Aromatherapy for pregnancy and labour is hugely beneficial in a variety of ways, but must also be used with caution and care!
The term ‘aromatherapy’ has been widely misused in the last few years, so what exactly does it mean? Well, it is just about using essential oils which are extracted from plants, flowers, herbs, trees, resins and fruits as a therapy. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as through massage, adding them to baths and steam inhalations, sniffing them neat or just burning in an oil burner.
When the oils are used in a massage they are added to a carrier oil, in a very low dilution, and in pregnancy only 1%. 1% means that only one drop of essential oils would be added to 5 mls of carrier oil. The blend is then massaged into the skin and the oils are absorbed into the body and blood stream and used by the body as needed. The smell of the oils are very beneficial and relaxing, and the actual process of massage is highly relaxing, and can help the body detox and improve such functions as circulation and lymphatic drainage. Often renewed energy will follow the deep relaxation of a massage, along with a general feeling of mental and emotional well being. Regular massages will prolong the feeling of well being for ever increasing periods after each treatment, and promote deep relaxation for the impending birth, during pregnancy. One may also experience a letting go of emotional as well as physical tensions during and after a massage. During pregnancy, they also offer the opportunity to focus on and connect with the baby, and oneself, and develop relaxation strategies for the labour and birth.
Adding aromatherapy oils to baths are an important and versatile way to use the oils. A bath with oils in can be relaxing, stimulating, tonic, warming, cooling and can provide relief from muscular pain and help with skin conditions. However it is in reducing stress that aromatic baths are perhaps the most valuable. To use the oils in the bath, first fill the bath with comfortably hot water and just before getting in sprinkle about 6 drops onto the water and stir it around. If you have very sensitive skin you could add the oils to full fat milk before adding it to the bath water, which dilutes the oils. Do not put oils in a carrier oil in bath water as they will make the bath very slippery and dangerous to get in and out of.
Oils can also be burnt in an oil burner and there are a wide range of them on the market, but most have a lower compartment to place a t-light, and an upper dish to be filled with water and a few drops of essential oils added. Do not put the oils in neat as they will be too strong, and may make you feel nauseous. They can be used effectively, just sniffing neatly occasionally during labour, maybe by putting a few drops on a tissue.
All the oils have different benefits, but there is a definite list to avoid in pregnancy:
Basil, Birch, Cedarwood, Citronella, Cypress, Cumin, Geranium, Hyssop, Jasmine, Juniper, Laurel, Marjoram, Melissa, Myrrh, Nutmeg, Rosemary, Tarragon, Thyme.
In the first trimester, also avoid Chamomile, Lavender and Rose, and use with caution for the remainder of the pregnancy.
The reason some of the above oils are avoided in pregnancy, is that they are beneficial for labour, and can help strengthen contractions. Therefore Geranium, Jasmine, Clary Sage, Melissa and Rose are great to use during labour.
Please find below a few lovely blends and oils which I have had lots of lovely success with clients:
Frankincense and Mandarin 1% in grapeseed oil is a great blend to use in pregnancy. Frankincense is a wonderfully relaxing oil and has the ability to slow down and deepen the breath (which in turn enables the heart to slow down and aid relaxation). It is a great oil to use for respiratory infections and can calm coughs and help with catarrh and bronchitis. It can be used effectively in baths, massage and steam inhalations. Frankincense is also wonderful in skin care, having a toning effect, and helps minimise the appearance of wrinkles. It is also useful in helping prevent stretch marks in pregnancy and of course it is very calming for both mum and the unborn baby. It is useful in treating urinary infections and heavy periods if massaged on the abdomen or used in the bath. Emotionally it is very calming and is used widely in perfumes due to its wonderful scent. What is there not to LOVE about frankincense!!
Mandarin is also very safe in pregnancy, and again great for preventing stretch marks. It is a very gentle oil, and great for upset stomachs, having a toning action on both the digestive system and the liver…. and lovely blended with frankincense.
This blend can be safely used during a full body massage, or daily on the bump, hips and thighs to prevent stretch marks, and is great for later in the pregnancy to help with any swelling in the feet or ankles.
Clary Sage, Jasmine and Lavender 3% in Grapeseed Oil is a lovely blend for labour. Clary Sage is extremely relaxing and a powerful muscle relaxant, uterine tonic and can stimulate contractions. There is some thought that is can help induce labour also. Lavender is great for relieving pain, relaxing muscles and strengthen contractions also, so blended together these oils may help speed up the labour if massaged into the lower back and abdomen. Jasmine is a great uterine tonic, which therefore can strengthen contractions, and is beneficial in labour. It will also relieve pain and also helps with the expulsion of the placenta after the birth. It is an emotionally warming oil, and is an anti-depressant so is a great oil to aid recovery postnatally. As all the oils are sedative they can also help lower blood pressure and relax both mum, baby and partner!
Other useful oils in labour are:
Rose again is a uterine tonic, so it strengthens contractions and is also antidepressant, emotionally lifting mood. It is possibly the most ‘feminine’ of all oils, so it has a powerful affect on the uterus at all times in a woman’s life. It has cleansing, purifying, toning and relaxing qualities. An all round wonderful oil!
Geranium, again like most of the flower oils, is an anti-depressant and antiseptic. It is great for balancing hormones, and due to its diuretic properties it is useful for the treatment of fluid retention.
A blend of any of the above oils, are great for labour. Frankincense also blends very well with the above oils and is wonderfully relaxing during labour.
For recovery after the birth, Lavender or/and frankincense in the bath are very beneficial, helping heal any trauma. Frankincense and lavender 3% in a blend for massage is lovely for relaxation, and general well being.
Cypress is an antiseptic, astringent and vaso-constrictive oil, so is helpful for haemorrhoids, and healing trauma after the birth. It can be added to baths, or made into a 3% blend in a carrier oil, and added to a sanitary pad to aid healing.
The quality of the oils is very important in ensuring the oils are affective, so ensure you purchase them from a reputable source and always ask a qualified aromatherapist to blend your oils for you.
Also, if someone has had any of the following health problems, it is best to avoid oils completely:
- epilepsy or heart problems
- diabetes, blood clotting problems, or have thyroid, liver or kidney disease
- a history of miscarriage or any vaginal bleeding in this pregnancy
Other ailments in pregnancy that can be helped with aromatherapy oils are backache, nausea, headaches, stress, depression, swollen ankles and insomnia.
Please get in touch if you would like any oils blending up, to book a massage or would like any advice about aromatherapy in pregnancy.
Davis P (1999) Aromatherapy An A-Z, The CW Daniel Co, Saffron Walden
Dye J (1992) Aromatherapy for Women & Children, Pregnancy and Childbirth, The CW Daniel Co, Saffron Walden