Monday, October 12, 2015

Essential Oil Use During Pregnancy, Birth & Postpartum: Part 1

An Interview with Certified Aromatherapist discussing essential oil safety during pregnancy, birth and postpartum.  ||

I love my essential oils.  I use them for aches and pains, respiratory support, mood boosting, cleaning... the list goes on and on!  


It was actually during my doula training that I was first introduced to essential oil use.  Unfortunately, safety wasn't taught and soon enough I was down the rabbit hole of misinformation and unsafe use.  I attended "classes" that promised to teach me how to makeover my medicine cabinet and how to build a "first aid kit" using my oils.  The classes were fun enough (I mean, who doesn't like food and free stuff?) but I quickly noticed that it seemed these "classes" were more about selling oils than actually promoting safe use.  I began declining those invitations and searching for more reputable sources of information.  It. Was. Tough!

Luckily, I found a few Facebook groups devoted to safe use practices and slowly I began my quest for information.  I was referred to one such group, Scentsable Health, and that's where I was introduced to Shannon Dennis.  Inspired by my own personal journey, as well as by seeing constant misuse and misinformation, I decided to see if she'd be open to an interview...sure enough, she was!


It's a long one so I've broken our interview into two parts.  Be on the lookout for part 2 coming soon!

Tell me a little about yourself, Shannon.  How did you become interested in essential oils and aromatherapy?
Hello!  I'm Shannon Dennis.  I'm wife to my incredible husband Jeff and full-time, work-from-everywhere-mom to my three little boys.  I grew up in a very "alternative health" centered family and got a set of essential oils about 8 years ago.  That set unlocked a passion and interest in aromatherapy and I decided about 2 years ago to pursue a formal aromatherapy education.


What type of training did you take to obtain your certification and why is that important?

I started with the 200+ hour certification training from Aromahead Institute and quickly branched out with additional classes and mentoring.  For me, the formal education has been crucial to my career so far.  It introduced me to safe use of essential oils, connected me with my industry and above all else given me credibility in my field.  Books rarely can keep up with how quickly we are learning about the vast field of essential oils.

How many certifying organizations exist and promote safe standards and how would someone go about finding a professional to consult with?

There are a few credited associations but the area of standardized education in our industry is undergoing some changes too.  As of right now I would look to AIA (Alliance of International Aromatherapists) or NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy) as the bodies of leadership in aromatherapy.  Many of the schools have a graduate list of people you could turn to for personalized consults.

Do you think it is possible for a doula to stay within scope and still recommend or even use oils on a laboring woman?
Great question and another tough one!  First, I believe, the client should be requesting the oils.  Can a doula use them during labor?  The biggest questions for a doula to contemplate to help answer this is, "Am I willing to accept the liability for using aromatherapy during labor and birth?  Do I have the liability insurance to be practicing aromatherapy as a doula?  Am I confident in the amount of training and education I have that I will "first do no harm" in my use of essential oils with my laboring client?  Does the doula certifying organization I am with allow me to use essential oils during labor and birth?"

Best-case scenarios I see are these:
  1. The doula is a certified aromatherapist and has liability insurance to cover her use of essential oils during labor and birth at the request of her clients.
  2. The doula is teamed with/working with/referring her clients who wish to use essential oils during pregnancy, labor and birth to an aromatherapist.  The doula then would prompt the client in the use of the essential oils during labor and birth.

Part of what prompted me to write this post is the fact that I see so much essential oil misuse, misunderstanding and downright unsafe practices at births and during that immediate postpartum period.  Can you speak a little about that?  Why do you think we see that so commonly?

Oh my, YES!  There is rampant misuse of essential oils and misinformation all over birth and beyond.  I fell for some of it with my first pregnancy and wrote about it here.  What many fail to combine in the use of essential oils is the science WITH the experimental or personal benefits.  It is important to have a sound knowledge of the chemistry of essential oils so that you can know if an oil would be acceptable and at what dilution for a pregnant client.  I think we see this so commonly because oils will do what they are intended to do... but at what cost?

I commonly see blends with wintergreen in them recommended for discomfort during pregnancy and labor.  This oil is actually on the hazardous oils list because of the constitute methyl salicylate.  Mehtyl salicylate thins the blood so in the case of childbirth, if this oil has been used frequently during labor and the client needs an emergency procedure, like a cesarean section, the client and baby are both now at an increased risk.  It is also on the NAHA list, as well as others, of oils to avoid during pregnancy.

To help prepare for this interview, I took questions from my Facebook friends and family.  They had quite a bit of questions for you, but these were the most popular:

What oils do you recommend using for managing morning sickness?  I often hear peppermint recommended- what are your thoughts on that?

I actually do not recommend oil "use" during the first trimester of pregnancy.  That period of time is too delicate and many essential oils do not have proof of safety during pregnancy.  That said, slicing a lemon (with the rind) and putting it in your drinking water or using a personal inhaler as needed with sweet orange, lemon or ginger essential oil can be helpful for nausea.  So in general, avoid topical application or room diffusing in the first trimester, and try to use fresh herbs or a very small amount of EO in an inhaler instead. 

I had someone ask me once about birthing into a tub with oils added to the water.  Why would that be an unsafe practice?

Please avoid this practice!  Here is why:
  1. It can cause issues with mom during birth as she will not be able to quickly escape the aroma.
  2. Water and oils DO NOT MIX.  There is a process of blending the essential oils with a carrier oil to properly dilute then with a dispersant like Epsom salts to carry them through the water.
  3. Failure to combine the oils in this way just creates a coating on top of the water.  As baby is born and brought up through the water their precious little body is then coated in oils possibly entering their ears and eyes as well.
  4. This oil coat can not only harm their skin, eyes, and ears but can severely damage the smell connection crucial to bonding that client and baby need just after birth.
  5. Exposure to essential oils can also cause respiratory issues and further endanger the baby if baby happens to take a breath underwater.

What about clary sage use during labor?  I've heard it recommended to help induce labor, to help augment a labor that has stalled or to induce stronger contractions.  I've even heard stories of pregnant women having their bellies lathered in it, neat no less, as part of an "induction massage".  What do birth workers need to know and be aware of when using clary sage?

Clary sage is an emmenagogue or, an oil that helps regulate menstruation.  It is not proven to start labor and I would highly recommend education around this oil and the client on an individual basis.  Generally speaking I do not recommend it past early labor as it can encourage hemorrhaging.

What are some other popular unsafe oils that you see and hear of commonly being used during labor and postpartum and what others would you recommend in their place?
Unfortunately I see a lot of blends recommended for pregnancy, labor and birth.  Blends, unless done on an individual basis for that particular person, can be touchy because many blends contain oils not safe for pregnancy or lactation.  Using oils as singles not only allows for a higher level of safe use but also can encourage blending combination that appeal to the mom in that moment.  Example: Client is afraid and unsure of their inner strength.   Diffusing neroli and spikenard or neroli and rose may help to aid in releasing these feelings while comforting and building inner strength.

I see a lot of peppermint recommended but I prefer to recommend lemon or orange for balancing the queasy tummy.  For many, an oil that may commonly be known to calm may have the reverse effect during labor solely based on everything the body is working to accomplish at that time.

If a woman would like to utilize oils during her labor, what is the best way she can prepare to do so?

Obviously, my first recommendation is that a client be seen by an aromatherapist for a consult.  Many aromatherapists take Skype or phone consults too so if one isn't referred by the doula, the doula isn't a certified aromatherapist or there isn't one locally, see if an AT is willing to do distance consults!  If the above isn't possible, a client should be as educated on the oils they want to use as possible and include them in her birth plan if she wants to use them during labor and birth.  Getting the ok from her birth facility, doula and birth team is crucial, too.  I try to encourage clients to make use of the aroma in aromatherapy by limiting topical application and focusing on inhalation or diffusion.  A dilution limit of 1% applies to birth just like during pregnancy so if the birth team is not educated on dilution it may be helpful to client to pre-dilute the oils for the team.

Be on the lookout for the conclusion of our interview next week.  Shannon shares more information about essential oil use during the postpartum period, information about using oils to boost milk supply, safe use on newborns and more!