There is a lot of confusion around the safe diffusing of essential oils and the use of traditional oil “burners” (vaporisers) and diffusers during labour and birth.
It is not just about the smell.
Essential oils are made up of chemicals – even chemicals found in nature can have adverse effects on the mind and body, so you have to give your body a rest from exposure to allow it to process and filter out those chemicals.
The olfactory receptor cells in your nose become saturated after 20 – 30 minutes of diffusing, and this causes your sense of smell to turn off.
You don’t smell it anymore, but the molecules are still there in the air, and you are still breathing them in and they are still having an effect on your body.
If you were to leave the room and go outside for a couple of minutes to open your olfactory system again, and then walked back into the room where the diffuser is then you will again start smelling the essential oils.
The problem is when you think you can’t smell the oils anymore you top up with more essential oils, and in effect you are at risk of “overdosing” with the use of the diffuser.
Being in a birth suite usually means you are in a small and not very well ventilated room, therefore the use of a diffuser or vaporizer in that room for long periods of time could have an adverse effect not only on the labouring woman, but everyone else in the room as well.
You also need to be cautious about the risks of sensitisation, which increases with longer periods of exposure and more frequent use, even at safe dosages.
The therapeutic benefits of the oils are at their best within that 20-30 minute time frame.
Once that therapeutic benefit has been reached, you are then at risk of being over exposed to the oils, which may then create adverse reactions such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, disorientation, lethargy and other symptoms.
It is important to give your body a break from exposure to essential oils, and Robert Tisserand who is one of the world’s leading experts and researchers in aromatherapy suggests:
“Don’t diffuse for long periods of time – 30 to 60 minutes is a good length or 30 minutes on then 60 minutes off. This is because our body, especially our nervous system habituates after this length of time. With continuous diffusion, while benefits do not increase, there is evidence that the body becomes stressed in various other ways.”
For my clients I provide them with a special blend of essential oils for calming and relaxation in a spray bottle. I condition my clients to this smell during my Hypnobirthing Australia classes when we do the relaxation hypnosis and they take the spray bottle home as a gift to use whenever they are listening to their relaxation tracks. If they are having a hospital birth, then either myself or the partner will go ahead of the labouring woman with the midwife to the birth suite and give the room a few sprays of their relaxation blend, so that when the mum walks into the room she immediately has that familiar smell, and it helps to create that ambient birthing space, rather than the clinical smells of the hospital.
I also suggest to my clients that it might be more beneficial for them to use a piece of cloth with a couple of drops directly on the cloth. My go to hack is using Chux Super Wipes as they are so versatile and cheap. I cut them into strips and each strip goes into a small ziplock plastic bag. You can add the essential oils directly to the Chux and then bring that up to your nose and smell directly. During labour a woman’s senses are heightened, therefore using a diffuser may not be the best option. By using the Chux if she finds the smell becoming too overpowering then she can seal it away in the ziplock bag. It is much harder to get rid of the smell in a birth suite if it is being diffused or if you have used essential oils on the body like for massage – so my philosophy has always been, less is more.
I also give my clients a comb to squeeze during surges (contractions) as this will stimulate the acupressure points in the palm of the hand and trigger the release of endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers). Dr Kate Levett has created a fantastic acupressure point online demonstration course for women and birth professionals that I highly recommend so you understand which acupressure points are most useful for relaxation, labour, birth and the postpartum period.
My name is Vicki Hobbs and I am a Childbirth Educator (Back to Basics Birthing), Hypnobirthing Australia Practitioner, Certified VBAC Educator, Remedial Massage Therapist specialising in Pregnancy & Postpartum Massage, Birth & Postpartum Doula, Certified Placenta Encapsulator, Hypnotherapist, Aromatherapist, Reiki Practitioner and Life Coach. I am a serial workshopper and learner, so that I keep up to date with new research and information so that I can provide you with up to date resources. My focus has always been on the mind, the body and the emotions and how they all need to be in balance for harmony. You can subscribe to my newsletter by adding your details in the box on the right-hand side and when you do I will send you a free relaxation meditation to help you feel calm and relaxed. I am based in the northern suburbs of Perth and can be contacted by email at [email protected] or phone (08) 9303 9111 or CLICK HERE to go back to my Resources Page for more great articles and information.