Pregnancy rhinitis (congestion) is experienced in up to 30% of pregnancies. Increased estrogen and blood flow can cause nasal passages to swell and increased mucus production. Though this condition tends to worsen towards the end of pregnancy, it can appear as early as two months gestation. Although this is typically nothing more than an annoyance, it can lead to sinus infections, poor sleep, or non-optimal breathing.
Herbal steams are often an excellent way to gently sooth rhinitis, without having to take a surplus of medications. I prefer using whole-plant medicine, especially in pregnancy. Do not use essential oils internally, in the bath, or for a facial steam. You will also want to avoid all essential oils being diffused in your house if you share your home with cats. Below are a few ways to use an herbal steam. Each of these methods are wonderful in their own way. Combining methods is even better! I will share a list of herbs at the end of the article. 1. Drink an herbal tea, deeply inhaling the vapors between sips. Peppermint and ginger are excellent options, as they will also soothe your body as you ingest them. Keep in mind that peppermint has a cooling effect, and ginger is typically warming.
2. Take a bath with an herbal satchel thrown in. To easily make these on your own you can add your desired herbs to a cheesecloth bundle, a tea diffuser, or a reusable tea bag. I love to use small organza bags, which can be washed and reused. I don't recommend throwing herbs directly into the bath water, as this can create blockages in your drains (and it's a pain to clean tiny plant debris out of your tub). Draw yourself a hot bath and add the herbs to the water as it fills. When you are settled you can place the satchel on your chest, to bring the compounds released by the vapor closer to your sinuses. Adding a small handful of epsom salts to your bath will help to break up the oils released by the plants, and diffuse more gentle oils. Bonus: epsom salts help increase magnesium levels, which soothes sore muscle, decreases restless leg syndrome, and aids in sleep!
3. Room steaming. Simply add a pot of water to your stovetop, or on top of a wood stove. Fill the container with water and herbs, and place over low to medium heat and bring to a very low boil. I love to add orange, lemon, or cinnamon to my pot simmers, to make the house smell amazing. Do not leave the pot unattended. Monitor water levels to make sure the water does not get too low.
4. Facial Steaming. This is my go-to method when I am really feeling uncomfortable, and need fast results. Water a pot of water to a low boil. Remove from heat, and pour water into a heat safe bowl. Add your chosen herbs, and cover the bowl with a towel. Allow to sit until the water has cooled enough that you can comfortable put your head under the towel, above the steam.* With the towel, create a tent over your head, with your face directly above the steam. Breathe through your nose as much as possible. It's a good idea to bring a tissue with you, as the steam will often loosen and release mucus build up. (This is also amazing for your skin!)
*Don't rest your face on the bowl, and don't rush and use it while it's still too hot.
Herbs for Congestion Peppermint: Peppermint is suitable for use in all of the above herbal steam preparations. Because peppermint contains menthol, it works as a decongestant. In addition, it is thought to have antimicrobial properties which may aid with sinus infection.
Ginger: Ginger also works well in all of the above preparations. Ginger is known to be a natural decongestant and antihistamine. Oregano: Oregano is a powerful antibacterial and anti-fungal herb. It is an often overlooked ally that is easily found in most homes. Olive Leaf– anti-microbial, anti-viral, protects lungs from damage
Rosemary– anti-microbial, antioxidant, circulatory stimulant, beautifies hair and skin
Basil– anti-fungal, anti-microbial, antioxidant, anti-bacterial
Lavender– anti-microbial, reduces tension, stress, and insomnia
Peppermint– anti-bacterial, expectorant
Chamomile– anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, relaxing to the nervous system
Thyme– anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic (meaning that when inhaled, cough spasms are reduced), antioxidant, expectorant
Eucalyptus– promotes drainage from congestion, soothes coughs, nourishes respiratory tract, enlivens breath passageways. Do not buy eucalyptus for medicinal use from a florist, as it is often treated with fragrance, paint, or other chemicals. I will use occasionally use a few drops of this essential oil in a shower.
*Partial herbal list from Oras amazing herbal