‘When we are dealing with an essential oil and its odoriferance, we are dealing directly with a vital force and entering the very heart of the alchemy of creation.’ ~ Marguerite Maury
The 40 weeks of pregnancy are a profound and blessed state of being for most women. This is a time for ‘mum and tum’ to be as well and calm as possible, since it is fairly well documented that a mother’s emotional state can influence the health of her unborn child. If the mother is stressed, the developing fetus is likely also to be stressed. This applies to both the antenatal and postnatal periods. It is therefore important for the mother-to-be, who is the health custodian of the wondrously developing fetus, to observe the following basic guidelines during the gestation period and postpartum:
- keep undue stress to a minimum
- keep the spirit harmonious and joyful
- eat and drink correctly
- exercise and rest appropriately
- use only the healthiest and safest medicaments or treatments.
Since my field of special interest is aromatic medicine, and I’ve assisted many patients in using essential oils appropriately during their pregnancy, I have a particular love for the use of natural aromatics in maternity care – before, during and after birth – preferably in the form of organic essential oils. An aromatherapeutic pregnancy and birth is an adventure of great delight in which as many women as possible should luxuriate.
A BABY-BONDING BLEND
A good way to get started is the Aromatic Baby-Bonding Blend, a gloriously tranquil blend of essential oils that’s ideal to use before going to sleep. Having the lower back, shoulders, tummy and/or feet massaged, while inhaling the gentle aroma, helps forge an aromatic connection with the developing baby. Alternatively, apply it yourself over the tummy and heart area.
Although many essential oils, especially those that are very stimulating, should be avoided during pregnancy, there are several that are very helpful. Standard advice regarding the use of any chemical substance or medication in the first trimester of pregnancy is to be extremely cautious, and even the use of essential oils is generally not recommended unless prescribed by a practitioner qualified in the application of aromatic medicine during pregnancy. For those who are suitably qualified, they can be a boon for treating some of the frustrating conditions that are common in pregnancy, as outlined below. However, for those who feel more secure using oils only from the second trimester onward, they can be a wonderful adjunct to a happy and fragrantly healthy pregnancy.
TREATING CONDITIONS COMMON IN PREGNANCY
No two women are the same, so unpleasant symptoms such as morning sickness, water retention, backache, constipation and emotional imbalances may or may not be experienced during pregnancy. From a strictly medical standpoint, the treatment offered for these symptoms is often limited. Aromatherapy, however, can offer mothers-to-be some relief and comfort. Although many popular aromatherapy texts state that most essential oils are considered safe to use during pregnancy via vaporisation or dry inhalation, they also advise that most oils should not be topically applied. This sort of advice tends to cause confusion, as it’s contradictory: volatile essential oil molecules are more rapidly absorbed via the lungs than the skin.
Morning sickness is definitely one of the most common physical maladies experienced during pregnancy, and the nausea, and sometimes vomiting, can last way beyond the morning. It can be minimised and managed with natural treatment. If the sense of smell has not become acutely sensitive to odours, which can happen during pregnancy, aromatherapy may offer some relief. Moderate inhalation of certain essential oils (yes, even during the first trimester), such as a few drops of ginger, lemon, grapefruit, spearmint or peppermint, are useful for symptomatic relief. Besides the formula below, a drop each of rose otto, cardamom, coriander and lemon can also be applied to a tissue and inhaled. If inhalation does not appeal, or is contraindicated, add a slice or two of fresh ginger root and fresh lemon juice to hot water and sip it. Peppermint or chamomile tea is another option for nausea control, as is nibbling on dry toast or plain and/or ginger biscuits. Other common nausea triggers include smells – such as food, perfumes and smoke – as well as vitamin and mineral imbalances.
Fluid retention during pregnancy is common, causing tell-tale swollen ankles, feet, legs or hands. Body weight, which normally consists of about two-thirds water, increases by nearly half during pregnancy – hence the bloating. Factors that aggravate fluid retention include heat, prolonged standing or sitting, inappropriate salt or sugar intake, and caffeine consumption. Avoiding or minimising the aggravating factors, along with aromatherapy massage using the blend below, can relieve the discomfort. Two drops of cypress (Cupressus sem-pervirens) essential oil may be substituted for the geranium or lavender if preferred.
