Essential oils derive from herbs, flowers, and other plants. As well as applying them to the skin during aromatherapy massage, people also use essential oils in a diffuser.
This article will look at whether essential oils can benefit babies, as well as if they are safe to use.
There is some evidence for the benefits of essential oils, but very little research on how these oils may affect babies.
It is crucial to note that the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians do not recommend using essential oils at all on babies younger than 3 months.
People can use diluted essential oils or undiluted sunflower or grapeseed oil during a baby massage. Studies show that baby massage can improve weight gain in pre-term infants, encourage development, and decrease irritability and sleep disturbances.
While it is not necessary to use oil or cream to massage a baby, it will make the process easier by helping the parent or caregiver's hand glide more smoothly over the skin.
A 2016 review found some evidence that lavender oil could help treat pain in babies. One study found that newborns who smelled lavender while having a heel prick test experienced less pain and a lower heart rate than those in a control group.
Chamomile is a common home remedy for sleeplessness in adults, and may also help infants.
While there is little scientific evidence to prove that chamomile aids sleep, some people find that adding a few drops of chamomile oil to a warm bath or diffuser can have a calming, sedative effect.
Sunflower oil is a popular choice for a carrier oil. The vegetable oil is high in linoleic acid, which makes it an excellent choice for a baby with sensitive skin.
Many babies have sensitive skin and may develop eczema. One study found that while sunflower oil improved skin hydration, olive oil damaged the skin barrier and could make existing skin problems worse.
There is a range of ways to use essential oils for babies, including:
In a baby massage
While baby massage routines vary according to the baby's preferences, the following steps are a good starting point:
- Warm a small amount of the diluted oil by rubbing it between your hands.
- Gently rub the oil into the baby's skin, starting on their legs. Use just enough pressure to move the skin gently.
- To massage the baby's chest and belly, spread your hands out towards the sides of the baby as if flattening the pages of a book. Use your fingers to make small circles.
In bath water
A few drops of chamomile or lavender oil in the water at bath time can help to soothe and calm baby. In turn, this may help the baby sleep if bedtime follows soon after.
In a diffuser at bedtime
A range of diffusers, which release the aroma of the essential oils into the air, is available in stores and online. Some also have soothing colored lights to help the baby sleep.
It is essential to follow the instructions on the diffuser and keep the room well-ventilated. Do not use any essential oils that may be harmful to the baby, such as those listed below.
People should not use essential oils on or around babies who are younger than 3 months.
In the case of premature babies, people should avoid using essential oils until at least 3 months after their due date.
People should never apply undiluted essential oils to the skin of babies and infants.
Instead, dilute the oil with an appropriate carrier oil. Sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, and coconut oil are examples of suitable carrier oils.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) recommends diluting the essential oil to just 0.5 to 2.5 percent.
It is also unsafe to eat or drink essential oils.
Babies have sensitive skin, so people should avoid using essential oils that are known skin irritants, such as:
- cinnamon bark or leaf
- lemon verbena
- clove bud
Researchers also recommend that people do not use olive oil as a carrier oil as it can damage the skin.
The NAHA also recommend avoiding the following common essential oils during pregnancy and while breast-feeding:
- parsley seed
It is also vital to keep essential oils away from a baby's airways. It is okay to apply diluted oils to the baby's feet as long as the baby does not put their feet near their mouth.
Correctly diluting oils before using them in a diffuser will also reduce the risk of adverse respiratory reactions.
People should not use aroma diffusers if the infant has asthma or is at risk of developing asthma due to a family history of the condition.
Few studies that look at how effective aromatherapy is for babies. Some oils, such as lavender and chamomile oil, have been shown to have some impact.
Many essential oils are safe for use with babies, as long as a person takes certain precautions. These include never using undiluted essential oils on a baby's skin and keeping oils out of reach.
People should never ingest or allow a baby to ingest essential oils.
Some oils can be toxic or irritate a baby's skin, so it is vital to research the oil first and speak to a doctor if in doubt.
The oils listed in this article are available for purchase online: