Aromatherapy During Pregnancy
Looking to ease pregnancy pain and stress? Aromatherapy essential oils may offer natural relief — but only if you know which ones to choose.
Pregnancy is a miraculous time (you’re growing a little person inside of you!), but between the achy back and swollen feet, there’s no denying that it can also trigger anxiety and some physical discomfort. If you’re feeling less glow and more pain and stress these days, you’re probably seeking a safe form of relief. And if you’re a natural-minded mama-to-be (or even if you frequent spas or hamams), you may be considering aromatherapy — a technique featuring essential oils extracted from plants to boost your health and overall well-being. Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians, and Romans to alleviate aches and ailments and inspire relaxation. Scented oils are typically diluted with a carrier oil for massage, dropped sparingly into a warm bath, or put into a vaporizer so the aroma can be diffused and breathed in. The effects of aromatherapy can be wide-ranging, from helping alleviate insomnia to easing nausea.
But before you book an aromatherapy massage, note that the use of essential oils during pregnancy is controversial, as experts don’t have clear data on the safety. These plant oils contain chemicals that can be absorbed by your body — which means they have the potential to cross the placenta and reach your growing baby. While the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) notes that there are no records of birth defects or miscarriages due to the “normal” use of aromatherapy during pregnancy, it’s still very important to proceed with caution. It’s also safest to hold off on aromatherapy during the first three months of pregnancy when your developing baby is most vulnerable.
If you’re interested in giving aromatherapy a try, be sure to check with your medical practitioner first, and follow these safety precautions:
- Never put essential oil directly on your body; instead, mix it with a carrier oil at a concentration that’s half the standard usage (or what’s recommended on the bottle).
- Avoid using any one particular oil over a long period of time — for instance, every day for several weeks.
- Keep oils away from your eyes and out of the reach of young children and pets.
- When using a vaporizer with essential oil, don’t leave it on for longer than 15 minutes per hour, and make sure the room has good ventilation (otherwise the scent can become overpowering and may lead to nausea — which you don’t need to experience anymore when you’re expecting anyway!).
- Choose your essential oils carefully — and never use one if you don’t know what it is.
These essential oils are generally considered beneficial during pregnancy — but still, make sure to check with your practitioner before using any:
- Citrus, such as neroli (may lower blood pressure and anxiety levels)
- German and Roman chamomile (may help calm, relax and soothe)
- Lavender (may help alleviate stress, insomnia, and depression)
- Ylang-ylang (promotes calm and may help alleviate insomnia)
- Cardamom (warming and comforting)
- Frankincense (may help reduce stress and tension)
- Geranium (may help alleviate swelling and stress)
- Ginger (warming and may help alleviate nausea)
These essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy, as they can trigger uterine contractions (not something you want if you’re not in labor!):
- Clary sage
You may also find that your beauty products and lotions contain some essential oils — but don’t worry; the concentration is very low, so they’re almost always safe to use. But if you’re concerned, always talk to your doctor.
The key to using aromatherapy safely during pregnancy is to research the essential oil you’re considering and clear it with your doctor or midwife before using it. When used correctly, it can be soothing and provide some much-needed stress relief.
Calendula Belly Balm
CALENDULA HAS A VERY LONG HISTORY AS A HEALING HERB—it’s a staple in herbal gardens, not just for its usefulness but also for its sunny disposition. Easy to grow and self-sowing, it also helps repel garden pests, making it a beautiful plant for novice and expert gardeners alike. As a healing herb, use is varied and plentiful, but it is perhaps best known for its skin healing and soothing properties which are why you will often see it incorporated in healing salves and balms.
This particular DIY is inspired by Ashley’s ever-growing third-trimester belly. Despite the magic of the experience, the sensation within that is akin to nothing else, the reality is that housing a growing baby comes with, shall we say, some discomfort. While it’s all too easy to focus on that discomfort, it has been my approach to everything I can to naturally and holistically soothe those symptoms, framing them in my mind in such a way that simply the daily practice of soothing them morphs the discomfort into a form of self-care. It’s as though our bodies remind us to slow down and take care.
As the skin across pregnant bellies stretches tighter and tighter, the accompanying itch and skin irritation is hard to ignore. Always a fan of making things myself from scratch and enjoying the benefits of organic, simple ingredients, I set out to perfect a belly balm that does it’s best to soothe (and hopefully prevent stretch marks—calendula is also known for helping scars and stretch marks to heal and fade). The result is a soft balm that I rely on morning and night to help ease the insatiable itch and (so far) keeps stretch marks away, allowing me to focus more fully on the pleasant side of pregnancy like those gentle kicks and nudges! Simply warm by rubbing between your hands and massage onto your belly (and breasts)—take a moment here to marvel at how your body has changed, it truly is a miracle (if even a sometimes uncomfortable one—most transformational life experiences are in some way or another!).
Not pregnant? Make this balm anyway to soothe dry, chapped skin, other minor skin irritations, or as a gardener’s hand balm. It also makes a lovely, thoughtful gift!
- 1/4 cup organic shea butter
- 1.5-2 Tbs grated beeswax
- 1/8 cup organic, raw coconut oil
- 1/8 cup calendula infused organic olive oil*
- 1 tsp vitamin E oil
- 20 drops lavender essential oil (optional)
In a heat-proof glass spouted measuring cup, combine the shea butter, beeswax, olive and coconut oil, and calendula infused oil.
