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Pregnancy and the Trimesters

The First Trimester

During the first trimester of pregnancy a mother to be will feel both exhilarated and exhausted. Although she may be extraordinarily elated about becoming a mother, the mother to be is also 'building' another human being and the creation of the placenta may take a lot, if not all, of her energy. Unfortunately, not only will some women have to cope with exhaustion, but other symptoms as well, such as nausea, heartburn and headaches, to name only a few. In this article these symptoms, and others, will be discussed, as well as how aromatherapy may help.

Unfortunately there is no cure for fatigue; however there are things the mother-to-be can do to help. First, sleep. Sleep as much as you can and feel no guilt. To a warm (not hot) bath add two drops of lavender, one drop of mandarin and one drop of ylang-ylang essential oils; these particular essential oils are used for their calming properties. Soak in this bath for 15 to 30 minutes then go to bed.

To help alleviate nausea, more commonly known as morning sickness during pregnancy, avoid anything that makes you feel nauseous; drink ginger tea; nibble on crackers. Try placing one to two drops of lemon or ginger essential oil in an essential oil diffuser and allow it to permeate the air, or drop one to two drops of either on a tissue and inhale as required. If your vomiting is severe, see your health care provider.

Muscle aches of the lower back are common all throughout pregnancy and the best relief comes in the form of a one a week aromatherapy massage from a qualified practitioner. Applying heat to the area by using a heating pad will help as well or take a warm (not hot) bath to which two drops of lavender essential oil has been added.

Indigestion causing heartburn and flatulence can be painful and embarrassing at the best of times and unfortunately while pregnant it is a necessary evil most women must endure. To combat indigestion, avoid foods that cause you to have indigestion and do not over eat. Massage oil containing mandarin essential oil can be created to help alleviate indigestion and would be massaged gently onto the solar plexus in a circular motion between the breasts and abdomen.

Sore and swollen breasts are one of the first signs of pregnancy. It is important to wear a properly sized, comfortable bra that gives your breasts the support they require. The size of your bra may have to change several times throughout your pregnancy. To alleviate the pain of sore and swollen breasts use a compress - to either hot or cold water (use whichever temperature gives you the most relief) add two drops of lavender and two drops of geranium essential oils. Place the cloth on your breasts for as long as required.

Headaches and migraines during pregnancy are more particularly a pain because of the added frustration of not wanting to take medication to alleviate the discomfort they cause. A cloth soaked in cool or warm (again, depending on the temperature that gives you the most relief) water to which two drops of lavender has been added and placed on your forehead and back of neck helps give some comfort. Also, relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, a breath of fresh air or a nap may help.

Unstable emotions are the name of the game and will continue throughout pregnancy (and probably for some time after). Be sure to get exercise (but do not over do it, especially if you were not an active person before your pregnancy) and fresh air. Also, be sure to take care of yourself. A regular aromatherapy massage from a qualified practitioner can do wonders for your spirits!

The Second Trimester
This is the time of pregnancy one enjoys the most.

In most cases morning sickness is no longer an issue and energy levels are up. Women begin to show their pregnancy and enjoy the benefits that come with it: husband doing the laundry, strangers asking when you are due, friends and co-workers commenting on your 'glow' and saying 'No, let me!' It's an enjoyable time.

However, their are the good points... and their are bad. In the second trimester expectant mothers may experience any or all of the following symptoms and others: constipation, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, nasal congestion and nosebleeds, leg cramps, and stretch marks. The above symptoms and ways to prevent and/or alleviate them are discussed below.
Constipation can happen at any time but during pregnancy, due to the high levels of progesterone, the digestive tract activity slows. It is therefore recommended to consume high-fibre foods, to drink plenty of water as well as to exercise. Also massage oil containing patchouli essential oil could be created and massaged over the entire abdomen area in a clockwise direction to help with constipation.

