Updated: Mar 23, 2020
The safe use of essential oil to allow new mothers to be their best selves.
Introduction to the question of research
Major challenges new mothers are facing
Existing Clinical researches on new mothers
Essential oils and new mothers
Synergy blends to support new mothers
1. Introduction to the question of research
“Aromatherapy is the practice of therapeutic use of essential plant-based oils. Essential oils and aromatherapy have been used in care for women for centuries” Tillett J., Ames D. 2010. Because of the connotation of “aroma” linked to food and perfumery, Aromatherapy has been misjudged by classic medicine and therefore not taken seriously. For this reason, the term “the use of essential oils” is employed instead of Aromatherapy in clinical settings.
Pregnancy and child birth are sensitive periods in women’s lives. Women are going through a lot of changes and challenges on physiological, physical and mental level. This period can be really exacting. Even though our social environment considers it to be a happy period, we too often neglect the body-mind state of the new mother who can be in suffering. Post- natal care in our Western Medicine focuses on life threatening complications and often oversees the other complications seemingly trivial in comparison. However, on the long term, pain and anxiety disrupt the body’s balance by causing stress on our systems. Unfortunately, pain, anxiety and lack of energy have been accepted as common consequences of childbirth. This is where the use of essential oils can be of great help, new mothers in particular are in search for more natural alternatives to enhance their well-being.This paper explores, through clinical research papers, readings, essential oils chemical profiles and therapeutic properties, the use of essential oils to support new mothers to reach back to homeostasis (balance on physiological & mental level). To help them to attain a better overall wellbeing (body-mind-spirit) and enjoy their new adventure from the start with the use of essential oils.
2. Major challenges new mothers are facing
If in rare instances severe complications may occur, more often mothers in the postpartum phase may suffer from pain (perineal, back, cramps), fatigue, and low mood. The postpartum period is critical for new mothers and their families. A new mother’s body and mind’s balance could be significantly affected by increased tension, anxiety and fatigue. Essential oils are ideal to use after birth, because on the one hand it helps to get rid naturally of infection and pain, and on the other hand they have great emotional properties. Of course, some cautions are necessary as not all oils are safe for breastfeeding mothers and for the direct surrounding of the newborn.It is important to keep in mind that our bodies and minds strive towards homeostasis. Pain and anxiety, by causing continued stress on our systems, result in turning on the “fight or flight” response too easily and for longer periods than it should be on. This, keeping all our senses in constant alert of danger, exhausts the body and finally the mind. This vicious cycle starting with pain and anxiety, can lead to insomnia, fatigue, baby blues, confusion and even delays the formation of the connection of the mother with her newborn, impacting the breastfeeding, and this, again resulting in stress and sadness of the new mother. Worst cases develop into postpartum depression. As we can see body and mind are intimately linked.
Physical challenges for pregnant women and new mothers -The Body
Pregnant women and new mothers turn to aromatherapy for the following common physical symptoms: nausea, headache, asthma, urinary tract infections, back pain, infections, allergies/ hay fever, labour pain relief, edema. (Sibbritt D.W. et al. (2014)). Another frequent issue occurring with breastfeeding mothers from a poor latch or improper pumping, is nipple fissure. An injury which is accompanied by pain, inflammation and discharge. The highest incidence is between day 3 and 7 after delivery. 80% of breastfeeding mothers experience nipple pain at some degree which interferes with breastfeeding. These fissures can lead to mastitis and cause stress. Pain in the postpartum period can lead to insomnia, fatigue, confusion, anxiety and delay in the bonding with the baby. “Pain" garners more pain & discomfort. This is what we refer as “Vicious Cycle” in this paper.
Emotional challenges for new mothers- The Mind
A new mother, has a lot going through her mind; questions, uncertainties, which can lead to anxiety, fatigue, insomnia and sadness. Fatigue has a positive correlation with sleep disturbance. In order to ensure a good sleep quality for new mothers, it is necessary to alleviate fatigue.Postpartum depression is a condition that takes many forms and can remain undiagnosed for long periods of time. Approximately, 70-80% of women will experience, at a minimum the ‘baby blues’ (Carberg J.(2019)). Many of these women will experience the more severe condition of postpartum depression or a related condition. The reported rate of clinical postpartum depression among new mothers is between 10% to 20% in the USA. This equates to almost 600,000 postpartum depressions diagnoses each year!
