Complementary Therapies as Adjuncts in the Treatment of Postpartum Depression

Kira M. Weier, CNM, MSN; Margaret W. Beal, CNM, PhD


J Midwifery Womens Health. 2004;49(2) 

In This Article


Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils to reap therapeutic benefits of the plants from which they are derived. Essential oils are commonly used to enhance relaxation and/or to target symptoms. The oils are highly concentrated substances distilled from plants known to have therapeutic benefit. The mechanism of action of topically applied essential oils is not clear, although possibly the oils work by absorption through the skin or by inhalation of airborne physiologically active compounds.[49] Tiran[45] states that the oils most consistently used for depression and anxiety are lavender, jasmine, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, bergamot, and rose. Several of these oils have been shown to have muscle-relaxant and sedative properties.

A review of the biological activity of lavender oil theorized that certain active compounds in lavender essential oils are rapidly absorbed through the skin and may cause central nervous system depression through narcotic and sedative actions.[49] Lavender pillows, for example, are sometimes used to induce sleep. Other studies have shown that lavender scent can induce a state of alertness, improve feelings of well-being, improve sleeping patterns, decrease aggression, and decrease anxiety.[49] The authors of the review noted, however, that the studies are of limited value due to small sample sizes, confounding factors, and lack of consistent methodology.

Although there are no reported data on the efficacy of aromatherapy for postpartum depression, the research available does suggest a benefit in treating some of the symptoms that may accompany postpartum depression. Essential oils and aromatherapy are sometimes used as an adjunct to massage therapy. It is very important to note that there is no information about the safety of using essential oils for infant massage, and mothers and clinicians are encouraged to use caution.


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