At long last, after lockdown, today was Denise’s first day back to face to face teaching the Expectancy Aromatherapy and Acupressure for Post Dates Pregnancy 2 day course.
She’s been teaching the midwives from Homerton hospital. It was only the second time in six months she’d been in to London but they all had a lovely day despite having to wear face masks!
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.
Denise’s First Course after Lockdown
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?