Maternity Blues aka Baby Blues
“Maternity Blues is defined as a transitory mood disturbance, ... Although Maternity Blues is a transitory and brief episode, it is strongly associated with postpartum depression.” (Imura M, Misao H. (2006)).
Maternity blues, also known as baby blues presents a wide variety of symptoms; weepiness and bursting into tears, mood swings, anxiousness and hypersensitivity to criticism, low spirits and irritability, poor concentration and indecisiveness, feeling 'unbonded' with the baby, and restless insomnia. Fatigue is a condition that causes the new mother to have negative feelings and feel uncomfortable.
Postpartum depression is a moderate to severe depression after a woman has given birth. It may occur soon after delivery or up to a year later. Most of the time, it occurs within the first 3 months after delivery. The exact causes of postpartum depression are unknown. Changes in hormone levels during and after pregnancy may affect a woman's mood. Many non-hormonal factors may also affect mood during this period: changes in the body, changes in work and social relationships, having less time and freedom, the lack of sleep, the worries about the ability to be a good mother,...
Postpartum depression is a serious condition that essential oils are unlikely to cure. If depression takes over the baby blues, the new mother needs to seek medical advice. In the next chapter we will go deeper into the research on the use of essential oils to soothe the ailments described in this chapter.
3. Existing Clinical researches on new mothers
One has to admit that few studies and randomized controlled trials regarding aromatherapy have been conducted in the maternity sphere, and more specifically on new mothers. However, the use of essential oils has not been shown to cause any harm to women, fetuses and infants, and is well accepted by women (Burn et Al 2000) . In this chapter, we’ll evaluate researches on the use of essential oils on women’s health, pregnant women and postpartum mothers. This will help us to determine in which measure essential oils are proven to be effective to help postpartum mothers. These research papers do not establish “how” the studied essential oils work on specific issues, this will be discussed in the next chapter covering essential oils and new mothers.
Research on women’s health and essential oils
A large range of women’s health concerns may be alleviated with the use of essential oils. These include PMS symptoms, infertility and menopausal symptoms among others. Indeed, essential oils impact directly the limbic system and the cerebral cortex, and thus impact the hormone regulation system and the emotions. Some examples of these ailments benefitting from essential oils are covered in the Tillett J., Ames D. (2010) article.
The use of essential oils in pregnant women
Studies have verified the relaxing effects of essential oils containing linalyl acetate and/or linalool on pregnant women. The absorption of Lavandula angustifolia results in the reduction in serum cortisol, and in decreased pulse rate. (Igarashi T. 2013)
Inhaling of oils high in lineally acetate and linalool, as for instance; Lavender (lavandula angustifolia), Petit Grain (Citrus Aurantium) and Bergamot (Citrus Bergamia), were proven to improve the mood (tension-anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, vigor and fatigue), and to impact the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic).
Inhaling the above-mentioned essential oils resulted in decreasing fatigue levels, increasing amount of parasympathetic activity, and relaxing effects from a physiologic perspective such as a decrease heart rate.
These finding are relevant for post part mothers as well.
Essential oils for postpartum issues in new mothers
Anxiety and stress have the power to heighten pain perception and increase fatigue. Patients treated with essential oils remembered their experience in the maternity care unit in a more positive way and were more satisfied with their treatments (Tillett J., Ames D., 2010). The study conducted by Vaziri F. Et al. (2017) focused on participants’ fatigue, pain, and mood levels evolution after the inhalation of lavender essential oil (Lavendula Officinalis).
