Aromatherapy 101 - A Guide to Using Essential Oils with Babies OLD
While aromatherapy, which taps the benefits of essential oils, is recognized for promoting physical and emotional well-being, many parents question if it’s safe for babies. True essential oils derive from concentrated natural plant fragrances which have been used in medicine for more than 6,000 years, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Young children, and even newborns, benefit from the cautious medicinal use of these highly-aromatic medicinal oils. This view is unanimously shared by reputable organizations as diverse as The American Academy of Pediatrics, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, HealthyChildren.org, The National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health, as well as sources such as WebMD, BabyCenter and Livestrong. We have summarized the safe use of aromatherapy for babies and which essential oils may be used.
Aromatherapy can help to promote babies’ well being in areas such as congestion, colic and restlessness. Did you know that one of the most well-known Northern-European home remedies used to combat congestion in newborns, involves using an onion inside a baby’s crib to relieve their child’s congestion?
“The good old-fashioned onion is wonderful for a stuffy noise,” says pediatrician Lauren Feder, MD, author of Natural Baby and Childcare. “The sulfur content in the onion draws out mucus and fluids in body. If your baby has a stuffy nose, it can loosen that up with no side effects except for the obvious odor in the room.”
This is an excellent example of how the use of plant aromas can provide natural relief to infants.
Before we dive into specific uses of essential oils, it is important to note that you should always apply caution when using essential oils around babies, ensuring that you are well-informed to take full advantage of the soothing comfort that aromatherapy offers.
Why use essential oils?
Parents have always looked to their gardens and pantries to treat common infant illness. Today, the use of complementary and alternative remedies is often leveraged by adults but also for children. Whether it’s a nip of prune juice to relieve constipation, or an oatmeal bath to soothe itchy dry skin, natural remedies offer inexpensive strategies to ease uncomfortable symptoms. The same is true for essential oils which have been used reliably and extensively in medicine for thousands of years.
Aromatic plant extracts have many uses, from treating burns and soothing skin, to alleviating stress and relaxing the mind. On babies older than 3 months, some essential oils can be used to help encourage sleep, calm anxiety, and even relieve colic symptoms. Before applying essential oils to babies, it’s important to understand proper dilution ratios and application methods. Because essential oils are widely available today, check product labels to make sure you’re using pure, authentic, unadulterated essential oils. Avoid essential oils premixed with alcohol and synthetic fragrances, which are completely different from essential oils, don’t carry health benefits, and can be irritating to the skin.
Babies’ developing senses
Here’s a wild fact: a days-old newborn baby will be able to recognize it’s mother simply by the smell of her skin. What’s more, the foods a mother eats while expecting not only affect a baby’s developing sense of taste, they impact the baby’s sense of smell too.
Although a baby is surrounded by amniotic fluid in the womb, her sense of smell is already up and running well before birth. Most research on the early development of fetal smell has been done on animals, since it’s challenging to safely study human babies in the womb. But research on preterm infants has shown that babies are indeed capable of smelling throughout the third trimester and possibly even earlier. Experts believe fetuses may be able to start smelling — i.e. reacting to the chemicals they breathe in through their noses — in the womb as early as month six, though a baby’s sense really ramps up during months eight and nine of pregnancy.
A baby’s strong sense of smell extends beyond birth. A newborn recognizes her mother by her smell within a few days and reacts very early on to smells in its surroundings. Subconsciously, the baby will link scents to a sense of safety, comfort and affection, but certain scents can also cause anxiety and fear. Research done by Lise Eliot, an associate professor of neuroscience at Chicago Medical School and author of “What's Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life” showed that babies prefer scents they have already experienced inside the womb. A good baseline for deciding to use essential oils during the first weeks after birth, is the mother’s use of essential oils during her pregnancy, which can impart an additional sense of familiarity and comfort. A baby expresses its like or dislike of particular scents through certain facial expressions. Babies who prefer sweet scents will react with a relaxed facial expression, puckering up their lips, or revealing the tips of their tongues. In contrast, if a baby dislikes a particular scent, she will show her displeasure by turning her head away or even crying.
The benefits of essential oils
There are thousands of different essential oils each with their own respective benefits. But only naturally extracted plant aromas promote physical and emotional well-being. Never apply essential oils directly to the skin, always mix them with a carrier oil. Babies should never drink or ingest essential oils. It’s never safe for babies to take essential oils orally. Carrier oils are used to dilute essential oils and “carry” them to your skin. That’s because essential oils are potent and can cause irritation when applied directly to your skin. We can certainly recommend sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, and coconut oil as suitable carriers for your baby.