Constipation is another nasty gremlin that can accompany pregnancy. It occurs not only because the muscles in the intestines become more relaxed, but also because iron and calcium supplements, which are often prescribed during pregnancy, tend to exacerbate the condition. Besides increasing the amount of water and fibre in the diet, and keeping up some form of suitable exercise, there is a lovely aromatic option too. Essential oils that can be used for this condition include chamomile, true melissa (lemon balm), true neroli, orange, patchouli, and true rose (none of the adulterated or synthetic rose, ladies – they are likely to put you off rose fragrance forever!). The blend below can be gently massaged over the abdomen, in a clockwise direction and following the direction of the large intestine/colon, as well as over the lower back.
Backache is the bane of many a pregnant woman’s existence. It may be caused by altered posture because of the extra weight being carried, as well as by hormones such as relaxin that cause the ligaments supporting the back to soften in preparation for labour. Regular aromatherapy massage and relaxing aromatic baths are very helpful for backache relief. The blend below can be used throughout pregnancy, but during active labour a different formula should be used.
Irritability or mood swings are legendary among women. Blame is usually laid squarely at the door of the endocrine system, and hormonal fluctuations are par for the course during pregnancy. An effective aromatherapeutic treatment goes a long way towards soothing the emotions, which allays anxiety and stress and ultimately makes for a happier antenatal experience. Uplifting and calming oils such as bergamot, true lemon balm/Melissa (though it’s not cheap), mandarin, neroli, orange (sweet), petitgrain, rose, sandalwood and ylang ylang are kind to frazzled emotions.
The blend below is very calming and can be used for massage, bathing and vaporising. If vaporising, only the essential oil fraction of the formulation is added to the diffuser chamber, while the vegetal oil fraction is excluded. As the pregnancy advances extra care should be taken not to slip when oil blends are added to a bath. If preferred, the essential oils may be added to an excipient other than vegetal oils, such as honey or full-cream milk, but then the emollient skin benefits will be reduced.
It’s important to keep the skin supple and elastic during pregnancy to minimise the scarring (stretch marks) that can result from the skin stretching as the ‘bulge’ develops. An early start, using the tummy, thighs and breast care formulation below, will ensure that the skin is kept supple and well nourished throughout the pregnancy. In the first trimester the vegetal oils blend can be used as a stand-alone treatment if you prefer, while the complete formulation of vegetal and aromatic components is suitable thereafter.
Keeping the skin of the perineum supple antenatally can be most helpful in preventing skin tears during birthing. A blend of healing oils for perineal care can be applied at 0.5 – 1% in dilution to minimise the risk of trauma. Select from two or three of the following essential oils: rose otto or phytol, helichrysum, chamomile and yarrow; plus two to three of these vegetal oils: jojoba, calophyllum inophyllum, rosehip seed, camellia, calendula, St John’s wort, sea buckthorn and blackcurrant seed, and blend them together. A few drops of the blend can be massaged into the perineum two to three times a day for the last 6 – 8 weeks of pregnancy to help keep this region supple and elastic. Alternatively, consult a registered therapeutic aromatherapist or naturopath, experienced in essential oil therapy, to make this formula for you, using organic essential and vegetal oils.
A WORD OF CAUTION
Only genuine or ‘true’ oils should be used for best therapeutic effect and safety, so be aware of what you are purchasing. Many of the oils that are highly beneficial during pregnancy are costly (rose otto, melissa/lemon balm, and neroli/orange blossom, among others), so make sure that the genuine ones have been used when you buy proprietary-brand pregnancy pre-blended products that list these oils in their formulations, or receive treatment from someone using essential oils. Rose is probably the oil most commonly adulterated, so take care, mums-to-be! Contrary to popular opinion, there is no scientific validation to the claims in lay publications that true rose essential oil, e.g. rose otto or rose phytol, is contraindicated during pregnancy – in fact I have found this oil especially beneficial during the antenatal period, at body, mind and spirit interfaces.
In closing, some words of wisdom from Win- nie the Pooh: ‘A grand adventure is about to begin’!
Editor’s note: Please read our article Keys to a Healthy Pregnancy, for tips on nutrients, exercise and training, and what to avoid during pregnancy.