The study concluded that “...the inhalation of aromatherapy practiced in the early hours of postpartum could reduce mothers’ pain and fatigue and improve their mood.”( Vaziri F. Et al. 2017)
Furthermore, Afshar M. K. Et al. (2015) concluded that Lavender (lavandula angustifolia) essential oil has proven to improve the quality of sleep in postpartum women. Asazawa K. Et al. (2017) study concluded that the use of essential oils as Cirton (Citrus medica ) and sweet orange (Orange sinensis) increases relaxation and decreases fatigue for mothers during the first seven days of the postpartum period. They felt it augmented their comfort level.
Mothers receiving aromatherapy massage experience lower maternity blues scores, lower anxiety scores, better moods scores, less fatigue and more “vigor". (Imura M, Misao H. 2006).
One last trial covers the most common cause for avoiding breastfeeding; nipple fissures experienced in the firsts days after delivery. This inability to breastfeed can put a lot of pressure and guilt on the mother who pictured herself feeding her baby. Breastfeeding is an important factor in the mother postpartum well-being. Breastmilk is commonly known as having anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory components and, is used in preventing and improving nipples fissures. Vaziri F. et al. (2017) studied the use of essential oil of peppermint (Mentha x Piperita) applied topically after each feeding in comparison to the use of breastmilk to treat nipple fissures (pain, injury rate and nipple discharge). Menthol is known to have an antibacterial and tissue anti-inflammatory activity, and is considered safe even during pregnancy and lactation period (Tisserand R., Young R. (2014)). On all levels; pain intensity, damage severity and nipple discharge, peppermint scored better than breastmilk on nipple fissures. One should use caution and wipe the nipple with a carrier oil before the feeding. The olfactory environment of the infant should remain friendly.
Important takeaways from clinical research
Essential oils have proven to be effective in the early stages of postpartum to counteract the early symptoms of pain, mood and fatigue and prevent the initiation of the negative spiral. These symptoms are likely to alter the emotional and physical balance of the new mother and decrease the quality of her performance. Essential oils offer new mothers emotional support and comfort. They provide a sense of well-being and balance to manage their challenges in a healthier way. The most used essential oil in the trials was Lavender (lavandula angustifolia). More research still needs to be done on other essential oils and chemical components.
4. Essential oils and new mothers
As we discovered in chapter 3, essential oil are an excellent support system for the new mothers regarding pain, anxiety and mood management. Nevertheless, essential oil are very potent natural plant extracts, and come with certain safety considerations depending on the individual’s age, health, medication intake and condition. Moreover, it is crucial to be aware that essential oil in the system of the breastfeeding mother can pass through their milk into the baby. To be on the safe side, I recommend to use low dilutions, prefer skin application as it delivers smaller doses, avoid steam inhalation which offers high doses and prefer inhalers. Caution is recommended for room diffusion, as most essential oils are not recommended for infants. One can find a detailed list of essential oils to be restricted and to be avoided in pregnant and breastfeeding women issued by Tisserand R., Young R. (2014). For other drug interactions or safety concerns, it is important to refer to a certified aromatherapist.
Another point worth mentioning, is the impact of essential oils on the original scent of the mother. Olfaction is an important stimulus for the new born in recognizing his mother. It is key to breastfeeding. It is of utmost importance to maintain a newborn-friendly-olfactory environment. (e.g. wipe of the nipple with a carrier oil before feeding or in some cases prefer inhaler to topically applied oils).
Before addressing our next chapter about our synergy blends, we would like to clarify the scientific working of essential oils to support new mothers. To make a long story short, olfactory molecules impact the cerebral cortex and the limbic system. The limbic system is center of emotions, and the initiator of hormonal control and other autonomic nervous systems that monitors organs and glands (sympathetic and parasympathetic). This is how essential oils impact pain perception, stress, anxiety and mood levels.
5. Synergy blends to support new mothers
In this chapter I introduce the synergy blends I developed based on my understanding of clinical researches, the body and mindset of new mothers, my learnings from my certification program and of essential oils data sheets and therapeutic properties.
In order to strengthen my research paper, I asked 35 new mothers what were their most common challenges. The top 3 were as follows:
Fatigue and exhaustion
Stress & feeling overwhelmed
Bad sleep quality
If these issues are addressed at their initiation, we could prevent the occurrence of more severe issues such as depression, low immune defense and social isolation.
