Pregnancy can be one of the most exciting and challenging times of a women’s life. The complexity of pregnancy is one of life’s miracles. Hormones change dramatically once an egg is fertilised. The usual fall in oestrogen and progesterone at the end of the menstrual cycle does not occur and as a consequence there is no menstrual period. A new hormone, HCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin), produced by the developing placenta, stimulates the ovaries to produce the higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone that are needed to uphold a pregnancy.
As the fourth month of pregnancy arrives, the placenta takes over from the ovaries as the main producer of oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones increase the volume of blood circulating (in particular the supply to the womb and breasts), and relax the muscles of the womb to make room for the growing baby.
Around the time of childbirth, other hormones come into play that help the womb to contract during and after labour, as well as stimulate the production and release of breast milk.
Why some women suffer terribly with varying ailments during pregnancy while others barely experience any isn’t understood, but we send out a special message to those of you who do have a hard time. You are doing a great job bringing this wee bundle of joy into the world, so just hang in there — it will all be worth it! Nature has a wonderful way of making you forget all the discomforts when you finally hold that little bundle in your arms!
Try to take as much care as possible and keep trying to distract yourself! Like many women I worked throughout both of my pregnancies, treating clients in therapy clinics and doing workshops, I also both suffered from morning sickness and the essential oils were a godsend in keeping me going. I would often spritz myself with a favourite ‘Lime and Peppermint’ spritzer.
The following section is a brief outline of a number of common discomforts associated with pregnancy with some tips and tools you can call on that may assist you to overcome them. Always check with your lead maternity caregiver or health care professional for their thoughts and advice. You never know — they may just have a magic suggestion that makes all the difference.
Please note: Whenever it is suggested the topical use of essential oils on the body, as in massage, this only applies from the 16th week of pregnancy onwards. Until then just use the massage base oil on its own.
Morning sickness: many women will experience some degree of nausea or vomiting during the first trimester — I know I did! Luckily this usually stops after the first 3-4 months and even though it is commonly referred to as ‘morning sickness’ some women can experience it all day every day. Believe it or not, it is a sign of a good strong hormonal surge, so let’s just focus on that, shall we! Even though you may not feel like it, it is important you continue eating and drinking. Try some of these suggestions:
• Dry crackers or toast can be helpful to snack on throughout the day
• Sip on water as often as possible or try sipping weak peppermint tea.
• Avoid heavy, rich, starchy, sugary, fatty foods. Eat as simply as you can.
• Try Peppermint, Lavender or Lime essential oils. A drop of one or a combination of these oils on a tissue to inhale at regular intervals is helpful. Or go for an aromatic spritzer using 100 ml of water with 2-3 drops of each. Shake vigorously and lightly spray the head and face area.
• A tepid bath may be relieving in summer months, as well as a cool compress on the face and forehead.
• Use your vaporiser. Try keeping the air cleansed and refreshed with oils like Peppermint, Lime, Bergamot, Geranium or Lavender.
• Homeopathics can also be helpful here, as can acupressure bands around the wrist. Most health food shops can help you with both of these.
Constipation: due to the pressure of a growing uterus and a more sluggish bowel during pregnancy, constipation can affect a large number of women. This can also lead to haemorrhoids.
• Drink plenty of water — at least eight glasses a day.
• Increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Kiwifruit, prunes and figs may help. Or try prune juice as an alternative to the fruit.
• Avoid stodgy, processed foods which provide bulk but little fibre. Try cutting down on wheat products and eating different grains like millet or amaranth or give coconut flour and buckwheat as alternatives.
• Gentle exercise like swimming or walking helps stimulate the digestive system.
• Massage your tummy in a clockwise direction (to support the flow of the digestive tract). After 16 weeks you can use a 50 ml blend of cold-pressed oil with 3 drops Neroli, 4 drops Orange and 3 drops Black Pepper (this is the child’s ratio blend of 50 ml = 10 drops total).
• A cold Lavender compress may soothe and relieve symptoms of haemorrhoids.