Fill a small saucepan with warm water and place the glass jar in the water, ensuring that the water level stays below the lip of the jar (a 3/4 immersion is good—you don’t want water getting into your balm as it can spoil the batch or cause separation issues).
Heat on the stove on medium heat ensuring the water stays at or below a gentle simmer. (You don’t want to overheat the oils as this can alter the molecular structure of the oils.) Stirring occasionally with a spoon or popsicle stick, continue heating the oils until they are completely melted. Remove from heat and remove the measuring cup from water (you may need tongs or a towel to do this, be careful not to burn yourself!). Stir in the vitamin E and lavender essential oil. Pour into a 4 oz jar and allow to set either at room temperature on in the fridge for a faster set.
After testing the texture, you can either soften or harden the mix by reheating the balm and adding either more beeswax or more oil. This recipe can be multiplied or divided to yield smaller or larger batches depending on your needs and intended use.
To clean up: while the balm is still melted, wipe out all utensils and tools used with a paper towel, after which everything can be easily washed. Skipping this step or allowing the balm to harden results in a very difficult to clean the mess!
*To infuse calendula oil: the slow way is to fill a small, 4 oz jar loosely with calendula petals and fill with oil until completely covered. Place on a sunny sill and shake the jar daily for 4-6 weeks. The fast way is to again fill the jar with petals and oil, and then place in a slow-cooker immersed in water for 12-24 hours. When the infusion is complete, strain the petals out of the oil, squeezing to get all the good stuff and compost. Your oil is now finished!
A NOTE ABOUT LAVENDER—Inclusion of lavender in this recipe is optional but the purpose is more than because it simply smells nice (although I don’t particularly care for the smell of pure shea butter). According to Diana Jones, a true visionary, and expert in her field, lavender is extremely effective at calming anxiety, enhancing relaxation and promoting an increased sense of well-being, happiness, and peacefulness. Be intentional about applying this balm, rubbing your belly slowly to ensure absorption and taking a few moments to simply be with the baby.
Moon Salutation Yoga Series for Blessingway
At my blessing way with my new daughter Vivian, my mom led us through a moon salutation together outside and then we all entered the blessing way space via a “birth arch” made with the women’s arms (think London Bridge only all in a row making a channel of arms to pass through). This weekend, we had a women’s retreat with the theme of the sacred body and I found this moon salutation from the book She Who Changes for us to do together—seemed fitting that with a theme of the body, we should actually use our bodies!
I stand tall, heart open to the world, body full and present in all of its beauty.
I open my arms wide to bring all of life into my being.(standing with arms in prayer position)
(opening arms and tracing the circle of the moon)
My arms form a temple above me, sheltering and protecting me.
I know that I am on holy ground.
(arms completing the circle extended with palms touching above the head)
Yielding now, softening, my body takes the shape of the crescent moon.
I see visions of women, young and old, helping and loving each other.
(bending to the side with arms still above the head and palms touching)
Rising up and bending to the other side, I know that my softness is my strength. I am tested, but not broken.
(bending to the other side)
Up again, I feel the sweet stillness, always present within me.
(arms above head, palms still touching)
I step wide now into a squat. Mother Earth’s ferocious powers rise up through my strong legs, hips, and back. As a woman, I give birth to all that is, caring for and protecting life.
(arms bent in priestess pose, legs bent and open in a birth pose)
Straightening arms and legs, I am a star. I am the universe. Planets and galaxies whirl within me. I radiate in all directions.
(legs straight and spread widely apart, arms straight out to the sides)
Supple and yielding, I stretch to the side. I open my arms and look up, opening to love and compassion.
I reach, yearning and striving, and yet rest, accepting fully.
Turning to pyramid pose, I become quiet. Head to the knee, I sense the inner workings of my own being.
(typical runners’ stretch)
Lunging, I stretch long and feel the glorious length of my body.
As I look up, the moon shines on my path.
Turning now, I touch the earth, hands-on the blessed Mother, strong and steady.
Gratefully and tenderly, I bow my head.
(turning and bending to touch the earth)
Coming into a squat, I am connected with all animal and plant life. My body open and close to the earth, I know my body’s ability to give birth, to love, to work, to pray. I resolve to hold all of these activities as sacred.
The Moon Salutation continues with the poses repeated in reverse order to form a complete circle and cycle of the moon with the whole body. The combination of words and yoga movement creates connections between the body and the mind, enabling the meaning of the words to come into the body. The full meaning of the Moon Salutation can be appreciated only in the doing. It celebrates the female body and the earth body, affirming that the female body is sacred, an image of the body of Goddess. It names the connection between women and the moon, positively affirming cycles of change, in contrast to classical theological traditions. In the Moon Salutation, women’s changing bodies and the process of giving birth become images of the divine creativity of the Goddess. The Moon Salutation celebrates strength as supple and yielding, yet ferocious in the protection of life. These are images of strength as power with, not power over. In the Moon Salutation, the female body is not perceived negatively as it is in traditions associating femininity with the “weaker” light of the moon. Still, it might be asked: Does the Moon Salutation limit women to the body or the traditional roles associated with it? I do not find this to be so. In the Moon Salutation the female body is an image of all the creative powers in the universe. It can expand to include planets and galaxies. The female body is celebrated not only for its capacity to give birth, but also for its ability to love, to work, and to pray.
From: Carol P. Christ. She Who Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World, Kindle Edition.