Post-natal Happy Mom’s Booster- Inhaler and Roller blend
“Happy Mom’s Booster” is a blend meant to alleviate exhaustion and brain fog due to the lack of sleep while boosting mood and self-confidence. It gives the new mother a kick and uplifts her mood, yet it is calming and it helps new mothers not to fall into the vicious spiral of low mood. Less exhaustion brings a better quality of sleep as seen in the clinical research. This blend is also an immune booster.
This blend has a predominance of stimulant essential oils softened with balancing and relaxing ones. This blend is stimulating and recommended for day use.
The stimulant oils such as grapefruit, sweet basil and ravintsara help to combat fatigue, exhaustion and are mood enhancers, highly energetic and uplifting. Yet, these oils have the potential to reduce tension and calm stress. Bergamot is the link between stimulating and relaxing oils. It is relaxing, restorative and it helps to reduce insomnia and anxiety and yet it is emotionally uplifting as well.
The relaxing oil in this blend, Jasmine absolute, is commonly used for post-natal recovery; it relieves pain, alleviates depression, regulates mood and diminishes fear.
To complete this blend, I added a balancing oil, frankincense, it encourages emotional healing at all levels and quiets the mind. Frankincense is great for post-natal depression (Caddy R. (1997)).
Furthermore, this blend is immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, as the majority of the oils included have these properties. This is relevant as new mothers have their energy levels quite challenged and suffer from pain. It is important to boost their immune defenses and offer some preventive antimicrobial properties.
From a chemical perspective, 1,8 cineole component found in ravintsara and sweet basil is excellent to combat mental fatigue, it is a dopaminergic agent, a cognition enhancer and it increases cerebral blood flow. It is anti-inflammatory. The d-Limonene component has anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, it activates the white blood cells and is immunostimulant. Linalool and linalyl acetate improve the mood ( Igarashi T. (2013), are anxiolytic, immunostimulant and sedative.
From a plant side perspective, the blend achieves our objective of enhancing energy, uplifting mood and giving comfort to the mothers’ heart. Leaves help the new mother to breathe when she feels stressed and anxious, they help to clear and calm the mind when she enters the spiral of overthinking. Flowers will comfort her heart giving a feeling of love. Flowers are great for emotional support and self-confidence. Fresh fruits offer joy and renewed energy to the blend while resin balances and grounds.
Bye Bye Baby Blues
"Bye Bye Baby Blues” is a blend designed to relieve anxiety & depression of new mothers, to help them overcome the baby blues. It helps the new mother to feel connected and supported. Moreover, it promotes a well-deserved good quality of sleep and supports the immune function.
This blend is relaxing and calming in its essence. It has a predominance of relaxing essential oils, has some balancing oils and just a hint of stimulating oils to fight sadness and fatigue.
The relaxing oils; clary sage, lavender and ylang ylang, offer anxiety relieving and sedative properties, they are antidepressant. These oils promote a good quality of sleep mostly due to the lavender. According to Caddy R. (1997), lavender (also proven in the clinical trials) and clary sage are valuable in child birth. Clary sage is excellent for treating post-natal depression.
The balancing oils; frankincense, vetiver and ylang ylang encourage emotional healing at all levels, quiet the mind and harmonize. Besides, still according to Caddy R. (1997), frankincense is beneficial for treating post-natal depression. Ylang ylang and vetiver have stimulating properties too. Ylang ylang is uplifting and offers euphoric effects preventing low mood. Vetiver, yet calming and sedative, is stimulating because of its alcohol content (vetiverol) which is a tonic for the immune system. Rose absolute brings the stimulating hint to the blend. Rose is hormone balancing, promotes the release of dopamine and is effective on mood swings. Moreover, it is balancing and calming.
This blend in immuno-supportive. The dominant chemical components of this synergy blend are linalyl acetate and linalool (Igarashi T. (2013). As seen in the clinical research, these chemical components have been proven to be effective in deceasing stress, anxiety, insomnia and low mood. All this in turn helping with the perception of pain. These are the predominant molecules in clary sage and lavender. Some linalool is present in ylang ylang too.