Backache: as your body adapts to being pregnant it undergoes many changes mentally, emotionally and physically. The back in particular is put under enormous stress as the baby grows, which can result in excessive curvature of the lower back, causing strain and pain.
Try not to sit, lie or stand in one position for too long, and rest whenever possible if you are active during your pregnancy with other children or work.
Use pillows however and whenever! A pillow between the legs while lying down can help keep the pelvis and hips aligned or placing a pillow under the knees, while on your back, can take some of the pressure off the lumbar (lower) spine. Extra pillows to support your head can help relieve heartburn as well as back pain.
Avoid heavy or strained lifting. If you do have to lift at all, make sure you bend your knees and keep your back as straight as possible. This is so obvious but you will be amazed how much you forget once ‘pregnancy brain’ steps in!
Gentle exercise can offer relief. Community centres or hospitals within your area may offer specific classes for pregnancy like swimming, walking or yoga. Check with your caregiver or GP before undergoing any exercise programme.
Massage can be most beneficial for backache or pain. It can also help tone and relax the muscles and nourish the stretching skin. Make sure you are comfortable when receiving a massage: keep warm and have plenty of pillows for support. Some massage therapists have a table designed for pregnant women with big holes in the tummy region. This can be heaven when it seems like you will never be able to lie on your front again! Try the following blend, or choose your favourite essential oils:
50 ml massage base oil (Sweet Almond, Jojoba or Macadamia) and 10 drops essential oil:
4 drops Lavender
2 drops Geranium
4 drops Lemon
Varicose veins: with the increased circulation and weight gain, varicose veins are quite common, particularly as the pregnancy advances into the third trimester. They are enlarged veins that are easily seen under the surface of the skin and are often seen in the legs.
Try not to sit or stand for long periods of time. Aching feet are a good indication that it is time to rest.
Good, comfortable footwear is important. Ill-fitting, uncomfortable shoes (no matter what fashion is dictating) will not help the circulation in your body or the health of your feet; they can also put extra strain on your back. It may be wise to invest in a pair of shoes the next size up that are easy to wear, comfortable and supportive. Your feet will thank you for it and it may help reduce the risk of varicose veins.
Lie down at least once a day on your back on the floor with your legs at a 90° angle up the wall, or if that is too uncomfortable start by lying down and placing the legs over the seat of a chair. Use a pillow for your neck if needed. Raising the feet above the heart helps the blood flow and relieves the pressure of gravity. This is also beneficial for swelling.
For massage use a massage blend and stroke the legs very gently, working from the foot to the thigh in an upwards motion. This may prove difficult as the pregnancy advances and you might need assistance from a partner, friend or trained professional to reach past your belly. The following blend can be helpful:
50 ml of cold-pressed massage base oil and 10 drops (total) of essential oils:
3 drops Cypress
5 drops Geranium
2 drops Lemon
Swelling: due to the increased blood flow and a rise in oestrogen, many women find their hands, feet and legs can swell with a rather ‘puffy’ appearance. In warmer temperatures this can be exaggerated further. While a little bit of swelling is to be expected, always keep a check on the level of swelling in your body with your lead maternity caregiver (fitted jewellery such as rings are often good indicators).
Drink plenty of water with a minimum of eight glasses a day.
Footbaths can be beneficial and help relieve swollen feet. Try placing a flannel at the bottom of a large, stainless steel bowl (big enough for both of your feet) and place half a dozen large marbles on the bottom. Add a couple of drops of either Geranium, Bergamot, Cypress, Lime, or Orange and rub the soles of your feet over the marbles. This is sheer heaven.
A full body bath can bring relief to that puffy appearance as well as bringing about a sense of weightlessness that can relieve joints and muscles. After sixteen weeks try adding a few drops of your favourite essential oil to the bath. Place 2–4 drops of your chosen oils in a fully drawn bath and immerse your body for at least 10–15 minutes. Try oils such as Bergamot, Lavender, Sandalwood, Neroli, Rosewood, or Geranium.
An aromatic daily body boost may also assist the lymphatic and circulatory systems. This is a wonderful treatment to help restore the body and your emotions.
