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Aromatherapy during pregnancy

Interest in using complementary therapies such as Aromatherapy is growing. Essential oils are widely available and women may purchase and apply them with no training or education regarding risks and benefits.

Aromatherapy in maternity care can lead to reduced use of opioid analgesia less need for augmentation as well as increased satisfaction in the care received. It is especially useful in the aiding relaxation which may in turn help promote physiological birth.

Aromatherapy is a way of accessing and applying the therapeutic benefits of plants by using oils called ‘essential oils’ which are extracted from plants, usually by distillation. Plants are used in a more concentrated way via Aromatherapy than in traditional herbal medicine. Methods of application include via: baths, compress, vaporisation, showers, inhalation and massage.

Inclusion criteria

  • Women who are 37 weeks + gestation
  • Women who have given verbal consent in any setting where maternity care is provided
  • Women in latent phase, established labour, second and third stage of labour
  • Pre-term labourers if allowed to labour
  • Women undergoing induction/augmentation of labour
  • Women using the birthing pool/bath
  • Following discussion with the on call Consultant it may be possible to administer essential oils for an antenatal mother less than 37 weeks
  •  Women who have been assessed and have contraindications excluded

Exclusion criteria

  • Women with allergies to essential oils or citrus fruits
  • Women who decline Aromatherapy
  • Women with threatened pre-term labour. May use lavender if in established labour
  • Women with any medical condition i.e. epilepsy, kidney or liver dysfunction, cardiac disease, clotting disorders (including PE/DVT), unstable diabetes and cancer.
  • Women with open wounds or contraindicating skin conditions
  • Women with moderate/severe PIH and hypertension
  • Women in the first trimester of pregnancy are not to have direct contact with essential oils

The essentials oils used at York:

  • Lavender Lavendula angustifolia - an evergreen woody shrub from the botanical family Lamiaceae. Essential oil is obtained by steam distillation from fresh flowering tops and stalks.
    • Relaxing, balancing, calming, analgesic, cheering, anti-viral, anti-fungal, antiseptic, bactericidal.
    • Highly versatile oil. May aid maternal coping capacity for labour/contractions by relaxing the mother. May reduce muscular aches and pains, is helpful with stress and insomnia and may reduce headache and/or migraine. May aid the healing of wounds and is recommended for LSCS wound and sore perineum.
  • Clary Sage Salvia sclarea - a stout biennial/perennial herb with large hairy leaves, green/purple, with small blue flowers belonging to the botanical family of Lamiaceae. Essential oil is obtained by steam distillation from the flowering tops, leaves and stalks.
    • Anti-spasmodic, anti-depressant, anti-septic, calming, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory.
    • A profoundly relaxing oil that may reduce anxiety, stress, panic attacks and depression. This relaxation enables the reduction of adrenaline and a consequent increase in oxytocin which promotes natural physiological labour. May relieve muscular aches and pains as anti-spasmodic. May help reduce migraine and asthma as it helps to relax arterial and bronchial spasm.
  • Frankincense Boswellia carterii – A North African tree which is cut to produce frankincense tears. Distilled to make a light yellow liquid and a clear terpene-like penetrating top note and a warm sweet balsamic undertone.
    • Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, tonic, uterine, vulnerary.
    • Can help to create a calming environment by releasing tension, deepens breathing and eases hyperventilation. May help to relieve anxiety, depression, nervous tension and mood swings.
  • Mandarin Cirtus reticulate – The rind of the fruit is cold expressed and is yellowish in colour. The aroma is a ‘top’ note, delicately sweet and citrus.
    • Antiseptic, antispasmodic, digestive, stimulant, sedative, carminative, mild diuretic.
    • The combined stimulant, sedative and hypnotic actions make it uplifting on the mind, joyful and harmonious. Can help to relieve tension.
  • Peppermint Mentha piperita - The essential oil is steam distilled from the dried perennial herb. A pale yellow liquid with penetrating grassy, minty and camphoracous odour.
    • Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-galactagogue, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, peripheral vasodilator, stimulant.
    • Effective for nausea, vomiting and headache. Can help in acute situations such as fainting, shock and tremors. Aids digestion. Helps with decongestion.

For more information on Aromatherapy please ask your midwife.

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