Sun, 20 Jul 2003

Aromatherapy eases discomfort of pregnancy

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Pregnant women are often told to take it easy, to watch their diet, refrain from heavy work or exercise and avoid anything too stimulating to the system.

Aromatherapy, which many of us wrongly consider as just a pleasant mixing of relaxing scents, is often advised against during pregnancy.

Well, perhaps it's time to take the kid gloves off. Aromatherapy is not just about a dab of lavender or patchouli oil here and there to cheer us up, but has long been used to treat a variety of health problems, from insomnia to nervousness.

Rachmi Primadiati, a medical aromatherapist with Griya Natura clinic in Kemang, South Jakarta, said it was true that not all oils could be used safely during pregnancy and women should consult with a certified medical aromatherapist before undertaking a program.

But, with attention to dosage and the types of oils, it can be safely used to ease various discomforts that often accompany pregnancy.

Each essential oil has its own beneficial properties to help alleviate various health conditions -- fluid retention, fatigue, nausea, morning sickness, varicose veins, stretchmarks and pain in the neck, upper and lower back -- during pregnancy, as well as to smoothen the delivery process.

The effectiveness of aromatherapy, Rachmi explained, lies in the use of essential oils, which are referred to by aromatherapy enthusiasts as the "life force of plants".

The oils are extracted from different parts of plants, like the flower, herbs, seeds, bark and root, which contain minute substances beneficial for well being and used for centuries.

The essential oil, which is what imparts the aroma to the plant, works when the minute substances enter the system through inhalation. When used on the skin, the oil can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream.

Contrary to the common belief that natural ingredients have no harmful effects, Rachmi explained that certain essential oils must not be used during pregnancy. They include extracts from plants such as angelica, anise, basil, cedarwood, clove, cinnamon, camphor, fennel, hysop, juniper, jasmine, oregano, parsley, peppermint, rosemary and nutmeg.

"They contain toxic materials and are also potent stimulants that can penetrate the placenta and affect the fetus," said Rachmi.

Safe essential oils are lavender and ylang-ylang and those from the citrus family, like neroli, mandarin, orange and tangerine. Ones which should only be used in limited dosage include geranium, lemon and sandalwood.

"First of all, we diagnose the client's discomforts and then choose the right essential oils which she likes and suit her character, the way of using it and how often it should be repeated," Rachmi said.

Inhalation is just one way of using it since there are also other stimulating methods, like adding it to the bath, a compress or gentle massage.

According to Rachmi, aromatherapy massage has a quicker effect since it involves the double senses of touch and smell. The skin- on-skin rubbing during massage enables the oil to penetrate the skin, while the body's heat helps release its aroma.

Depending on the purposes, aromatherapy massages can be differentiated into: * Swedish massage (or soft tissue massage to relax and stimulate) * neuromuscular massage (deep tissue massage performed along the spinal column) * shiatsu massage (to improve the flow of chi energy), and; * lymph drainage (to help smoothen the removal of toxic materials in the body, which should be supported with adequate exercise and deep breathing).

Since pregnant women cannot lie on their stomach, gentle pregnancy massages with a focus on the neck, back and foot-and- hands should be done in a sitting position or lying on the side.

"It can be helpful for the patient or her husband to be able to perform simple, gentle foot-and-hand massage to relax tense muscles and soothe swollen feet during pregnancy by improving blood circulation," said Rachmi.

As for choosing the right essential oils, the aromatherapist advised choosing ones produced by means of distillation and cold compression.

"These methods of extraction ensure that the beneficial properties of the oils remain potent and unaffected," she said.

She also advised the public to look for oils with labels indicating purity and grades, such as pure essential oil, pure undiluted essential oil, genuine pure undiluted oil or pure genuine organic essential oil.

And since the oil is easily oxidized and sensitive to sunlight and artificial light, it should be packed in a dark-colored airtight bottle, ideally with a dropper. Rachmi advised against buying essential oil in clear bottles.

If a bottle is unopened, the oil can last for up to five years, but after opening it will only last for around 18 months. A mixture of essential oils should be used within a three-month period.

When using it at home, Rachmi warned aromatherapy fans to pay attention to the correct dosage listed on the container.

"It is natural oil, but overusing it won't be without side effects," she said.

Treating pregnancy-related ills

Here are some recommended treatments, but pregnant women should always consult a certified aromatherapist before beginning a program.


- Bath: Fill the bathtub half full with warm water, add two drops each of lavender and neroli oil (or mandarin oil) for a 15-minute soak.

- Massage: 1 tsp carrier oil with four drops of lavender oil and a drop of neroli or mandarin oil.


- Skin application: 1 tsp avocado oil, 1 tsp sweet almond oil with three drops of one or a combination of these oils: tangerine, lavender, frankincense, neroli and black pepper oils.


- Bath: Fill the bathtub half full with warm water, add four drops of one or a combination of these oils: lavender, ylang- ylang, mandarin, chamomile, lavender, sandalwood and geranium oils.

- Compress: 500 ml warm or cold water, two drops of chamomile and two drops of lavender or sandalwood oil.

- Massage: One tsp carrier oil, one drop of lavender and one drop of geranium oils.

Fluid retention:

- Bath: fill a bathtub half full with warm water, four drops of either lemon, cyprus, black pepper and ginger oil for a 15-minute to 30-minute bath.

- Massage: One tsp carrier oil, plus two drops of one of the abovementioned oils.

Varicose veins:

- Foot bath: Fill a bathtub half full with tepid water, four drops of either cyprus, lavender, lemon or frankincense oil, for a 15-minute foot bath.

- Skin application: One tsp carrier oil, two drops of one of the abovementioned oils (do not use pressure during application).


- Bath: Fill a bathtub half full with warm water, add four drops of either lavender, ylang-ylang and neroli oil, for a 15-minute to 30 minute bath before retiring.

- Massage/apply on the neck and back: One tsp carrier oil, two drops of one of the abovementioned oils.

- Inhalation: One - three drops of one of the oils on the pillow or a tissue or handkerchief, or inhale directly from the bottle.