Skin issues: during pregnancy your skin experiences many changes brought about by the dramatic hormonal changes affecting the oil production in the skin, increased blood flow and the fact that a lot of nutrients are going to the baby, often leaving you a little short. It is therefore very important that you eat well, supplying your body with all it needs to support you and your baby.
Acne: while acne during pregnancy is rarely as severe as that of adolescence, it may be best to take extra care and follow good skincare rituals. The Healing Skin Boost is particularly helpful for this condition as is Lavender and Chamomile compresses. The key is to be gentle with your skin, use a natural creamy cleanser and avoid the temptation to over cleanse it.
Skin colourations: as your skin becomes more photosensitive during pregnancy it pays to be vigilant about skin protection. Avoid excessive exposure and choose a natural sunscreen.
New moles may also appear. Consult your doctor if these moles seem particularly raised, dark, or have irregular borders. The areola and nipples of your breasts will become darker and although other areas of your skin will return to their original colour after pregnancy, your areola will probably always be somewhat darker than they were before you were pregnant.
A lot of women normally have a faint linea alba (a white line) running from their belly button to the centre of their pubic bone. It is barely visible before pregnancy. (You may not have even noticed it was there!) Sometime in the second trimester a linea alba becomes a linea nigra (a dark line) that is much more obvious. The line can extend upward from the navel for some. The linea nigra is darker in darker-skinned women and whilst there is no known remedy it disappears several months after delivery.
Brownish or yellowish patches called chloasma (also known as the ‘mask of pregnancy’) can appear on the face, in particular on the forehead, upper cheeks, nose and chin. Chloasma cannot be prevented but the intensity of these blotchy, darkened areas can be reduced by limiting your exposure to the sun which stimulates melanin production.
Spider veins: the increase in blood volume, along with pregnancy hormones can cause minute, web-like red or purple capillaries just below the surface of the skin to branch out and become more visible during pregnancy. These ‘nevi’ can take longer to disappear than many of the other skin problems of pregnancy but can be benefited by the use of Rosehip oil, rich in Vitamin A and E.
Itching: some areas of your skin may itch due to the increased blood flow or often skin can become dry as the body is using most nutrients and essential fatty acids to grow the baby. Many women find the most irritating itching is in the skin that stretches, mainly over the abdomen, but also on hips and thighs. As early as the second month of pregnancy, the insides of your hands and the bottoms of your feet may itch and take on a reddish hue. This is called palmar erythema. Make sure that you are getting good oils in your diet so that you are providing your body with essential fatty acids: these come from oily fish, seeds and nuts. Also make sure that you are using a high quality natural body lotion or cold-pressed oil on the skin to strengthen and nourish.
After sixteen weeks try adding in some essential oils to your cold-pressed oil; Chamomile and Lavender are very beneficial. We suggest using the child ratio when blending — which is simply one fifth of the adult dose. See the chart at the end.
Pimply eruptions: A very small percentage of pregnant women experience itchy, red, raised patches on their abdomen, thighs, buttocks, hands and feet. This condition is called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (also known as PUPP). It tends to come and go during the second half of pregnancy and nearly always disappears shortly after delivery. Treat this in the same way as any other itchy skin break-out.
Stretch marks: Stretch marks are caused by rapid weight gain or loss and are fairly common in pregnancy around the breast area, hips, buttocks, stomach and top of the thighs. Some women are genetically predisposed to getting them and no
amount of rubbing, pleading or magic potions will prevent stretch marks altogether. However, using a cold-pressed massage base oil with essential oils may help reduce their severity and improve their appearance over time. Try the following preventative blend and rub into the whole body or on the affected areas:
25 ml Sweet Almond oil and
25 ml Rosehip oil
3 drops Frankincense
3 drops Lavender
2 drops Rosewood
2 drops Neroli
Try a new perspective and think of stretch marks as the most amazing stripes of honour!
Fatigue: From the moment you conceive you may be consumed with fatigue. This is not unexpected, considering how hard your body is working to incubate and nourish a tiny little being for nine months. Remember to drink plenty of water and choose ‘natural’ foods — organic where possible.
