Denise gave another lecture on aromatherapy in midwifery to a group of Indonesian midwives this week. After a slight panic due to having a power cut after a storm, she was able to join the session with just a few minutes to spare. She says:
It was lovely to meet more of the midwives from Indonesia this morning and to greet some colleagues who have attended previous sessions. We had some insightful discussion and we shared experiences of women’s use of aromatherapy in both Indonesia and the UK. As there are so many different herbs and spices that grow in Indonesia, local people use them both in cooking and for medicinal purposes, so pregnant women are familiar with using oils during childbirth. Popular oils include ylang ylang and frangipani, both very fragrant oils suitable for pain relief and relaxation. However, it was interesting to hear that clove oil is very popular in Indonesia although it is generally considered unsafe for pregnancy and caution is needed if it’s used in labour, to avoid over-stimulating the contractions.
I was also asked by one of the midwifery lecturers attending the session if I thought that aromatherapy should be included in pre-registration midwifery training. As many regular readers of my blogs know, I have been campaigning for many years for the subject of “complementary therapies” to be included in UK midwifery training so that, on qualifying, midwives have a basic understanding of the benefits and risks of natural remedies and therapies in pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Students need to develop an awareness of what women are using in terms of natural remedies so that they can provide advice on using them safely. However, development of more in-depth knowledge and the specific skills in order to use the therapy in their midwifery practice should be provided as a post-registration qualification. The pre-registration curriculum is already overloaded with essential content and, although I personally feel this is essential to safe practice, the nature of midwifery today precludes its inclusion during basic training.
Midwives, doulas and antenatal teachers are passionate about advocacy and promoting normal birth. They empower women to progress through their pregnancies and labours, as far as possible without intervention. Complementary therapies are a great way of working towards achieving physiological birth, but we must not forget that they are as much of an intervention as medical treatments and other aspects of care.
Informed consent is essential – providing women with sufficient information about both the benefits AND the risks of any care that is offered so that women can make informed decisions about whether or not to accept it. This applies equally to complementary therapies as to Caesarean section. In her recent assignment, one of my students asked: “do midwives focus on the positive aspects of complementary therapies and the negatives of standard medical treatment?”.
She may have a point. Midwives and doulas who use complementary therapies can be so enthusiastic that it is easy to forget that these therapies are very powerful – and that means powerful in a positive way but also powerful in a negative way when used inappropriately. ALL complementary therapies have risks as well as benefits. When birth workers introduce the idea of using aromatherapy for pain relief in labour, reflexology for backache in pregnancy, hypnotherapy for smoking cessation or acupuncture / acupressure for post-dates pregnancy, it is essential that we discuss the whole picture with the women in our care. The positive relaxation effects almost go without saying, despite the relatively poor evidence-base. But how often do we explain to women the potential for adverse reactions from the oils, the reflexology treatment, hypnotic suggestions or acupressure techniques?
Take post-dates pregnancy, for example. We know that many women turn to complementary therapies to try to avoid medical induction of labour with all its potential for a cascade of intervention. However, onset of labour is a physiological end-point to pregnancy and therefore ANY intervention is an intervention. Inappropriate use of aromatherapy oils, acupressure stimulation, reflexology treatments or other therapies can trigger that cascade of intervention. Even when the therapies are used appropriately, the dynamic nature of birth physiology means that there may come a time when the therapy is no longer appropriate. There is potential for interactions between pharmacological herbal or aromatherapy products with any medication given to the mother to expedite labour – such as clary sage and oxytocin – or for one to be inactivated by the other – for example, certain drugs will inactive homeopathic remedies the mother may be taking.
