The pure essences of aromatic plants have been prized for thousands of years for their health-giving properties and heady scents. The therapeutic powers of essential oils, often referred to as nature's gift to mind and body, can be used in relaxing, restorative massage combining the sense of smell with the healing value of touch. Also delicious as herbal tea infusions, the beneficial properties of the oils can be used to treat common ailments, promote good health and emotional well-being, to enhance every aspect of your life.
Pregnancy can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling times in a woman's life. The joy of bringing another human being into the world creates a tremendous feeling of contentment and anticipation. It is also a time of great physical and emotional upheaval. Together with the ever-important trio of exercise, good diet and rest, essential oils can play an important role in helping a woman to cope with the stresses and strains of nine months of pregnancy, labour and the post-natal period.
Surging hormone levels and changes in your growing body can bring a host of discomforts, many of which can be alleviated by aromatherapy treatments and other simple steps.
The lower back region takes a lot of strain during pregnancy and will benefit from a firm massage with four drops each of lavender and sandalwood in two tablespoons of base/carrier oil (almond, grapeseed, olive or coconut work well). Six drops of lavender in the bath will help to soothe away the aches.
#2 Morning Sickness
Eat little and often during the day, avoiding junk food and heavy meals late at night. Choose fresh foods which are free from preservatives or chemicals. Try herbal tea infusions such as chamomile, peppermint or orange blossom, which are all good for digestion.
Avoid heavy meals and particularly rich, spicy foods. Peppermint tea infusions help, and you can rub the solar plexus with a blend of two drops each of lemon and peppermint essential oils in one tablespoon of base oil.
#4 Sore Boobs
Your boobs need extra special care and attention during pregnancy as they expand - and expand they will! Use a gentle massage oil with rose and orange, three drops of each in one tablespoon of sweet almond oil; or if your boobs are swollen, make a cool compress using rosewater and apply whilst having a lovely afternoon rest! Sweet almond oil on its own is excellent for sore, cracked nipples during breast feeding. Never use pure essential oils on your boobs doing breastfeeding however, as they can easily be transferred to the baby whilst feeding. An AMAZING alternative is to buy an ordinary green cabbage, keep it chilled in the fridge until you need it, then peel off two leaves and pop them inside your bra for immediate respite... trust me: it is pure bliss, especially during cluster feeds!
Make sure your diet contains plenty of fresh and high fibre foods and drink plenty of still water. Tension can also be a contributory factor, so try a relaxing bath with three drops of lavender and four drops of rose. Massage your abdomen and the small of your back with a blend of chamomile or orange in one tablespoon of base oil.
#6 Trouble Sleeping
In the last few months of pregnancy, with the baby kicking and other discomforts, it is often difficult to get a good night's sleep. A relaxing bath with neroli and rose is soothing, and you can add ylang-ylang for its calming, sedative effect - a maximum of eight drops in total. Two drops of rose or lavender on the edge of the pillowcase will help induce sleep.
#7 Stretch Marks
When the stretched skin returns to the body's usual shape it can leave tiny jagged scars - also known as Tiger Stripes! A daily massage around the hips and expanding tummy, using five drops of lavender in one tablespoon of jojoba, wheatgerm or evening primrose oil, will help keep skin smooth and supple. Start around the fifth month of pregnancy and continue after the birth for at least 3 months.
#8 Swollen Ankles
These can be reduced with a cool warm foot bath of benzoin, rose and orange. Add two drops of each directly to the bowl or mix with one tablespoon of base carrier oil. Sesame seed works well. Rest with feet raised on cushions or pillows; even better - ask your partner for a relaxing foot and leg rub!
#9 Varicose Veins
During pregnancy the blood flow to the legs is often slowed down, causing veins to dilate. Two drops each of cypress, lemongrass and lavender, mixed with two tablespoons of apricot kernel base oil can be smoothed gently over the legs for relief. If veins are prominent then one of the best oils for the circulation is geranium, though this should always be very diluted for use in pregnancy. Add four drops to the bath or to one tablespoon of base oil to massage the leg with upward movements. Do not work directly on the veins or apply too much pressure to the leg.
To create a relaxing atmosphere in the labour room, use a few drops of lavender in a frangrancer, or try rose, neroli or ylang-ylang to fortify you as labour progresses. Any of these oils can be used in a massage blend for the lower back to help with surges. You could also put a few drops on a tissue or cloth to smell. If labour is progressing slowly, try marjoram as a massage oil or compress across the abdomen to stimulate the uterus.
After the Birth
The 'baby blues' can occur around the third or fourth day after childbirth, though some women can suffer a more severe from of post-natal depression for up to a year. A bath of jasmine and ylang-ylang will help you feel better, or use a body oil of chamomile, geranium and orange (5 drops to two tablespoons of sweet almond oil), which is a good mix for hormonal imbalance.
To ease perineal discomfort, a bath with lavender is soothing. Tea tree can also be added, since this is a powerful antiseptic and helps heal internal wounds and stitches.
Use all essential oils in half the usual quantity during pregnancy and take extra care handling them. Ensure that the oils you are using are pure essential oils, as adulterated blends or synthetic oils can sometimes have less predictable effects.
Clary sage can be a great way to get labour started - if used by a trained midwife. However, do not use this oil yourself, as overuse can make your surges too powerful.
The following oils should be avoided during pregnancy (particularly the first five months) because of their strong diuretic properties and tendency to induce menstruation: angelica, aniseed, bay, basil, cinnamon leaf citronella, clary sage, comfrey, cumin, fennel, hyssop, jasmine, juniper, laurel, marjoram, melissa, myrrh, nutmeg, rosemary, thyme, sage.
If you have a history of miscarriage, you could also avoid chamomile and lavender for the first few months, although in general, these are excellent oils for pregnancy.
Because of their potentially toxic nature and strong abortive qualities, the following oils should never be used except by a qualified aromatherapist and must be avoided during pregnancy: oreganum, pennyroyal, St John's wart, tansy, wormwood. In some circumstances, it's best to steer clear of essential oils altogether. Speak to your doctor or midwife if you are unsure. Particularly if you have;
a history of miscarriage