Varicose veins are dilated veins and are caused by the pressure of the uterus in particularly on the inferior veins. Some suggestions to help reduce the number and severity of varicose veins are try not to stand for long periods of time, do not wear clothes such as socks that are tight around one part of the leg and stimulate circulation by moving your feet. Cypress, lemon and geranium essential oils in massage oil can be massaged into the legs in an upward direction to help with circulation and therefore help prevent and reduce varicose veins.

Leg cramps are one of the most aggravating and painful symptoms of pregnancy! Usually striking in the middle of the night, leg cramps are painful muscle spasms believed to be caused by a shortage of calcium in the blood, therefore it is recommended to eat calcium-rich foods. When a leg cramp strikes, get up out of bed and walk then gently massage the muscle. Prevention seems to be key with leg cramps and a leg massage every night before bed, using massage oil containing lavender and geranium, is thought to be the perfect medicine.

Most, nearly all women will develop stretch marks during pregnancy on their breasts, hips, buttocks, abdomen, etc. Stretch marks are caused by the skin stretching to accommodate the growing uterus and rapid weight gain. To help prevent stretch marks it is best to avoid excess weight gain and to exercise regularly to maintain muscle tone. Also an anti-stretch mark moisturizer could be created to help with prevention of stretch marks, which would contain lavender, neroli and mandarin essential oils; this moisturizer would be used daily on the affected areas of the body during pregnancy as well as after the birth until the pregnant woman's weight and figure return to normal. Also, knowing that stretch marks will fade from red to silvery-white a few months after birth can help ease the pregnant mind.

For some women hemorrhoids occur during pregnancy, for others they occur during delivery, some women are lucky enough to never experience them. For the women who do suffer from hemorrhoids, there is hope! Hemorrhoids are dilated veins near the rectum that become engorged because of the pressure on that part of the body or because of pushing during delivery and unfortunately they can be itchy and sore and may even bleed. Some tips on how to avoid hemorrhoids include: avoid constipation and if you are constipated do not strain when having bowel movements; avoid pressure on rectal veins; and do Kegal exercises as they improve circulation to the area. Taking a warm sitz bath to which geranium and cypress essential oils have been added can help alleviate the discomfort of hemorrhoids and help improve circulation to the area.

Nasal congestion sometimes comes accompanied by nosebleeds and is caused by the high levels of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones increase the blood flow to the mucous membranes of the nose and cause them to soften and swell, which causes congestion or stuffiness. With over-energetic nose blowing, nosebleeds may occur, therefore it is important to blow your nose correctly; one nostril, then the next, alternating between the two until you can breathe properly, and remember to blow gently. To help alleviate congestion add two drops of tea tree essential oil to a bowl of hot water and inhale the steam for a few minutes. (Do not use this treatment if you have a nosebleed, as it will make it worse.)

The Third Trimester: Labour, Delivery and life thereafter

The third trimester is a period of preparation for the parents-to-be and baby. While the expectant on the 'outside' are getting ready for baby to arrive by getting the nursery ready and purchasing items that will be required, the expectant on the 'inside' is continuing to grow, adding fat and becoming less susceptible to infections in preparation for the transition to the life outside.

Here, the fatigue felt in the first trimester may return. Being realistic about what you can do and not feeling guilty about what you cannot accomplish is very important. Ask your husband or someone else for help and most importantly rest when you are tired. A blend to help 'revive' you can be created from lavender, rose geranium and coriander essential oils and can be used in the bath or can be added to a carrier oil and used as a massage oil.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is another symptom of pregnancy that may be experienced by some mothers-to-be. This condition arises when the tendons, which run through the carpal tunnel and surround the nerve in the wrist, become swollen and place pressure on the nerve. The pressure can cause numbness, tingling, burning, and pain or a combination of these, which can travel up the arm. Massaging the hands, arms and shoulders with massage oil containing eucalyptus radiata and lavender essential oils may help to alleviate the discomfort.

