(This is an article I wrote back in 2003. Dug it out of my archives and will publish 2 more in this series.)
Almost 20 years ago, few people would have been familiar with the word aromatherapy. It has entered our vocabulary so easily, has sneaked its way into toiletries, candles and food. What does it actually mean? One explanation is: the use of essential oils extracted from natural or plant souces to treat an ailment or maintain a person's well-being.
Aromatherapy is almost always carried out as a massage. There are 2 types of aromatherapy session you could experience. The 1st is undertaken by a professionally qualified aromatherapist and starts with a detailed consultation which can include such things as your medical history to present date, your diet, general health, lifestyle and what symptoms or ailment you wish treated. The aromatherapist will then make up a blend for you based on your answers to the consultation so you have to be completely honest. A blend is a mix of essential oils in a carrier oil.
The 2nd type of aromatherapy session is an aroma-massage. The therapist does not need to be qualified in aromatherapy and there may or may not be a consultation depending on the salon. The blends are already made up, not by the therapist but by their supplier. Quite often, in salons, you cannot tell the difference between these 2 types of treatment because both are given the same name and the price is often about the same.
Some salons do carry out massage specifically for pregnant women. If you feel uncomfortable about lying your tummy, then don't do it. The therapist should place you on your side with a pillow for support. I prefer to sit the person on a chair leaning forward against the massage couch but the setup all depends on the therapist and you.
If you do decide to have aromatherapy or any type of massage, you should first ask permission from your midwife or doctor. This is because you could have symptoms resulting from the pregnancy such as high blood pressure or varicose veins which contra-indicate a massage.
No matter how much you may yearn to try aromatherapy during your pregnancy, DO NOT do it during the 1st 12 weeks. The foetus is at its most vulnerable and, although it is not proven that any complementary therapy can cause a miscarriage, it is not worth the risk. The same goes if you have been bleeding during the pregnancy.
There is also the possibility that you undergo aromatherapy or other complementary treatment but don't know you're pregnant. Be honest with the therapist and tell her/him you are trying for a baby and they will treat you as though you were pregnant.
If you want to try aromatherapy at home, it is very easy to obtain some essential oils, put them in the bath, burn them or make your own blend. Never underestimate the potency of essential oils. Even if not applied to the skin, by breathing in the aroma, the oils enter your bloodstream when breathed in. One of the safest oils to try is mandarin (citrus reticulata). You could also use a carrier oil without essential oils. Here are a few:
Grapeseed is an all-purpose oil, good for all skin types.
Almond is oilier, good for itchy skins.
Avocado, rich in vitamins A, B and D. Suits very dry skin and fatty areas. Better diluted.
Wheatgerm is very thick and must be diluted with a thinner oil such as grapeseed. 10% dilution. Rich in vitamin E, good for dry skin.
Peach kernel and apricot kernel are like almond oil but more expensive.
Evening primrose rich in GLA (gamma linoleic acids) so good for dry skins and premature ageing. Quite thick so should be diluted, 10% dilution.
Olive oil a bit similar to almond but strong odour.
If you're interested in reading more, a good book is "Aromatherapy Workbook" by Shirley Price. She includes a chapter on pregnancy and babies.
You may have read of potions and lotions which prevent stretchmarks, to name a few: Japanese camellia oil, calendula, St John's wort oil. I say, don't believe it! I have met women who have used nothing on their abdomens, have dry skin but no stretchmarks and those who've religiously plastered themselves in their chosen potion but still get a nasty surprise. Either way seems to make no difference. Your skin will feel beautifully soft and silky, the manufacturers will have made a packet because they always price these items more expensively, but if you're going to get stretchmarks, you're going get them, sorry! The steroids in your body predetermines your potential for stretchmarks.
OILS TO STEER CLEAR OF
My recommendation is, during the pregnancy, stay away from the following essential oils:
marjoram, jasmine, basil, rosemary, clary sage, melissa, thyme, juniper, rose damascena (until the 3rd trimester if you're healthy).
These all have emmenagogue properties, that is they are used to induce menstruation.
Jasmine and clary sage are highly risky and these are the oils that, if you are using a "doula" he/she may choose for the labour!
Some aromatherapy suppliers would add more to my above list so check with the supplier. Some good ones are: Tisserand, Mother Earth, Shirley Price and Eve Taylor.