Here’s an overview of essential oils safe for use with babies:
Eucalyptus Essential Oil (Eucalyptus Radiata) – Relief for Congestion, kills bacteria and viruses
Originally native to Australia, eucalyptus trees are now grown all over the world and used for their medicinal properties. Their healing power comes from eucalyptus oil which is made from the tree’s oval-shaped leaves. The leaves are dried, crushed and distilled to release the essential oil. After the oil has been extracted, it must be diluted before it can be used as medicine.
Eucalyptus is a natural expectorant that can help unclog respiratory congestion as it possesses antiseptic and antibacterial properties, making it a favorite during the cold winter months. Eucalyptus oil is used as a natural therapy to treat pneumonia, bronchitis, coughs, colds and other respiratory ailments. It helps strengthen the immune system as well by improving respiratory circulation and providing antioxidant benefits. Cineole – more commonly known as camphor – is an organic compound present in eucalyptus oil that can help reduce pain and inflammation.
The type of eucalyptus species you buy for your baby is critical. When using Eucalyptus essential oil to treat congestion, parents should only use Eucalyptus Radiata for their children and infants. Eucalyptus Radiata contains a lower content of cineole than the widely available Eucalyptus Globulus and can therefore, when diffused, be used with babies. While Eucalyptus globulus is safe for adults, it should not be used on children under the age of two. Eucalyptus Globulus contains a high content of cineole which is too harsh for the babies and can cause central nervous system and breathing problems. Eucalyptus Globulus should not be “applied to or near the faces of” or “otherwise inhaled by” children under two years of age.
Lavender Essential Oil (Lavendin Grosso) – Addressing Colic and Restlessness, and Promoting Sleep
Lavender essential oil can be a powerful tool in the holistic home, and we love that it is gentle and safe enough to use for babies when properly diluted. There are many ways a baby can enjoy the calming effects of Wunders Sleepy Time lavender essential oil. Here are a few of our favorites.
Try diluting lavender essential oil in organic carrier oil and soothe baby with a pre-bedtime massage. This will calm the baby’s body and mind and help whisk her away to sleep.
Apply lavender essential oil to your baby’s bath. for a calming bath after a long day of playing.
Use it to help alleviate ear aches - lavender oil is magic for alleviating ear pain and is beneficial in an aromatherapy capacity. To assist with ear pain, apply diluted lavender oil to a cloth that has been dampened with warm water, and rest against your baby’s ear for five minutes.
Tap lavender essential oil to improve respiratory conditions – when used as a vapor inside a cold air diffuser, lavender can help relieve colds and coughs. It can also be diluted and applied to the back of the neck.
Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla or Chamaemelum Nobile) – Promoting Sleep.
German Chamomile and Roman Chamomile are gentle essential oils that can be beneficial for babies who have trouble sleeping. Chamomile has natural soothing effects and has been used traditionally to treat insomnia in babies and adults. Chamomile, along with lavender, can relieve symptoms of colic as well. Chamomile has also been shown to help anxiety and depression, and can uplift a fussy baby’s spirits.
Distilled Lemon (Citrus Limon) – Uplifting mood.
Distilled lemon can help lift energy and mood, and is great for a post-nap wakeup call. Distilled lemon is preferable to expressed lemon which is a potential photosensitizer which can cause skin irritation, whereas distilled lemon does not.
Dill (Anethum Sowa) – Addressing Colic and Restlessness, and Promoting Sleep.
Dill is a calming oil that can help soothe indigestion and colic. To use, dilute dill in a ratio of one drop per teaspoon of carrier oil, blend thoroughly, and massage the mixture onto a baby’s skin.
Mandarin (Citrus Reticulata) – Promoting Sleep.
Mandarin has calming effects similar to lavender, making it a great nighttime alternative for babies who are allergic to the scent of lavender. The sweet scent of mandarin is favorable to other orange varieties because it’s not phototoxic. This means that even when diluted and applied directly to the skin, it shouldn’t cause skin irritation.
Tea Tree (Melaleuca Alternifolia) – Reducing germs
Tea tree is a natural antimicrobial, antifungal and disinfectant. Adding a few drops of tea tree oil to an unscented oil can help with diaper rash and fungal infections. Tea tree is a stronger oil that can be harsh on the skin, so it should be avoided on babies younger than six months old and carefully patch-tested on older infants.
Essential oils are extremely potent and must be diluted with a carrier oil or cream when used on the skin. Dilution is especially important for infants and young children. For babies three months or older, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) recommends a safe dilution ratio of .5 to 1 percent, compared to a 2.5 to 10 percent dilution for adults.
