Coconut oil and its many uses in pregnancy and beyond
Article by Dr. Antonella Grima
While I have my reserves about the ingestion of coconut oil (read more here), a jar of good quality, food grade coconut oil can be an excellent companion on this wonderful journey that is pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.
Very little is known about the effects of substances we ingest or apply to our skin on the growing embryo. It is therefore always advisable to refrain from using products containing harsh chemicals and fragrances and instead resort to alternatives with few or no extra ingredients, such as preservatives, colouring and fragrances.
Coconut oil is composed of medium chain fatty acids, that provide skin with an excellent soothing and moisturizing effect. In addition, its use on the skin has been attributed with antimicrobial and antioxidant effects, among others. Unlike other vegetable (such as olive oil) or petroleum-based (such as baby oil) oils, it is easily absorbed by the skin and does not leave an oily residue. Here are a few suggested uses for coconut oil, but I am sure there are many more.
Body Moisturizer: pregnancy may change the texture and suppleness of skin, making it dry and itchy in certain places, and oily in others. If you are suffering from dry and itchy skin, a small amount of coconut oil applied once or twice a day, can alleviate pruritus and restore moisture. It can also be used as a post-shaving balm and to relieve itchiness and skin tightness on your growing belly.
Hair serum: during pregnancy, hair loss is kept to a minimum and sebum production may decrease. This may result in an unmanageable mane of dry hair. Coconut oil applied to the tips may help with controlling unruly hair by giving it moisture, shine and weight.
Perineal massage: while there have not been many studies to prove the effectiveness of perineal massage for preventing tears and episiotomies during childbirth, for those who are willing to try this technique in the last weeks of pregnancy, coconut oil or almond oil are the recommended oils to use. More information about perineal massage can be read here.
Childbirth and post-pregnancy
Hospital bag: it would be a good idea to pack a small jar of coconut oil in your hospital bag as this might come in handy. The hospital air may be warmer and dryer than what we are usually used to. This may result in chapped lips and areas of dry skin which may benefit from some added moisture. The oil may also double up as a nipple cream, a hand cream and a nappy cream for your baby, saving you plenty of space in your luggage. I will go into more details about these uses in the next sections.
Nipple cream: new mothers, and seasoned mothers alike, may experience some nipple soreness or cracked nipples in the early days of breastfeeding. There are many specialized and baby-safe balms and compresses that help with restoring the delicate skin in this area and I recommend their use as they do work. However, this does not keep you from applying a dab of coconut oil in between feeds. It is natural and almost completely absorbed by the time the next feed is due. I would advise removing any residual oil or any cream used with a clean damp cloth or cotton wool before each feed in order to reduce the amount ingested by the infant.
Nappy cream: while this may not be a suitable option for babies with very sensitive skin or newborns who may need barrier creams, a dab of coconut oil after a nappy change is both soothing and rehydrating. You can also use a nappy change as an occasion to rub some oil onto your clean hsnds when you have finished changing the nappy. You will be washing your hands very often with a new baby in the house. Your hands may be longing for some added moisture!
Baby massage: babies may benefit from a massage with oil after their bath, both to replenish their skin’s moisture, as well as to help them relax and bond with their parents. Classic baby oils are mineral oils derived from petroleum distillation. These are easily replaced by more natural alternatives, such as vegetable oils. Olive oil and coconut oil are good oils to opt for as they impart other benefits to the skin apart from moisturising it.
Since coconut oil is a rich oil, it may be comedogenic if applied on acne-prone skin. I would therefore advise one to refrain from using it if there is a personal history of acne or blackheads. In addition, oils tend to irritate the eyes so, like other oily products, one should avoid using it on the face, and especially around the eyes.