A condition that can plague the whole pregnancy and may become more pronounced as the due date approaches is insomnia. When preparing for sleep it is important to be comfortable, use pillows to prop up whatever you need to - your pregnant belly, your aching feet, etc. Receiving an aromatherapy massage using massage oil containing tangerine and neroli or lavender essential oils may help to bring about relaxation and sleep.

Not only does a pregnant woman in the last trimester of her pregnancy have to be concerned about the above-mentioned symptoms but thoughts of labour and delivery begin to creep into her mind as well. Some women will sail through labour and delivery without a care or any problems; others will have many cares, anxieties and problems. Although a woman may wish to have a natural delivery, circumstances beyond her control may direct otherwise. It is important to consider all possibilities beforehand and determine how each situation should be handled and prepare by discussing them with your partner and practitioner.

Labour equals excitement, anxiety, giddiness, fear, plus a definite feeling of "no turning back" While in the first stages of labour it is suggested to keep moderately active which can help speed up the birth and alleviate pain. Taking a warm bath or shower can also help, as well as changing positions. If it is planned to use essential oils during labour the mum-to-be (as well as anyone who is planning on being in the birthing room including health practitioners) should become familiar with them beforehand because they can be quite overwhelming. Essential oils that are suggested during labour are rose - to help encourage deep, calm breathing; clary sage - recommended as a pain and tension reliever (via a compress), however should be avoided if general anaesthetic is needed; neroli - to help reduce fear and anxiety and to help with calm, rhythmic breathing; jasmine - known to strengthen contractions and therefore (may) shorten labour, it is also calming yet energising as well as a confidence booster; lavender - to ease uterine pain, strengthen contractions and calm and relax mum-to-be; rose geranium - balances emotions and aids with breathing; and ylang ylang - calming and helps banish feelings of fear and anxiety. These essential oils can be used alone or in combination in a massage oil to be used while in labour, to scent the birthing room, or in a warm bath.

The actual delivery of a child is, perhaps, the most surreal and overwhelming experience a woman can have; all the work and struggle of the pregnancy and labour are forgotten as the little person you have been waiting to meet is introduced to you. When giving birth naturally the perineum may have been tore or perhaps an episiotomy was performed, either way if stitches are involved, mum is bound to be sore - in fact, mum is bound to be a bit sore anyway. In order to help heal the perineum and stave off infection lavender and rose geranium can be added to a warm bath and then soaked in for ten to fifteen minutes. Also it is important to rest as much as possible and exercise once your practitioner approves.

If the child is to be born into the world via a caesarean section, either planned or emergency, it is important for mum to realise that there was an important reason the delivery could not happen naturally. As mentioned before, all possibilities should be thought of beforehand and if the c-section is an emergency, then mum and dad are prepared.

Healing after a caesarean will take time and you must give yourself time to heal. Women should not compare themselves to other women, everyone is an individual and therefore one woman may be back to herself after one week, another may take one month or more and at least six months should be expected to get back into shape. As soon as your practitioner gives the 'all-clear', take a warm bath to which lavender essential oil has been added; relax in this water for ten to fifteen minutes. Lavender will help with relaxation and the incision to heal more quickly. Also, as soon as your practitioner indicates exercise is a go, do so, even a tiny bit a day will help; and certainly walking babe in the stroller as soon after the surgery as you feel able will help lift your spirits and help with the healing process. However, do not over do it; taking care of you is the best way to take care of baby as well.

Baby blues, also known as milk blues because they arrive with the breast milk, are normal. The body has been thorough an awful lot and there is more to come. Having a baby is a life altering experience. Mum and dad have been fantasising about what having a baby in their midst would be like - going for walks, showing off, cuddle and cooing sessions… And that's where the fantasy ends. While it does get better, the first six or so weeks can be trying and overwhelming. Many think 'how did I think I could cope with this?' and with those thoughts can come feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Confidence can dwindle, allowing depression to set in. Things a new mum can do to combat the blues are to ask for, and accept offers from, people to help; rest whenever possible; eat balanced meals; drink plenty of hydrating fluids; and be sure to exercise (once you can) because even a little bit will help.