When midwives and doulas discuss with their clients the best way forward in a pregnancy that continues beyond the estimated date of delivery, they may offer several options – wait and see, have a medical induction or use other methods of encouraging labour onset. All of these have benefits and risks – but how often do birth workers paint the full picture for women wanting to try the “natural” option? It is one thing to act as the mother’s advocate to try and help her avoid medical induction, but we also need to be her advocate to help her make informed decisions about other options. However natural they may be, complementary therapies are NOT a natural way of starting labour – and we need to be sure that women understand the advantages and possible risks of using them at this time. Informed consent is key to all aspects of care and no more so than with complementary therapies.
Denise has spent most of the week marking student assignments. As one of their assignments, midwives on our Diploma in Midwifery Complementary Therapies complete a reflective diary which usually raise some very interesting challenges. Midwives report significantly increased use of complementary therapies by women, sometimes by women who do not fully understand both the benefits and the risks of using complementary therapies in pregnancy and birth. This set of assignments has been no exception and here, Denise reflects on some of the points raised by the midwives.
Many midwives remain sceptical about the value of complementary therapies, questioning why they should take on additional “tasks” when midwives are already busy with not enough time to do what they need to do.
I think this is about perception of why it is useful to include complementary therapies as new tools in our work. Whilst there is an argument about the time required to provide therapies such as massage or aromatherapy, this can be time well spent in chatting to the mother, answering her questions and easing her stress levels. We know that these therapies can reduce cortisol and other stress hormones and that has a knock-on effect on oxytocin and other birth hormones. Research has shown that having regular treatment with therapies such as reflexology or massage can facilitate physiological birth and women are less likely to require induction of labour for post-dates pregnancy and are more likely to labour well and achieve a normal birth.
Additionally, perhaps we should look at what the use of complementary therapies can bring to the maternity services. Of course, we want individual women to be relaxed and enable their bodies to work naturally, but there IS an impact on the maternity services too. This is not about introducing complementary therapies simply for relaxation but about reducing rates of induction, epidural, Caesarean section and other interventions that not only cost money but also increase the potential for litigation when things go wrong. Helping women to feel empowered by their pregnancy and birth experiences increases maternal satisfaction and reduces the risk of complaints. This is partly also due to the relationships that midwives using therapies can develop with the women – even a ten-minute hand massage can make a woman feel nurtured rather than ignored in the rush of mandatory paperwork.
Midwives wanting to implement therapies such as aromatherapy and acupuncture need to be able to demonstrate in their business plan to management that there is a benefit to the service, rather than niceties for individuals. That sounds cynical but the maternity services are geared up to getting as many pregnant women through “the system” as possible with the shortest of resources, both material and human. Demonstrating that using hypnotherapy or aromatherapy for pain relief in labour can reduce epidural use is an attractive proposition to budget holders. Setting up a service for women whose pregnancies are post-dates can show that aromatherapy and acupressure reduces medical induction rates and the cascade of intervention that often follows. Introducing moxibustion for women with breech presentation empowers them to facilitate cephalic version and reduces the Caesarean rate. Given that the difference in cost between a physiologically normal birth and a Caesarean is in the region of £1800 that is a significant cost saving.
So rather than dismissing complementary therapies as a luxury the NHS can ill afford, perhaps we should turn it on its head and explore the cost savings that can be made by introducing selected aspects of therapies to solve some of the problems of the current NHS maternity services.
Today I want to discuss the interface between working as a midwife in the NHS and also offering private services such as antenatal classes and complementary therapies. I recently saw a post on social media from a newly qualified midwife intending to work part-time in the NHS and part-time offering private services such as antenatal and postnatal support, “hypnobirthing” classes and acupuncture, aromatherapy, baby massage. Increasing numbers of midwives want to offer maternity-related services outside their NHS work but there are several issues to consider.
First and foremost is the issue of safety of mothers and babies. This midwife would be wise to consolidate her midwifery practice before setting up in private practice and before adding in other therapeutic modalities. It is easy to become so enthusiastic about offering services that women want that normal midwifery responsibilities get forgotten. Her first priority is to her clients’ safety and her second is to the midwifery profession. Even if the midwife is fully qualified in the therapy, she needs to be able to apply the theory and practice of that therapy to its use during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period when the mother’s and baby’s physiology is adapting dynamically.
