Bringing aromatherapy to the maternity suite

It’s not that aromatherapy is new. In fact, it’s been around almost as long as people and plants. The Pharaohs used it, and so did Roman soldiers. Still, you might not have a clear grasp of what aromatherapy can do for you, and why we at St.Vincent Women’s Hospital are so sold on it for women during and after childbirth.

Aromatherapy basically means using the good-smelling oils of plants to produce a relaxing or otherwise desirable effect. You might use chamomile oil to get to sleep (or jasmine to stay awake), and you might use peppermint to combat headache or nausea. There’s a long list of ways that many plant essences can reduce troubling symptoms and even pain.

Nurses Sharon Johns and Kathy Ryan developed the Monogram Maternity program and co-direct the Holistic Care Council. Part of their work there is to ensure that each nurse has training in labor support, light massage, healing environment and clinical aromatherapy.

“Because we’re a Planetree Hospital, we have holistic therapy woven into our care,” Kathy said. “Other facilities might have aromatherapy, but women have to pay for it and only a few nurses have been trained. We feel every nurse should be able to offer aromatherapy to patients.”

Kathy and Sharon have seen firsthand how what they’re doing changes the way women experience labor and childbirth, and how confident and healthy they feel when they go home. (Check out our earlier post, Mothering the new mom, to see how strongly these two feel about sending women home feeling confident, and the ways they make that happen.)

“Everybody we’ve met with so far has been very appreciative and has had a very good experience,” Sharon said. She and Kathy tell of some dramatic examples of seeing aromatherapy at work in a healing environment. Like a new mom who had a caesarean birth and was very nauseated afterward—an effect that anesthesia sometimes produces.

“Kathy went in to the room, and Jerry Springer was on the TV, the blinds were open, a toddler was running around, and the grandparents were there,” Sharon remembers. “With every turn of her head, this gal was throwing up. Kathy worked on providing a healing environment. She asked the grandparents to take the child out of the room for awhile, turned off the TV and dimmed the lights. She got peppermint oil for the nausea, put a cool cloth on the lady’s head, and then gave her a hand massage. Before she was done, the woman was asleep. Kathy saw the grandparents in the cafeteria later, and they thanked her profusely for helping get their daughter over the hump. She ended up not having to take additional medications.”

She and Kathy are finding that in a lot of cases, the oils used for aromatherapy reduce the need for medications.

“For each one of these oils, you use just one or two drops and then don’t have to take medication,” Kathy said. “Lavender was used in a heart study that showed it reduced blood pressure and the perception of pain. If you use lavender during a hand massage, the patient’s heart rate consistently goes down, blood pressure goes down, and pain and anxiety go down.

“It’s nice to know that works, because everyone’s trying to take a little less medication these days.”

And of course, it just makes a person feel good. Countless grateful moms have said so.

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