Interest in Aromatherapy for Relaxation in Pregnancy and Birth
There is much interest in aromatherapy as a natural and gentle complementary therapy to help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation during pregnancy and childbirth. Aromatherapy influences the emotional state via the emotional brain or the limbic system, which are the structures of the mid-brain.
Because essential oils (EO) are absorbed into the body, care must be taken to properly dilute EO in a carrier oil and to only use EO found to be safe for use during pregnancy. Remember, in pregnancy, the mom and baby must both be considered. Essential oils are organic compounds and will cross the placenta barrier and reach the baby as well as the mother. So, dilute, dilute, dilute and only use the essential oils on the short list known to be safe for mom and babe.
A little bit of chemistry
Essential oil molecules are absorbed through the skin and through the olfactory system via our sense of touch and smell. When inhaled or absorbed through the skin layers into the bloodstream, the molecules in the essential oils bind with receptors in the brain and body. This creates a neuro-hormonal response. Depending on the phytochemical constituents of the essential oil, the emotional and physiological body response is relaxation, balance or slightly uplifting. When working with pregnant women, the emotional and physiological goals are usually to induce the relaxation response in order to reduce fear, anxiety and pain. When stimulated by specific phytochemical constituents, the brain and body releases neurotransmitters that are part of the relaxation response, such as acetylcholine and beta-endorphins.
Some safe soothing fragrances
Lavender has been found to be safe for use with perinatal women, in proper dilution. The phytochemical constituents of Lavender and its effects have been studied extensively.
Another plant whose oils are safe for use with pregnant and postpartum women is the much loved rose (Rosa damascena).
Rose oil (Rosa damascena) has been shown to reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, reduce pain and increase well being. The main phytoconstituents in the rose oil chemical family are monoterpenols, with the components of citronellol, nerol, linalool, geraniol, eugenol, and menthol. Citronellol has anti-spasmodic, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Nerol and linalool have sedative qualities. Geraniol and eugenol have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Menthol has analgesic properties.
These molecules are absorbed into the human body by inhalation or through the skin, where they bond chemically with the limbic system, the emotional brain. The sedative qualities of nerol and linalool act on the limbic system, reducing fear and anxiety, thus, reducing pain.
Sepideh Hamdamian and her colleagues conducted a study with small sample size of 110 women on the the effects of Rosa damascena on pain and anxiety management during the first stage of labor. The researchers used an intravenous method, diluting the essential oil in saline. This method was done only with trained medical attention, and is not recommended at all to a consumer to try alone.
The women who received rose aromatherapy with Rose damascena had less pain and anxiety than the women who did not receive this aromatherapy. The researchers attribute this effect to the stimulation of neurotransmitters leading to decrease in pain and increase in relaxation. They conclude that using aromatherapy with R. damascena is a convenient and effective method for pain and anxiety reduction during the first stage of labor, with few, if any, side effects.
Hamdamian S, Nazarpour S, Simbar M, Hajian S, Mojab F, Talebi A. Effects of aromatherapy with Rosa damascena on nulliparous women's pain and anxiety of labor during first stage of labor. J Integr Med. 2018 Mar;16(2):120-125. doi: 10.1016/j.joim.2018.02.005. Epub 2018 Feb 9. PMID: 29526235.
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