We must question what training the midwife has had in “acupuncture, aromatherapy and baby massage” since she admits to not being “dual qualified”. One or two days’ introduction to a therapy during midwifery training is certainly not enough to start offering that therapy privately and she is potentially jeopardising not only mothers and babies but also her midwifery registration. The complementary therapy professions are increasingly concerned that healthcare professionals are “cherry picking” one or two aspects of a therapy and adding it to their own practice. We would not expect a complementary therapist to attend a few days of midwifery training and then start offering midwifery-specific services alongside their standard practice and they should not expect us to do the same. Of course, she may be fully qualified in the therapies she wishes to offer, but I would question how much experience she has of using those therapies for pregnant and childbearing clients, since this is a post-qualifying area of professional development for most therapists.
Conversely, if the midwife has undertaken a short midwifery-specific training in a therapy, does that training provide access to indemnity insurance? There is so much more to the use of complementary therapies in maternity care than simply attending an introductory course which is what is sometimes offered in midwifery pre-registration training. In addition, many complementary therapy courses delivered for midwives on NHS premises are suitable only for NHS work, subject to managerial permission and the development of local clinical guidelines, and certainly do not prepare midwives to use them in private practice.
It may also depend on how this midwife wishes to advertise her services. The Nursing and Midwifery Council prohibits the use of the midwifery qualification to imply that being a midwife makes you somehow a “better” therapist. However, if she is advertising midwifery-related antenatal and postnatal support then she is working as an independent midwife, albeit without offering birth services. Any care given to the mother or baby must comply with normal standards and the midwife must be able to differentiate between midwifery-specific elements of her treatment and those which are not. For example, palpating the abdomen and listening in to the fetal heart constitutes midwifery care. Similarly, extra caution must be employed to distinguish between care that might be provided in a maternity unit or birth centre and that which can be provided in private practice in the community. An example here might be providing treatments for post-dates pregnancy: in the NHS many midwives include a membrane sweep, whereas this may not be appropriate when working privately. It is also vital that the midwife fully appreciates the boundaries between working in the NHS and in private practice. There is huge potential for conflicts of interest which could land her in hot water – advertising, using NHS time (even to answer a phone call from a potential private client), referral of women with complications and much more.
Next, there is the issue of insurance for both this midwife’s NHS midwifery and for her private practice. It must be noted that the Royal College of Midwives provides medical malpracticeinsurance, not personal professional indemnity insurance, and does not cover members for private practice (except “occasionally” – ie not as part of a formal business). The Royal College of Nursing provides indemnity insurance to full members which covers midwifery practice and some maternity-specific services such as complementary therapies. However, if a midwife chooses to work in private practice, s/he must maintain adequate cover for the midwifery cases that have gone before – if you relinquish your RCM insurance at the point of “going private” then you relinquish your right to legal and professional cover in the event that one of your previous cases comes to court.
Finally, although this midwife does not state whether or not she has any business experience, this is an essential part of setting up in private practice. Enthusiasm to offer services that are not generally part of NHS maternity services should not overwhelm the professional and academic need to understand business issues. I have come across many midwives keen to set up private services who make mistakes – not just financial, but often professional or legal mistakes. Examples include not complying with health and safety requirements, advertising standards, accounting and HMRC regulations and, of course, NMC regulations.
Coffee is said to have several benefits including increased mental alertness, aiding fat metabolism and possibly protecting against diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and certain cancers. It is a good source of antioxidants and other nutrients and is even thought to prolong life. Drinking coffee may contribute to smoother skin and reducing depressive thoughts.
