Blue Spruce with 1/2 tsp carrier oil (Coconut Oil or Young Living’s V-6 Vegetable Complex are good choices). Massage blend onto breasts and under armpits two times daily to help provide relief from pain, swelling, redness or warmth of the breast. (Recipe from Essential Oils Pocket Reference)
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Have you used essential oils as part of your breastfeeding journey? I’d love to hear your story! Share it in the comments below to keep the conversation going!
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Products and techniques mentioned here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Information here is in no way intended to replace proper medical help. Consult with the health authorities of your choice for treatment.