Brittany Anderson–board certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, birth doula, integrative health coach–is a holistic practitioner who blends the wisdom of ancient tradition with the advances of Western innovation. Recently, she’s added essential oils into her personal health and well-being practice, and she’s incorporated them into the work she does with friends, family, and clients. Her experience? She feels better, her husband feels better, and the women she works with in pregnancy and birth feel better. Even her father, after years of conventional medical care, has come around to the healing power of essential oils after experiencing a reduction in arthritic pain.
While research into essential oils (here’s one summary) isn’t extensive, there is evidence of improved well-being. Here, Brittany explains in her own words why she’s passionate about working with women, and her personal experience with the healing properties of essential oils.
You’ve focused your career on serving women. What do you hope to share with them?
BRITTANY: I love working with women because I feel that we face unique challenges in our society. Many of us strive to have it all: a thriving career, a beautiful family, a rocking bod, eternal youth … all while making it look easy. We often neglect our own self-care, which in my opinion sets us up for increased incidences of disease and depression. My goal is to help women find their own definition of wellness, and pursue a life that brings them joy, fulfillment, and health.
What attracted you to essential oils (EOs)?
BRITTANY: When I first moved to Nashville nearly 4 years ago, I was on a “natural health” kick. Along with a total dietary overhaul, I began to look at ingredients in my personal care and cleaning products. I was horrified to learn just how toxic some of these products are. I researched recipes for homemade natural cleaners and was thrilled to see all the options. Many recipes called for essential oils, and I was amazed to learn that the oils had antibacterial and antifungal properties.
You’ve incorporated essential oils into your work with birthing women. Which oils are helpful?
BRITTANY: I rely heavily on essential oils to manage common issues that arise in birth. Lavender, for example, is extremely calming and is a wonderful addition to massage to help a mama relax in early labor. Peppermint is great for the nausea that often accompanies labor. It is also a potent pain reliever, and a couple drops in the toilet can help a mama pee postpartum. Clary sage works well for stalled contractions. Black pepper and basil massaged onto the low back reduce pain. Ylang ylang, like lavender, promotes calm and reduces blood pressure.
Being at a birth demands a lot of energy and attention. How are you using essential oils for yourself in your doula work?
BRITTANY: Self-care! Self-care! Self-care! As doulas our work is unpredictable because birth is unpredictable. We have to be prepared for many different scenarios, and this can be extremely stressful. Incorporating oils into your self-care routine can reduce stress and promote wellness. One of the best things we can do for ourselves is adopt some form of a mindfulness practice. An easy way to do this is to drop a few drops of EOs in your palms, cover your mouth and nose, and take several long deep breaths. You’ll instantly combat anxiety and feel a sense of calm. For a birth that has gone particularly long, or as the clock reaches that 2a, mark it’s sometimes difficult to combat fatigue. Peppermint and wild orange are incredibly invigorating and when sprayed or diffused into the air they can instantly energize you. This is also a great trick for the drive home after a long birth.
BRITTANY: One thing I love about EOs is that unlike many medications, they are safe to use in pregnancy. If a mom has a headache and she doesn’t want to take Tylenol, she can rub lavender and peppermint oil on her temples and down her neck for almost instant relief. Wild orange added to drinking water helps relieve constipation.
What benefits are you seeing from your work with essential oils?
BRITTANY: One of the most fascinating properties of essential oils is that they can fight viruses because their particles are small enough to permeate cell membranes. Whereas bacteria attach themselves to the outside of our cells, viruses live inside the cell so medications cannot reach them.
Essential oils have been an incredible blessing to my family and myself. My husband went from using his rescue inhaler 1 to 2 times per day to 1 to 2 times per week! My father, who had been getting cortisone injections in his knees for osteoarthritis pain, now uses oils instead! I am sleeping better than I ever have in my life, and when I wake up in the morning I’m no longer achy.
How do you personally use EOs?
BRITTANY: I’ve been using EOs for nearly 4 years, but my interest really piqued about 5 month ago. I am always in pursuit of natural alternatives to medications, especially for my husband who has significant allergy-induced asthma. While at my chiropractor’s office I overheard someone talking about an “allergy bomb” consisting of essential oils. The minute I got home I began researching, and I haven’t stopped yet! I love to test out new oils so my personal routine is quite dynamic. In addition to making my own body wash, makeup removing wipes, deodorant, and cleaning products, I use several EOs daily:
- 1 drop of frankincense under my tongue to combat inflammation.
- Bergamot and ylang ylang to promote tranquility.
- Wild orange or lemon in my water to aid digestion and liver detoxification.
- Clary sage and a “Balance” blend on my feet to promote restful sleep.
I also diffuse oils in our bedroom at night depending on our health needs. If my husband is having a tough time breathing, we use eucalyptus and frankincense. If one of us is sick, we use a blend that kills germs in the air and boosts immune function.
What cautions or concerns should women have about essential oils?
BRITTANY: When I first began using EO’s I didn’t realize there are no industry-wide quality standards. I figured if it came from a natural grocery, it should be safe. Like supplements, EOs are not regulated by the FDA so for an oil to be labeled “100% pure essential oil” it only has to contain 10% of the oil it specifies. The other 90% can be synthetic or a filler oil. Just because a high-end store sells it, doesn’t mean it’s pure! When I was researching EOs, I looked for a brand that was safe enough to ingest. It turns out that’s actually pretty difficult to find. The process of distilling an essential oil from a plant is extremely costly, so most companies aren’t willing to go to the expense of extensive quality testing.
The great thing about pure oils is that you can’t have an allergic reaction to them because they contain no protein, which is usually the source of the allergen. Some people will experience sensitivity if the oil is too potent, but that is remedied by diluting it with carrier oil.
Oils that are stimulating such as rosemary and peppermint should be used with caution for those who have elevated blood pressure or who are prone to miscarriage.
So which brand did you choose for your essential oils, and why?
BRITTANY: I selected doTERRA because of the company’s commitment to outstanding quality and education. When I got involved with doTERRA I became a part of a community that works to empower people to take charge of their health and wellness. DoTERRA’s oils are third-party tested for purity. Hospitals and universities have chosen to use this brand. DoTERRA sources its oils from the destinations where the plants grow indigenously. The lavender comes from the Swiss Alps of France. The lemon oil comes from lemons grown in Italy. This contributes to the therapeutic benefits of the oils because the plants must adapt the conditions of their native soil. It’s important to keep in mind that if a plant was exposed to any type of heavy metal or pesticide, that plant will produce as essential oil that is highly concentrated in these contaminants. That’s why testing is vital.
Thank you for sharing your experience and your practices, Brittany!
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More about Brittany: Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and founder of the doula group practice A Village Birth Services. Born and raised California girl. Former water polo player at Indiana University. Worked as a registered nurse at Vanderbilt’s Orthopedics and Urology surgery unit. Opted for the preventative medicine path and trained at the Duke University Center for Integrative Medicine. Got hooked on self-care and completed her Master’s of Science in Nursing and doula training in 2012.