Denise and her blog

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

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Published : 16/07/2020

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.

  • Are your oils stored in a locked refrigerator once opened? Are those bottles not yet in use stored in a cool, dark, locked cupboard?
  • When ordering oils do you purchase using the Latin names to ensure you always buy the same oil, eg there are several different types of lavender?
  • Do you record the batch number of each oil in a central register so you can check back in the event of adverse effects?
  • If you use oil blends prepared by one midwife in advance, are gloves worn for dispensing large amounts and is this done in a well ventilated room?
  • Do you assess women for skin type and sensitivity, allergies, medical and obstetric condition before use?
  • If you use pre-prepared blends for specific purposes eg pain relief in labour, do you offer an alternative option in the case of known sensitivities to specific oils?
  • If you pre-prepare blends do you label fully with oil names, carrier oil, percentage dose, “use by” date of no more than four weeks?
  • IF you use vaporisers / diffusers in a birth centre, or if women wish to use them at home, do you ensure they are used only for 15 minutes at a time and then discontinued?
  • If you use aromatherapy in the delivery suite, do you ensure that high-risk women are not exposed to the aromas / chemical vapours?
  • If you provide oil blends for women to take home (eg for post-dates pregnancy) do you comply with EU regulations on dispensing of herbal medicines?
  • If you provide blends for women to take home do you provide written information on how to use, possible adverse effects and general safety information eg “do not take by mouth”, “do not use neat on skin”, “keep out of reach of children”, “do not use near or on your baby”, do not use near animals”, etc?
  • Are your clinical guidelines up to date and cross referenced to other guidelines for care?
  • Do your clinical guidelines identify contraindications relevant to staff eg pregnant midwives not using uterotonic oils?
  • Do your clinical guidelines alert midwives to sedating effects of some oils which may affect ability to make clinical decision or to drive?
  • Do your clinical guidelines identify the course of action to be taken in the event of adverse events (mother or staff) such as contact dermatitis or splashes of oils in the eye, as well as how to deal with spills etc?

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 for more information.

The Future of Technology in the NHS

Published : 10/07/2020

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.

What’s the point of professional language?

Published : 08/07/2020

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”? 

An online aromatherapy course

Published : 05/07/2020

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

The Expectancy Kit

Published : 29/06/2020

Denise is very excited today – she has received two huge parcels from Absolute Aromas with the beautiful wooden boxes of twelve essential oils that will be sent to midwives registering for our online Introduction to Aromatherapy in Midwifery Practice course. This will enable midwives on the course to smell the aromas and plan care packages for women during the group work we will be doing online.

In addition, midwives who join our full Certificate in Midwifery Aromatherapy receive a signed copy of Denise’s textbook, Aromatherapy in Midwifery Practice. Midwives wanting to work in private practice, receiving training via our Licensed Consultancy programme, receive the full “Expectancy kit” from Absolute Aromas, which contains all 16 essential oils taught on the course, as well as carrier oil, a mixing jar and stirring rod, all in a carry case for clinical practice.

We have a few places available on our next online Introduction to Aromatherapy in Midwifery is on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th July 2020, with more to follow later in the year.

We are also taking applications for the Certificate in Midwifery Aromatherapy (part online, part face to face) commencing on 19th September.

Midwives registering for the Licensed Consultancy undertake both the professional / academic programme and the business training programme over the course of the academic year.

Contact us on for more details.

Denise has had a busy couple of weeks. Here she tells us a bit about what she has been doing:

Published : 27/06/2020

“I’m slightly sad this week, because we should have been travelling to Singapore and onwards to Indonesia for the ICM Congress in Bali, but of course it has been postponed until next year. Although British Airways was really helpful with flight refunds and vouchers, I’ve had the devil’s own job trying to claim a refund for our flights from Singapore to Bali and back with two local airlines. It’s no word of a lie when I tell you I’ve wasted hours online going between the booking site and the airline sites, both of which kept referring me back to the other. Why is there never a person to talk to? It is so frustrating!

The experience did, however, give me pause for thought about customer service. At Expectancy we don’t have online booking for our courses and programmes because we want to deal with each enquiry on an individual basis. Sometimes midwives, doulas, NHS maternity managers or overseas colleagues have very specific questions that need answering before they can make a decision about whether or not to join our courses. Midwives and doulas joining our longer programmes of study also have an interview, which we have been conducting online for about two years now. It gives us all a change to “meet” and we generally chat about the state of the maternity services and how complementary therapies can do so much towards enhancing care for women.

I’ve also been interviewing midwives for our next intake for the Diploma in Midwifery Complementary Therapies in September, as well as the Certificate in Midwifery Acupuncture. It’s so refreshing to see how enthusiastic midwives are about studying and practising complementary therapies, even though we won’t be able to start on the practical work until the new year once we are able to meet again in London.

Our online webinars are going well and we’ve had some interesting discussions around aromatherapy in a post-Covid world and how to maintain social distancing with such an up-close-and-personal therapy like massage. Our upcoming homeopathy and moxibustion webinars are also recruiting well. I’ve been preparing a lecture for 30 midwives from Indonesia in a couple of weeks. That’s the good thing about online teaching – the world is our oyster and we can be anywhere and teach for midwives from all over the world.

The team has also been working on new developments including our exciting Doula Certificate in Complementary Therapies, offering the opportunity to join with midwives and learn how to use complementary therapies for pregnant and birthing mothers. I’ve had some individual tutorials with midwives currently studying with Expectancy, who are working on their assignments, as well as sessions for midwives on our Licensed Consultancy, either preparing for or actually now working in private practice offering complementary therapies.

The worst thing about all this online work is that I have discovered the chair I use is really uncomfortable! It was OK when I was just sitting at the desk, but angling the PC screen so I can be seen on Zoom has meant the chair is now not at the right height (even though it’s adjustable). Ah well, I suppose I will have to either grin and bear it or buy another chair!”

Moxibustion Webinar

Published : 24/06/2020

Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese Medicine technique used to increase heat along internal energy lines to stimulate deficient energy. It is used for many conditions but has become a popular treatment for breech presentation, with almost two thirds of pregnant women now prepared to try it. In Chinese medicine, it is believed that the fetus settles into an abnormal position when the energy near the uterus is low, effecting the baby’s muscle tone and preventing them from settling into a favourable position for birth. Research shows that moxibustion is around 66% successful in turning a breech baby to head first, which is considerably better than the success rate of external cephalic version (ECV), the procedure performed by an obstetrician to try to make the baby turn. Treatment involves several sessions over a period of about a week, in the third trimester of pregnancy; women and their partners can be taught how to do this at home. A specific point on the little toes is used, which transmits energy to encourage a slight change in muscle tone of the uterus, allowing a little more “give” and encouraging the baby to turn. However, there are some women who should not have moxibustion, including anyone who has been told that she cannot have ECV and those who require a Caesarean for a medical or pregnancy complication. 

If you’re a midwife, doula or birth worker, find out more about moxibustion by joining our 2-hour webinar on Tuesday 30th June at 1900 hours – contact to book (£12). 

Previous articles


The Future of Technology in the NHS

What’s the point of professional language?

An online aromatherapy course

The Expectancy Kit

Denise has had a busy couple of weeks. Here she tells us a bit about what she has been doing:

Moxibustion Webinar

The next Expectancy online webinar!

Hand in Glove

Ask your pregnant mums!