Aromatherapy-wise the essential oils recommended to help combat postnatal depression are angelica, benzoin, bergamot, clary sage, grapefruit, immortelle, jasmine, linden blossom, mandarin, narcissus, neroli, orange, petitgrain, roman chamomile, rose, rose geranium, ylang-ylang and yuzu. These essential oils can be used alone or in combination in an inhalant, in the bath or in massage oil. One particular recipe I found helpful during the first few weeks and still use occasionally is two drops each of neroli, petitgrain and orange essential oils in a warm bath. Also, as Allison England wrote in her book Aromatherapy and Massage for Mother and Baby, “If the cobwebs have cobwebs, it doesn't matter, and if anyone else in the house is bothered about it, direct them to the cleaning materials”. It is important for mum (and those around mum) to realise that postpartum depression is a very real problem. It varies in severity from the simple 'baby blues' to the very severe puerperal psychosis - a complete loss of sanity - and it is absolutely necessary for mum and those around her to recognise it and get help if it is required.

Breastfeeding is an art and the most natural thing in the world to do, it can however be (VERY) challenging. A woman's body would not produce milk if it was not meant to be used and breast milk is the absolute best food for babe to have for at least the first four to six months of life or longer if it is still convenient and fulfilling for both parties involved (babe and mum). There are problems that can arise from sore nipples to lack of milk or a baby who cannot latch or suckle properly. New mums should seek help and encouragement from informed people such as Mumsnet and try not to become discouraged. However it is difficult when baby latching on to your nipple makes tears run down your face.

It is a personal decision to continue breastfeeding if the difficulties seem insurmountable and mum should make that decision based on information not pressure from family members, friends or even healthcare professionals. It is normal for the nipple to feel somewhat tender the first few days, severe pain though is not normal and therefore the latch may be poor and should be re-examined and altered if necessary. Ask for help! Breastfeeding may be natural but it can be difficult to get the hang of as stated before and both new mum and babe need to learn how. It is recommended to place cool, wet tea bags (regular) over your nipples, as the properties in tea will help to soothe and heal them. Also, a gel to alleviate sore nipples can be created from aloe gel, rose and benzoin essential oils and can be applied to the nipples and areola, however the gel must be wiped off prior to feeding baby. It is recommended not to wash nipples with soap while breastfeeding, as this tends to dry them making them more susceptible to pain.

Inadequate milk supply may be a concern for some nursing mothers and the most recommended solution is to put babe to the breast often; the more milk babe wants the more milk your breasts will produce. There are also other things a mum can do, such as massaging the breasts or placing warm cloths on the breasts before feeding to help milk flow, and relaxing also helps tremendously. Some herbs are recommended to help with lactation such as fenugreek, blessed thistle and raspberry leaf. It must be mentioned though that although natural, herbs must be used with the same caution as what medications would be because what you ingest your baby ingests; be safe and ask a professionally trained herbalist, do not medicate or 'herbate' yourself. A massage oil containing either fennel, rose geranium or clary sage essential oil can be used when massaging breasts in a circular motion from under the arms inwards and downwards toward the nipple (again, be sure to wipe off any excess oil from the nipple before baby feeds).

The sleepless (or so they seem) nights of the first few month (or longer) of motherhood can be trying and there is no real cure for them except for rest and knowing they will not last - eventually babe will sleep through the night. Until that time though resting when its possible and using an inhalant containing rose geranium and lemon essential oils may help you get through the day.

Hopefully the information in this article has helped shed some light on the subject of pregnancy and how aromatherapy can help alleviate some of the symptoms. All the trials and tribulations of parenthood can seem daunting but miraculously they all melt away when you look into baby's big eyes and hear her squeal with delight!"