Your first pregnancy is the one during which you can completely think about yourself and indulge, recharge and rest, so make sure you do! Lie down as often as you can and put your feet up. Sleep whenever you get a chance — your body will thank you!
Use your vaporiser in the room you are resting in. Try oils such as Lavender, Orange, Bergamot, Lemon, Geranium and Chamomile.
Gentle exercise such as swimming can improve your energy levels, just be sure not to overdo it.
The moody blues: dealing with emotional states is a tricky one, considering all the different emotional responses a woman can have while being pregnant! This is where aromatherapy can be very helpful. Here we focus on a few of the more common emotions and feelings you may experience. Choose any three oils from the following chart in a bath or massage blend after sixteen weeks, using 50ml of massage base oil with 10 drops in total of essential oil. Or use in a vaporiser any time from conception.
EMOTIONAL STATES DURING PREGNANCY
‘Got the blues’
Orange, Lavender, Lime, Sandalwood, Geranium
‘Away with the fairies’
Sandalwood, Lavender, Lime, Pine
‘Sick and tired’
Peppermint, Lavender, Geranium
‘Can’t remember a thing’
Rosemary, Lemon, Geranium
‘Fear of pain’
Frankincense, Neroli, Lavender, Geranium, Sandalwood
‘Don’t know if I can do it’
Frankincense, Orange, Sandalwood, Lavender
‘Fat and frumpy’
Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang, Bergamot
‘Big and beautiful’
Orange, Lavender, Pine, Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang
Lavender, Neroli, Chamomile, Orange
Labour: The time has arrived for your little bundle of energy to begin its journey into the world and a relaxed, stress-free mother, support team and environment can make all the difference for a positive birth experience.
Prepare all the oils you would like to have at the birth and after the delivery well in advance. A couple of synergy blends are great to have at hand. Try what we call the ‘pregnancy power’ blend of Lavender, Sandalwood, Neroli and Lime. Mix to an adult’s ratio of 50ml massage base oil and 25 drops in total of essential oil!
Make a ‘Labour support’ blend for your support person(s) to use when you are in the last stage of labour or when you feel it is appropriate and make sure you label it so they know which one to use! To mix use:
100 ml Sweet Almond oil
15 drops Lime
20 drops Clary Sage
8 drops Jasmine
7 drops Rose
Massage can be particularly helpful in between contractions and works well combined with facial compresses to keep the mind focused and refreshed.
Compresses for the face and forehead are fantastic to help refresh the mind. Cool Lavender, Bergamot, Lemon or Pine compresses are very effective. Don’t use too many combinations or the support team may bear the brunt of an agitated mother-to-be’s irritation.
Warm compresses work well on the lower back or abdomen. Alternate between Jasmine and Clary Sage.
Sip water as often as possible. Use a cup with a straw to conserve energy!
A bath during labour is a lovely way to relax and lessen the weight-bearing load on the body. Use a few drops of the labour support blend as mentioned above. For those of you undertaking a water birth, it may be better to avoid using essential oils considering it is the first place of entry for your little babe and the oils are so concentrated. Have a vaporiser in the room instead.
Like smells, music has an incredible ability to link us with experiences. To have a certain CD or song playing during the birth of your child will thereafter be significant each time you hear it. Music also has the ability to calm and centre, uplift, inspire and motivate us, so select some of your favourites to be played during the birth of your child.
After childbirth levels of oestrogen, progesterone and other hormones fall sharply, causing a number of physical changes. The womb shrinks back to its non- pregnant size, pelvic floor muscle tone improves, skin and hair problems often reduce or disappear and the volume of blood circulating round the body returns to normal. This dramatic change in hormone levels is thought to play a part in causing postnatal depression. Although there have been no significant differences detected in the hormone changes of women who do, and do not, get postnatal depression, it is thought that some women are more easily affected by these hormonal fluctuations than others. If you feel like you are not coping or don’t know where to turn, just know that you are not alone and help is always at hand. Talk to your midwife or doctor and seek advice — just talking it through with someone can relieve much of the concern, during this miraculous time of your life.