On the other hand, pregnant women have long been advised to reduce their coffee intake because of the adverse effects on the developing baby and increased risk of miscarriage. In fact, coffee in itself is not a bad thing - it is the caffeine that is the problem. The NHS advises women to limit caffeine intake - to no more than 1-2 cups of caffeinated coffee a day. Filter coffee contains more caffeine than instant; even decaffeinated coffee still has a small amount of caffeine in it.
However, what is not emphasised is where else caffeine is found - black and particularly green tea, cola, energy and other soft drinks - and chocolate. One bar of chocolate contains almost half of the advised daily amount of caffeine. Hot chocolate drinks and even coffee or chocolate flavoured ice cream can contain a significant amount of caffeine.
Painkillers, cold and flu remedies also often contain caffeine (although pregnant women should use these only on the advice of their midwives or doctors).
Pregnant women are bombarded by advice about what they should and should not do to keep themselves and their babies safe. Reduce coffee, minimal alcohol, quit smoking - and more. It can be equally, if not more, stressful for a woman to worry about what she has or has not done - particularly when much of this advice is given with an implication of maternal blame if the baby is not healthy at birth. Surely, our advice to women should be the golden rule that applies to everyone - moderation in all things. Or, as my grandmother used to say - " a little of what you fancy does you good - and a lot does not".
Denise has been extremely busy recently winding up the end of the academic year for our current students and getting ready for a new group of midwives starting their courses in September.
She says: Coronavirus has meant that most of our current students have been unable to finish their study programmes as we've had to postpone so many of the modules until the new year. They've been finishing their assignments due in August so I've been chatting to many of them on zoom, offering tutorial support.
I've also been interviewing midwives wanting to join us in September , both for the Diploma and Certificate in Midwifery Complementary Therapies and our acupuncture course. We've got a couple of new programmes as well, enabling midwives to focus on one particular therapy, either aromatherapy or reflex zone therapy (clinical reflexology).
Due to our study days needing to be delivered online until December, I'm also busy wrapping up parcels to send to all the new students including programme handbooks, sets of oils and - for those starting the Licensed Consultancy to prepare for private practice - their starter packs of goodies to help them on their way.
My dining room looks as if a bomb has hit it, with parcels all over the place. I took one lot to the local post office the other day at a time when I thought it would be quiet, but was most embarrassed to find a long queue waiting by the time I had finished.
Today, Denise challenges midwives offering aromatherapy in birth centres to consider whether they are complying with the law, and poses some questions to help you review your aromatherapy service.
Many midwives have set up aromatherapy services in their birth centres to help women cope with contractions and to encourage progress in labour. However, providing aromatherapy in an institutional setting such as a birth centre or maternity unit is very different from working as an aromatherapist in a private clinic, especially since most midwives are not fully qualified aromatherapists.
Several laws and regulations govern our use of aromatherapy in midwifery practice, not least the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code, which states, amongst other points that we should “take care to protect ourselves and others”. This means that we need to consider the wider effects of the chemicals in the aromatic oils and set them in the context of medicines management and chemical regulations such as the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. Employers and employees have a duty of care to minimise risk and, in maternity care, and to ensure safety of mothers and babies, as well as staff and visitors.
One issue, on which I have previously written at length, is the use of vaporisers / diffusers in maternity units. It is unsafe and unethical to expose everyone in the unit to the chemicals in the air. Compare this to the risks of passive smoking and the regulations on smoking in the workplace. Similarly, a pregnant nurse would not be expected to be present whilst an X-ray is taken, or to remain in the presence of anaesthetic gases. Breathing in the vapours (smells) of aromatherapy oils can be as hazardous to some people as being exposed to passive smoking, X-rays or anaesthetic gases. If vaporisation is used, you must be able to justify it in the care of individual women and take steps to remove the vaporiser / diffuser in the event of mothers, partners or staff being adversely affected.
Here are a few questions to consider when establishing, reviewing or auditing your aromatherapy service.
