Safe Essential Oil Use in Pregnancy, Labor, and Birth: An Interview with Amber Duncan

Amber Duncan Aromatherapist Serving Cincinnati and Dayton

Thank you Amber for agreeing to interview with me for the blog! I know that you help a lot of people locally in the greater Cincinnati and Dayton region as a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist, and also help people further away through your work online. First of all, I would love to hear a little bit about you. How did you get into essential oils and aromatherapy? What trainings and credentials have you acquired?

Thank you Kate for asking me! I got into essential oils initially with multi-level marketing company. Something about all the things they told me, about how powerful they were yet I was supposed to be able to use them anytime, on any one, even ingesting them made me uneasy. On my search to find out more I stumbled across the fact that one could actually become certified in the field of aromatherapy. Of course with no government regulation on such I had to find a company I was truly comfortable with and could trust, along with ways to verify the school’s credentials. I have now completed both my initial certification as a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist, and an advanced certification, along with extra courses along the way, primarily through the Aromahead Institute.

For those that do not know, tell me a little bit about essential oils? What are they, and what are they used for?

Essential oils are the powerful, volatile components of plants. The plants naturally use these oils to protect themselves, and go about their normal functions. These components can be used to help a myriad of situations by inhalation, topical application and (rarely) ingestion.  

What is some of the history behind essential oil use?

Essential oils have been used for quite a while- however it is worth noting NO essential oils were around in the times of the bible… that is one big misconception that has been spread. I have a blog post about this coming soon. Aromatherapy has been used for far longer than essential oils- this is due to the process that the plant materials must go through in order to create essential oils was not invented until after they realized the help plants could bring. In fact first notes of aromatherapy use date back to the fourth century BC with Hippocrates noting that substances that were burned could offer protection from contagious diseases.

Essential oils are derived naturally from plants. Since they are all-natural, does that mean they are entirely safe for anyone to use?

I love this question and based off the recipes one sees on Facebook and Pinterest, you would think they are all completely safe for everyone. My favorite way to think of this one is to ask- since poison ivy is all natural is it completely safe for everyone? Of course the response to that is no; the same applies to essential oils, and well everything that is natural. People have allergies and can have allergies to essential oils, we also have oils that are not recommended with certain medications and other medical conditions (including diabetes). The key with oils is to make sure you triple check with reputable sources to ensure the safety for both you and your family.

Are some essential oils more effective than others? How can you tell the quality of the essential oils you are getting?

Absolutely some essential oils will be more effective than others, it will depend on the situation and the person involved. Some people love lavender for its relaxing properties but for others it actually revs them up instead of relaxing them. Quality of an oil tends to be subjective and people use their preferences to determine quality. Purity, on the other hand, is something that can be established from a GC/MS test- something that I cover more in depth in my e-courses and workshops.


Do you do private consultations with people who want to learn more about using essential oils in specific applications, such as during pregnancy, birth, or after the baby arrives? Are you qualified to be able to give advice about essential oil use?

Yes I do! I actually am opening up a physical location starting 1 November that will better allow me to give in person and web consultations. I definitely am qualified for help with oils in pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care (and with kids too). I write on these topics quarterly for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy and I am speaking at their national conference on the 23rd of October on this topic. I have worked with numerous midwives, doulas and moms-to-be in this topic area not only here in Ohio but overseas as well.

Do you recommend that people talk to their doctors or midwives as well before using essential oils?

Absolutely! It helps if they have actual training in this area which many do not. My professional recommendation is to work with and talk to a Certified (or Clinical) Aromatherapist in addition to talking with their doctor and/or midwife. The combined experience will give a more rounded approach to what they want to do.

Let’s talk a little bit more about essential oil use during pregnancy and labor especially. As doulas we often get asked about essential oils, and I always direct them to speak with a certified aromatherapist because for my certification organization, using essential oils as a doula would be out of my scope of practice. However, I do believe they can have a very important and helpful role for women during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum! Do you see them being used medicinally to relieve things like nausea or to even help with induction of labor? Or are they more-so a tool to use for comfort and/or relaxation?

All of the above given the right circumstances. They can help to relieve nausea and to “speed things up”. I have found that the best use is for comfort and relaxation as that alone tends to speed up the process just by mama resting and letting her body do what it does naturally.

What about postpartum- can you share some of the ways that essential oils might be used to support a healthy postpartum period?

Getting mama out of the fog and sometimes funk that is associated with the postpartum time is a big way oils can help. Unfortunately many (okay, most) essential oils should not be used around small children especially newborns. This in turn limits the way mom is able to safely use them in postpartum but it can be done.

What are the recommendations for essential oil use in babies and small children?

That is a huge undertaking to explain, the basics of which are that it is best to use NO essential oils with newborns, this includes until at least 3 months with many aromatherapists recommending not until 6 months or even 2 years. After that diffuser use is the best and safest way to use them with great concern taken to which essential oils to use. I have lists available on my Facebook group, Essential Oil Safety for Parents.

What are some steps people take generally to use oils effectively AND safely? What are some general recommendations and guidelines to follow when using essential oils?

The best guidelines are

  1. Less is ALWAYS more- one drop of essential oil is often enough to get the effect you want

  2. Dilute, dilute, dilute- essential oils can literally burn the skin (some more easily than others) for this reason you need to dilute the essential oil for most topical use.

  3. Keep out of reach of children- most cases of poisoning happen to children.

What are signs of an adverse reaction to essential oils, and what can you do if an adverse reaction occurs?

An adverse reaction to an essential oil is any reaction that is not what you were using it for. The biggest things to look for include itching, burning, hives- these are allergic reactions NOT your body detoxing. If you are experiencing an adverse reaction to a topical application you can apply a high fat item (milk, butter) or a carrier oil (coconut oil, vegetable oil etc) to help disperse the essential oil. Also please report your adverse reaction to not only the company from which you bought the oil but also at Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy's website. There they are compiling EO specific reactions.

Do you have any recommended resources for learning more about safe essential oils use?

There are tons of great resources, and I have a list available on my Facebook page: Holistic Health Helper LLC.

Tell me a little bit about the classes and workshops you offer.

I offer multiple workshops and e-courses- the big 3 are

  1. Introduction to Essential Oils- this covers the basics of at home use.

  2. Pregnancy and Essential Oils- this covers not only pregnancy but childbirth and postpartum care with essential oils

  3. Children and Essential Oils- covering from newborn until 12/13 when adult rules apply.

All three are available online 24/7/365 as e-courses or can be done in person through workshops.

Where can people go to learn more about you and connect with you more?




Phone: (937)956-8189

Business Location: The Southern Ohio Holistic and Wellness Center 10501 Success Lane, Dayton, Ohio. For the hours, please see the Facebook page.