Aromatherapy essential oils have many therapeutic properties with can help in pregnancy. Aromatherapy often combines massage with the use of these natural oils to improve and maintain well-being. Essential oils are extracted from various parts of aromatic plants & trees.
On a physical level, aromatherapy can be helpful for the following: muscular tension, back problems, headaches, sickness, nausea, digestive problems, respiratory problems, high blood pressure, leg cramps, swollen ankles, stretch marks, panic attacks, exhaustion & insomnia.
Aromatherapy can also help with emotional problems & is balancing to the nervous system. Pregnant women may find aromatherapy helpful for the following emotions/conditions: anxiety, stress, fear, panic, depression, anger & shock.
In labour, aromatherapy has the following benefits: relaxation, easing anxiety, aids the women's coping mechanisms, believed to facilitate uterine action (Burns et al 1999), aids transition to parenthood (Tiran 2004), positive feedback from mothers & birth partners (Mousley 2005).
Methods of use in pregnancy & labour
It is best to seek the advice of a professional aromatherapist before using essential oils in pregnancy & labour. The use of essential oils in the first 3 months of pregnancy is not always appropriate so please seek professional advice.
Add 4-6 drops of essential oils after the bath has been filled. Using a carrier medium e.g plain bubble bath base or 2tbs of full fat milk will help the oils to disperse. Avoid soap or perfumed bubble bath. Relax for at least 15 mins in the bath.
Add 2-3 drops of essential oils in a bowl of warm water. Soak for 15 minutes. Footbaths are very helpful in pregnancy when the feet are tired & swollen.
In pregnancy use a 1% blend - 1 drop of essential oil to 5ml of grapeseed oil or appropriate carrier oil. For example for a full body massage you will need about 30ml oil, so add 6 drops of essential oil. Massage is beneficial in pregnancy & labour for many conditions.
1 drop of essential oil inhaled regularly on a tissue.
Profile of essential oils
Here are a few essential oils that I have found useful for many of my pregnant clients. Please be aware of the cautions as some of the oils can only be used at certain times in pregnancy. It is best to seek the advice of a professional aromatherapist.
Chamomile (Roman) Anthemis noblis
Extracted from the herbs & dried flowers by steam distillation. Middle note.
Mind: Very soothing, easing anxiety, tension & fear. Very relaxing. Calms the mind & helpful for insomnia.
Body: Analgesic action good for muscular aches, especially lower back pain & headaches. It stimulates production of whiteblood cells which help fight bacteria.
Skin: Soothing for inflamed & dry skin.
Methods of use: bath, massage, footbath, compress
Cautions use with caution before 20 weeks of pregnancy due to its possible effects on the uterus.
Frankincense (Boswellia Carteri)
Extracted from the tree bark by steam distillation. Middle to base note.
Mind: very calming & soothing on the mind. Helps to slow down breathing - useful for meditation, visualisation & breathing techniques. Useful for panic attacks.
Body: as it effects the mucous membranes it is good for congestion in the lungs, so useful for asthma & head colds. Tonic to the uterus. Useful in labour due to its calming properties. Useful for postnatal depression.
Skin: useful for itchy rashes & rejuvenating to the skin.
Methods of use: bath, massage, footbath, compress, inhalation.
Cautions: use with caution before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Not to be used with oxytocin during labour.
Lavender (Lavendula Angustifolia/Officinalis)
Extracted from the flowers by steam distillation. Middle note.
Mind: soothing & calming. Helpful for anger & exhaustion. Balancing to the Central Nervous System.
Body: sedating effect on the heart so useful for high blood pressure. Helps insomnia. Pain relieving properties good for muscular pain. Beneficial for respiratory problems.
Methods of use: bath, massage, inhalation, footbath, compress
Cautions: use with caution in early pregnancy due to emmenagogue properties. Not to be used at the same time as pethidine or epidural due to its hypotensive properties. Use with caution for mums with existing hypertension as it may lower blood pressure too quickly. Not to be used with oxytocin due to its uterotonic properties.
Mandarin (Citrus Reticulata/Nobilis)
Extracted from the peel by expression. Top note.
Mind: uplifting. Good for depression & anxiety.
Body: tonic to the digestive system. Calming to the intestines & beneficial for morning sickness. A mild oil hence its use in pregnancy & for children.
Skin: is reputed to lessen stretch marks.
Methods of use: bath, massage, footbath, inhalation.
Cautions: phototoxic, so best not to use before going out in strong sunlight.
Neroli (Citrus aurantium/vulgaris)
Extracted from the petals of the orange tree by enfleurage/distillation. Middle to base note.
Mind: euphoric & bringing about feelings of peace. Good for anxiety, depression & stress.
Body: useful for insomnia especially if linked to depression. Helpful for nerve pain & headaches. Calming to the digestive system. A good general tonic.
Skin: healing & rejuvenating. May help stretch marks.
Methods of use: bath, massage, footbath
Cautions: very relaxing, so not ideal if you need to concentrate.
Petitgrain (Citrus vulgaris/aurantium)
Extracted from the leaves & twigs of the bitter orange tree by steam distillation. Middle to top note.
Mind: a very calming oil - useful for anger & panic. Can be helpful in the transition stage of labour. Soothing on the emotions. Uplifts the spirit so good for depression.
Body: relaxing to the nervous system. Helpful for insomnia, eases breathing & relaxes muscular tension. Calms the stomach so can help digestive problems.
Methods of use: bath, massage, footbath, inhalation
Cautions: use in low dilution for clients with dermatological conditions.
Ylang Ylang (Canaga Odorata)
Extracted from the flowers by steam distillation. Middle to base note.
Mind: regulates adrenaline flow & relaxes the nervous system. Eases feelings of anger, anxiety, shock, panic & fear. Helpful for depression. Can be helpful for women who are nervous about labour.
Body: tonic to the uterus. Sedating to the body so helpful for high blood pressure & may calm rapid breathing.
Methods of use: bath, massage, footbath, compress
Cautions: Use with caution for clients with sensitive skin. Use in moderation as exotic scent may cause headaches & nausea.