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Are Essential Oils Safe For Children?

South Africa has joined the new oil boom and you can now readily find doTERRA and Young Living essential oils on our shores. With all the apparent “positive” effects these oils are having and especially since I am seeing so many parents use these oils on their children, I decided to do a little research, because for me, it’s all in the evidence.

WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?

Essential oils (EO) are not a new thing, they have been around for years. These oils are extracted from flowers, herbs and other plants and used to promote physical and emotional wellbeing.

Many pharmaceutical drugs used today are actually derived from plant sources. Drugs such as digoxin, quinine, morphine, codeine and aspirin all find their origins in plants. So it only makes sense to assume that essential oils must be effective against some medical conditions too.

IF IT’S NATURAL IT MUST BE SAFE?

Just because it’s natural does not always mean it is safe. Some of the most poisonous toxins in the world are found in plants – think belladonna and oleander.

Children have different absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion of substances compared to adults. They also have immature body systems, which all make them more sensitive to the side effects of essential oils, regardless of how ‘natural’ a substance may be. There are also some children who are more sensitive than others because they are more allergy-prone.

There are, of course, other concerns with essential oils. Concerns about carcinogenicity, mutagenicity and toxicity to the fetus in pregnant women and also what effects certain oils have on breastfed infants.

IT’S ALL IN THE RESEARCH

Using essential oils in low concentrations and inhaling their vapours is usually safe for most people. But when it comes to our little ones we can never be too safe. There is very little research available on the benefits of essential oils and even less on how these oils affect babies and children.

While aromatherapy has been practiced for centuries in various cultures, it has not yet been properly evaluated for medical effectiveness. Most of the research that has been done has not been done on human subjects and those that have been done on adults are poor quality.

While we can argue that there is some evidence to show that essential oils improve physical and emotional wellbeing, I have reason to be concerned with the drug-like claims some people make about these oils. Essential oils should NOT replace scientifically proven effective (and safe) medical treatments for medical conditions.

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS WHEN USING ESSENTIAL OILS IN CHILDREN

  1. Essential oils are not a replacement for medical care.
  2. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, essential oils should not be used in babies younger than three months old.
  3. Children and babies should NEVER take essential oils orally.
  4. Always make sure you use a pure essential oil. Don’t use ones that are premixed with alcohol or other synthetic fragrances, as these can irritate the skin.
  5. Never apply an essential oil directly onto your child (and even your own) skin. Always mix it with a carrier oil such as coconut or grapeseed oil. You should probably ask a distributor about the difference between linoleic and oleic acids. Oils high in oleic acid are not recommended for sensitive skins prone to conditions such as eczema.
  6. Always dilute essential oils. Follow the recommended dilution ratios. If you are buying your EO from a distributor they should be able to give these to you.
  7. Diffusing oils is generally safer than applying them to the skin. If you are going to be using a diffuser, pay attention to your child’s reaction. Sometimes the oil particles enter the airways and can cause irritation especially if your little one has a reactive airway.
  8. If your child develops a rash or skin irritation, headaches, nausea and/or vomiting, coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing, stop using the essential oils immediately and contact your healthcare provider.
  9. Do a patch test first to see if the oil causes irritation. Rub the oil into a small part of the forearm and wait 24 hours. If you notice any redness, swelling or a rash develop do not use this oil.
  10. Do not apply essential oils topically to children with sensitive skin, eczema or other chronic skin conditions as this can cause aggravation.

Remember as with all medications in your home, keep them out of sight and out of reach of your children because many essential oils are extremely toxic in overdose. Accidental poisoning with essential oils in children is becoming increasingly more common, since most essential oils smell nice. Children are also more likely to choke on these oils because of their bitter taste. This will send these oil particles straight into the lungs and cause aspiration pneumonia, which can be fatal.

All this being said, I am not anti-essential oils. In fact, I have seen some benefits of their regular and correct usage in my own household. However, what I am against is when parents claim that essential oils can prevent or treat medical conditions. Essential oils are prescribed to help promote wellbeing. Promote meaning to support and not cure.

Since there is no solid evidence that essential oils are safe and effective in children, major organisations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) do not recommend using them at all in children. My advice to parents is to use them as directed, as you would administer prescribed medication to a child. Not all oils can be used on children and some can only be used on children over a certain age. Do your homework. Natural does not equate to safe, so please always be mindful.