From a plant part perspective, the blend mostly floral meets well our goals of comforting the heart, encouraging self-confidence and it is antidepressant. Rose heals deep despair. The resin of frankincense brings a little diversity to the blend with grounding and tranquility. The rootlet of vetiver is there to anchor the new mother, give her roots in the turmoil of change. It’s reassuring and calming.
“Using Essential oils for management of women’s health complaints is a simple and effective treatments that, engages a women in her lifestyle decisions, and avoids overuse of pharmaceuticals” (Tillett J., Ames D. (2010).
In the early postpartum period using aromatherapy seems to be beneficial as a convenient and easily accessible method for improving mothers overall wellbeing, which results in the infant and family health too.The use of essential oils is proven to be beneficial to alleviate pain, low mood anxiety and exhaustion. This helps to promote emotional and physical balance in new mothers.Unfortunately, the researches on the use of essential oils in pregnant woman and new mothers are still scarce. I recommend caution when blending for postpartum mothers and assume they are breastfeeding. I advice lower dilutions and to refer to Tisserand R., Young R. (2014) list of oils to avoid. Furthermore, communication from the medical staff towards pregnant and postpartum women should be improved. Indeed, the self-prescribed use of essential oils by pregnant women is high, at 15.7% (Sibbritt D.W. et al. (2014) and implies risks.I hope research on the matter will continue in the future as the results are promising.
Tillett J., Ames D. (2010) The Uses of Aromatherapy in Women’s Health, J Print Neonat Nurs 24 (3): 238-245
BurnsEetal.(2000) An investigation into the use of Aromatherapy in intra partum midwifery practice, J Altern Complement Med. 6 (2) 141-147
Tisserand R.,Young R.(2014) Essential Oils Safety, a Guide for Health Care Professionals second edition, London: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier
Imura M, Misao H. (2006) The Psychological effects of Aromatherapy - Massage in Healthy Postpartum Mothers, J Midwifery & Women’s Health (51) 21-27
Field T. Et al. (1996) Massage and relaxation therapies’ effects on depressed adolescents mothers, Adolescence 31 (903)
Vaziri F. Et al. (2017) Effect of Lavender oil aroma in the early hours of Postpartum Period on Maternal Pains, Fatigue, and Mood: A Randomized Clinical Trial, Int. J. Prev. Med (8)
Ali Akbari S., et al. (2012) Effects of Menthol Essence and Breastmilk on the Improvements of Nipple Fissures in Breastfeeding women.
Burns E. Et al. (2007) Aromatherapy in Childbirth: a Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial, BJOG (114) 838-844
Festy D. (2011) Se soigner avec les huiles essentielles pendant la grossesse, Paris:Leduc.S Editions
Enlighten healing (2017) Emotions & Essential Oils, A reference guide for emotional healing sixth edition, Salt Lake City: Enlighten Alternative Healing
Caddy R. (1997) Essential Oils in Color, Caddy classic profiles, Rochester: Amberwood Publishing
Mein C. (2018) Releasing Emotional Pattern with Essential Oils, Santa Fe: Vision Ware Press
Igarashi T. (2013) Physical and Psychologic Effects of Aromatherapy Inhalation on Pregnant women: a Randomized Controlled Trial, J. Alt. Compl. Med. 19 (10) 805-810
Sibbritt D.W. et al. (2014) The self-prescribed use of Aromatherapy oils by pregnant women, Women and birth Elsevier (27) 21-45
Asazawa K. Et al. (2017) The effect of Aromatherapy treatment on fatigue and relaxation for mothers during the early puerperal period in Japan: A pilot study, IJCBNM. 5(4):365-375.
Carberg J., https://www.postpartumdepression.org (2019), Postpartum Depression statistics https://www.postpartumdepression.org/resources/statistics/
Afshar M. K. Et al. (2015) Lavender Fragrance Essential Oil and the Quality of Sleep in Postpartum Women, Iran Red Crescent Med J. 17(4): e25880