Because babies have more sensitive skin than adults, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians notes that essential oils should not be used at all on infants’ skin under 3 months old.
Even when diluted, essential oils can cause skin irritation and sun sensitivity. It’s recommended that a patch test (also sometimes called a “spot test”) be performed on the skin, with each new oil introduced.
Perform a patch test
Apply a small (no larger than a dime) amount of diluted essential oil to a baby’s leg or arm, and wait for 24 hours to see if there is a reaction such as redness, inflammation or painfulness at the touch). If no reaction occurs, it’s likely safe to move forward with applying the essential oil.
According to the NAHA, “some essential oils should simply be avoided on babies, e.g. birch or wintergreen, which are both rich in methyl salicylate and peppermint.”
Essential oils should never be given internally to children or infants, and be kept out of infants’ baths to avoid accidental ingestion. The following topical treatments are safe and effective when proper dilution ratios are followed.
Essential oils are an effective, natural alternative to artificial room fresheners. While adults can use candle diffusers, water-based vaporizers or fan-based diffusers make for a safer, flame-free way to spread a scent throughout any room of your house.
When trying out a new essential oil around your baby, test a small amount of each new oil in a vaporizer for an hour to ensure that there’s no irritation.
Blend with a carrier
Sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, and coconut oil are commonly used base oils that mix well with essential oils. They also bring their own moisturizing qualities and help to nourish the skin. PeaTo blend, dilute an essential oil at a ratio of 0.5 percent essential oil to base oil, and shake or mix vigorously to blend. Once the oils are thoroughly blended, perform a patch test on your baby’s leg or arm to insure the formula is nonirritating.
Spritz the diluted essential oil around your baby’s room to create a calming scent before naps or bedtime. Avoid spritzing pillows to reduce the risk that the baby doesn’t accidentally ingest the oils.
Talk to a doctor
Because some essential oils shouldn’t be used with certain medications and medical conditions, always check with your doctor before applying therapeutic oils to your baby. If you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor before applying any essential oils on yourself or your baby.
Wunders Breathe Easy and Sleepy Time
Wunders oils, Breathe Easy and Sleepy Time have been specially formulated for babies with top US-laboratory, Eden Botanicals, in California. Founded in 1985, the lab has developed over 260 pure and natural essential oils, absolutes, CO2 extracts, and organic extracts. A 35-year veteran Aromatherapist who has studied traditional French medical aromatherapy extensively, and a Natural Perfumer with more than two decades of experience leads the development. We have consulted many sources and specialists around the globe including world-leading pediatricians, medical, natural health and home remedy specialists, as well as organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Healthline Parenthood, and Healthy Children.org, and several reputable European child-health organizations, supporting newborn and child health.
Wunders Breathe Easy is a specially-formulated oil from Eucalyptus Radiata. It comes from the Australian forests and is of the purest quality and aromas. The level of cineole and camphor in Breathe Easy essential oil has been engineered to a level making it safe for babies when used in a diffuser. Breathe Easy essential oil is 100% USDA certified organic, and provides relief for colds, stuffiness, sore throats, breathing difficulties, congestion relief, infections and pain, by just applying 5-7 drops on the Wunders Aroma Diffuser pad system.
Wunders Sleepy Time is formulated from French Lavendin. Lavender has many calming and sedative effects. A lavender oil massage can help to relax a fussy baby and encourage sleep. Studies have shown that the scent of lavender increases the time your baby spends in deep (slow wave) sleep, therefore providing natural calming comfort. Many studies have also proven that the use of lavender essential oil alleviates symptoms associated with colic. Sleepy Time essential oil is 100% pure, USDA certified and sourced from the southern region of the French Provence.
Apply care when using essential oils around infants
Although the use of essential oils can be beneficial for addressing health concerns, they are no substitute for FDA-approved medicine. Essential oil-based aromatherapy may help soothe symptoms related to colic, congestion, anxiety and restlessness in young babies through alleviating symptoms, and potentially preventing the need for traditional medication. However, the misuse of aromatherapy can cause serious adverse reactions. To prevent unanticipated side effects, consult a qualified health-care provider. It is also important to note that essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin of a baby under three-months old, and it’s never safe for babies ingest essential oils which, when consumed, are poisonous. Essential oils should also never be applied on or used around babies with any history of asthma or difficulty breathing.
Wunders develops products designed to enhance a child’s good sleep and sleep environment, because the most important part in your baby’s development is healthy and safe sleep. And when your baby sleeps, so can you!