Expectancy offers several aromatherapy courses for midwives, including a two day introductory information – only course delivered online (also suitable for doulas and antenatal teachers), a four-day Implementation of Aromatherapy in Midwifery Practice course and a full 10-day Certificate in Midwifery Aromatherapy. We are currently recruiting for the new academic year commencing September – contact email@example.com for more information.
Denise was privileged to be invited to attend a webinar yesterday morning on the future of technology in the NHS post Covid 19. Although she attended this in her role as a local borough councillor, the event was apolitical. Denise comments:
Over 200 invited guests attended a webinar presentation with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, Tara Donnelly from NHSX, a government unit with responsibility for setting policy and developing best practice for NHS technology and other speakers from the commercial sector.
The presenters explored the huge impact that Covid 19 has had on the use of technology in the NHS, the increased use of telemedicine in primary care and the need to extend this across secondary care, as well as the need to continue to improve technology across all areas of the health and care sectors. Necessary cultural changes in respect of both NHS staff and patient approach to the use of technology in healthcare should be facilitated. Other issues discussed included the importance of data protection and confidentiality for all concerned and the essential change management processes to enable hard-pressed staff to embed technological changes into care. An interesting resource that is now available on:
This gives advice to people on how to have a virtual consultation with your GP. One speaker made the point that whilst Covid 19 has been the biggest challenge the NHS has seen since its inception, we face an even greater challenge in the next 20 years as we increase the use of technology in healthcare. All in all, a very interesting webinar.
As Denise prepares to start work on her sixth revision of the world-famous Bailliere’s Midwives’ Dictionary for the 14th edition, she has been pondering the current challenges to language, particularly in maternity care. Language constantly evolves, some words change or become obsolete and new words enter common usage. But, she asks, is the current trend a step too far? Denise says:
“Since becoming a midwife in the late 1970s, the language of midwifery has been forever changing to accommodate contemporary developments, to remove those words no longer used and to add new terminology. One term which midwives will understand being removed from the next edition of the Dictionary will be “supervisor of midwives” to be replaced with “professional midwifery advocate” – but when did you last use the word “funis” to describe the umbilical cord or “albuminuria” instead of “proteinuria”?
Some professional language has changed to reflect politically correct trends. When I was first a midwife, we talked about “home confinement” but this was deemed to be too risk-focused and implied – quite literally – restriction on the mother. The 1970s and 1980s saw a movement for change, headed by inspirational midwives such as the wonderful Professor Mavis Kirkham, to re-evaluate our language so that it was more “woman-focused” in line with the 1982/1984 Maternity Care in Action and the 1993 Changing Childbirth reports. Personally, I have never used the word “womb” to describe the uterus and hardly ever talk about “patients” with its inferred control of those receiving maternity care, especially since they are, on the whole, not ill.
The change of attitude from medical control to working in partnership with women and their families can also be seen in changes to phrases such as “expected” to “estimated” date of delivery and, indeed, from “delivery” to “birth”. Some phrases imply a negativity that can be reduced by minor alterations in wording. Example of these include “failure to progress” (in labour) or “incompetent cervix” which suggest the problems are somehow the fault of the “patient”.
However, in the current climate of equality, have we gone too far? Whilst midwives and obstetricians must move with the times and try to use socially inclusive language, professional terminology needs to be clear and unambiguous. Language is a form of communication which must enable those on the receiving end to understand the message of what is being said. This is why midwives and other health professionals are taught to modify their language from professional jargon, including abbreviations, to terms to which expectant parents can relate.
Recently, I have been concerned to see several posts on social media advocating changes to the language of obstetrics and midwifery, including abandoning the names of medical instruments such as Sims’ vaginal speculum. I understand the reasoning behind this particular case – despite being a well-known obstetrician who contributed to medicine in several ways, there is dissent about the fact that Sims experimented on black women for the good of white. In no way mean are my comments here intended to be controversial but if we remove the names of those who have historically contributed to the evolution of the field of obstetrics and midwifery because of some other aspect of their lives and work, do we not risk history being repeated? We risk those in current practice who are influential in their field going unrecognised in the future. Further, in respect of language, we risk confusion through the use of non-specific terminology or the need to use unwieldy phrases to describe what we mean – in this case, using the Wikipedia definition of Sims’ speculum as the “double-bladed surgical instrument used for examining the vagina".