RESOURCES

https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/essential-oils-for-babies#TOC_TITLE_HDR_1

https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Essential-oils

https://parenting.nytimes.com/childrens-health/essential-oils-safe

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/112/Supplement_1/240.abstract

https://www.poison.org/articles/2014-jun/essential-oils

When Your Birth Plan Doesn’t Go According To Plan

If I tell you that things went horribly wrong when I gave birth to my daughter, I am not overreacting. I’m not talking about a poor maternal or foetal outcome here, since both Eryn and I were perfectly healthy throughout the labour process. I’m talking about my birth plan, and somehow I doubt I’m not the only one who had her entire birth plan turned upside down.

If you have only ever read one pregnancy book while pregnant, one of the key messages is always to have a birth plan. In fact you can even download templates online – three-page birth plans, which you have to copy and give to your husband, midwife or gynae and anyone else involved in your labour process.

Birth plans are not altogether a bad thing. They allow you to do some research. To research every labour technique and every pain intervention that exists. This way, you know all of your options going in, so during labour you can panic less about the unknown.

This was my plan… I wanted a NVD (normal vaginal delivery), and I did not want any analgesia and most definitely not an epidural. Yes, I basically wanted to be Wonder Woman. I have seen so many women in labour over the years and thought that it was very doable without any intervention. Of course, my gynae thought I was being ridiculous and asked me at every antenatal visit whether or not I had changed my mind, especially given my advanced maternal age (yep, 35 is OLD). I never did. I had done my homework, and this was my birth plan.

I did buy myself a TENS machine for during labour. These machines provide a drug-free kind of pain relief for the early stages of labour by delivering small pulses of electrical current to the body, which supposedly blocks pain signals. The research here is still not conclusive, but I didn’t care, I was going with it.

The day I went in for my 38-week appointment, my gynae and I established that if I was to wait until 40 weeks, there was no way I would be able to push Eryn out since she was already 3.5 kgs. So, we decided I would come back to the hospital the next morning for an induction. I suppose this was the start of my birth plan derailing. The next morning I woke up at 04h30 with the worst Braxton Hicks, which by the time I reached the hospital were no longer teaser contractions but the real deal.

At around 13h00 in the afternoon, I was a good 5 cm and bouncing quite comfortably on my exercise ball with the TENS machine firmly attached. Come 16h00, I was still 5 cm, and at that point, my gynae wanted to get involved. We decided to augment my contractions (make them stronger since they were clearly not doing the job judging by the relatively pain-free experience I was having). So they put up a drip and gave me the mother of all drugs, Pitocin, which I now have a newfound respect for. I have prescribed this drug many times in the past and had absolutely no idea how strong it was. I went from hero to zero in a minute and demanded painkillers. Then that question popped up… do you want an epidural? I declined the offer and instead opted for Pethidine. This was the biggest waste of time, and after 30 minutes, I was crying for that epidural. The anaesthetist had a tough time getting the needle into the right place since I couldn’t sit still because of the strong contractions I was having, so its no wonder she managed to pierce my dura (more about this to follow later).

After the epidural was given, I managed to dilate fully in under two hours. This meant that when the time came for me to push, I couldn’t feel a thing. I was not able to sense when I needed to push, and so my gynae had to guide myself and my piles through the whole experience.

When I eventually managed to deliver Eryn, things became really blurry. The Pethidine had by now gone to my head, and I was vomiting bile. I was unable to hold my daughter because I was shaking so much that I missed out on that precious skin to skin moment post-delivery. At some point, I succumbed to my numbness and must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I remembered, I woke up alone in a room with a catheter in-situ and no baby in sight. Panic set in and after pressing the emergency button for way too long, a nurse eventually came to remove the catheter and take me to the nursery where I laid clear eyes on my daughter for the first time, some eight hours after giving birth to her.

Unfortunately, my eyes weren’t clear for very long because I ended up developing a spinal headache. The epidural had gone wrong, and I had fluid leaking from my spine. This headache was so bad all I could do was lie flat in bed in one position and drink copious amounts of Redbull. Yes, this was prescribed! I eventually ended up in theatre for a procedure and was discharged three days later. What was supposed to be a short two days in hospital ended up being five very long days.

The bottom line is that labour is unpredictable, and each birth story is unique. Sometimes a magical experience starts off like a nightmare. So yes, research everything there is to know about how you will be able to get your baby out of your womb in a way that speaks to your values but allow yourself some flexibility. The most important thing is that you deliver a healthy little human who you will spend your entire life explaining to why life doesn’t always go according to plan.

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