Denise and her blog

Denise Tiran FRCM, is an international authority on midwifery complementary therapies.

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Aromatherapy in Indonesia

Published : 29/08/2020

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.

Do we focus on the positive aspects of complementary therapies and the negative aspects of standard medical treatment? The problem of informed consent.

Published : 24/08/2020

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.

The value of complementary therapies

Published : 23/08/2020

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. 

Working for the NHS as a midwife and private practice explained

Published : 15/08/2020

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 and Pregnant Ladies

Published : 13/08/2020

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".

Preparing for the new academic year

Published : 06/08/2020

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.

Previous articles

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


The Future of Technology in the NHS

What’s the point of professional language?

An online aromatherapy course