There is also the current laudable trend to unify language so that it is inclusive, to avoid giving offence. One Facebook post included a list of alternative terms which could be used instead of gender-specific terminology. Examples included changing “breastfeeding” to “chest feeding” with little acknowledgement that men actually do have breast tissue. An alternative word for “mother” is suggested as “birthing person”. This is despite the fact that almost all those giving birth are – physiologically – women. To date, less than 100 men around the world have given birth and then only through the wonders of modern science.
Fathers should now be referred to as “non-gestational parents” – but is this meant to include those men who have been pregnant? More worryingly, it is suggested that the phrase, “maternal” health should – incorrectly - be referred to as “perinatal” health, the former denoting the person who carries the pregnancy and the latter referring to the period around the time of birth. We should, according to this post, no longer be using standard medical terms but instead be referring to “internal reproductive organs” and “internal reproductive glands” – but how are we meant to differentiate between “birthing persons” and “non-gestational parents”?
The irony of this particular post is that it was on an American antenatal education page called – wait for it – “Motherboard” – surely that should be “Parent board”?
Today, Denise was busy running an international short course in maternity aromatherapy for a group of 24 excited midwives from Indonesia. Midwives in Indonesia are just beginning to explore the opportunity to include aromatherapy in their care of women, especially in labour, and one of them had even read Denise’s aromatherapy book (in English)!
The session went really well with no technical problems and there were lots of questions and discussion at the end from many of the midwives. one question centred around the use of aromatherapy for women with postnatal depression, which Denise explained could be treated with caution using essential oils. However, one of the popular oils which grows in Indonesia is ylang ylang, which has very sedating effects. Denise explained that ylang ylang can be helpful when used for women with normal postnatal “blues” but should be used with caution for those developing more serious depression, as the sedating effects can suppress the emotions in depression, rather than uplifting the mood.
Another question focused on whether aromatherapy could be used to turn a breech baby to head first. Denise explained that whilst aromatherapy is relaxing, which may help the mother’s muscle tone to relax, allowing more “give” for the baby to turn, it cannot in itself turn a breech baby. Denise, and her colleague Amanda Redford, who was moderating the Zoom session, did however, talk briefly about moxibustion and the midwives expressed interest in learning more about it. Moxibustion is a Chinese medicine technique which involves using heat near an acupuncture point on the feet, to balance the internal energies; it is, on average, 66-70% successful in turning a breech baby to head first. Amanda had only just, the evening before, conducted a webinar for UK midwives and maternity workers on moxibustion. The main area if discussion was that of insurance when working in private practice offering maternity complementary therapies. She explained that unless you are a qualified acupuncturist, midwives should not physically perform moxibustion for women, as it is not possible to obtain indemnity insurance. Instead, midwives and birth workers can teach the parents how to perform the treatment and carry it out at home by themselves.
Expectancy’s Diploma in Midwifery Complementary Therapies includes four days on aromatherapy and a day on moxibustion for breech as well as other options such as reflex zone therapy, a clinical form of reflexology, and hypnosis for childbirth, needle phobia and smoking cessation
Aromatherapy in Indonesia
Do we focus on the positive aspects of complementary therapies and the negative aspects of standard medical treatment? The problem of informed consent.
The value of complementary therapies
Working for the NHS as a midwife and private practice explained
Coffee and Pregnant Ladies
Preparing for the new academic year
AROMATHERAPY IN MATERNITY UNITS – ARE YOU LEGAL?
The Future of Technology in the NHS
What’s the point of professional language?
An online aromatherapy course