A common, everyday kitchen spice can help to relieve pain after an episiotomy or tear, and make your stitches to heal faster after you've had a baby. Little did you know it, but that half-used jar of cinnamon in your cupboard could come in handy in more ways than you thought. Research shows that it helps cuts and scars to heal faster with less pain. Here's the low-down on the research and a handy recipe for you to make at home.
As a mother of 3 children (all natural births) I was fascinated to read these interesting results from a clinical trial1 testing a natural ointment that relieves pain and discomfort caused by an episiotomy (the cutting of skin during childbirth).
Actual episiotomies in the UK have come down dramatically in the last few decades to around 8% of births2 but in other parts of the world it can still be much higher - 43% is the average in Asia and in Iran it is as high as 100% of hospital births.
More commonly, women experience a painful tear in the perineum (the skin between the vagina and the anus) that requires stitching. Perineal tears are experienced by 41% of women in the UK. If you are younger this is more likely to affect you as 42% of deliveries in women aged 15-24 have perineal tears compared 30% of deliveries by women aged between 40 and 49 years of age.
Commonly the area around the stitches can be red, painful and very tender. Sitz baths were traditionally recommended. These are warm water baths in a bidet or washbasin (4-5 inches of water) with salt or baking soda added, as salt water seems to help.
However, in this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, the researchers found that perineal pain in women who have had an episiotomy is about fourfold compared to those who didn't have one. This pain negatively affects many aspects of a woman’s life including breastfeeding, child care and daily work. The period directly after a child is born is a sensitive time when new mums have to juggle their own recovery while dealing with the needs of their babies. Effective pain relief is a major aspect of postpartum care that can positively affect a woman’s life. Many women prefer not to take pain-relieving drugs especially when they are breastfeeding.
Now scientists have found that a simple kitchen spice, cinnamon, speeds up healing and reduces pain much quicker than a placebo ointment. Cinnamon is already known through other studies to have numerous properties including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, analgesic (pain-killing) and wound healing. It is also widely available and not known to have any negative side effects unless it is used in high concentrations.
In aromatherapy massage, a safe and effective dilution is considered to be 2% cinnamon leaf or bark essential oil to 98% carrier oil. (It is never used above 3% to avoid skin irritation.) Interestingly, the clinical trial used the same strength giving their patients an ointment containing a 2% cinnamon extract - although their cinnamon extract was made from an evaporated cinnamon tincture.
Their patients were given the ointment for the first time about an hour after the episiotomy had been repaired. They were then instructed to use it twice a day for 10 days.
After 10 days the researchers found that healing was far faster in the group using the cinnamon ointment and also that these women had experienced less pain, with less resort to taking painkillers.
We thought we'd create an ointment recipe based on this research that you can make and use at home. The following will make two small tins or one 50g pot. We like using calendula oil as it has incredible skin repair and healing properties of its own. However, plain sunflower oil will be fine if you can only get to a local supermarket.
40 g (45 ml) Calendula oil or Sunflower oil
10 g Beeswax granules or pellets
1 g (10 drops) Cinnamon leaf or bark essential oil
Directions for making
Melt the beeswax into the oil in a double boiler (bain marie) over a gentle heat. This can also be done in a pyrex (hardened glass) jug on a very low microwave setting.
Remove from heat and add the cinnamon essential oil. Stir with a clean spoon to mix.
Pour into little tins or jars. Leave to cool (do not move them while they are hot) in a safe place out of reach of little hands (or paws!). When it has cooled it will harden to a lovely buttery consistency.
Always remember to add a label.
This will make a lovely present for an expectant mum.
Wash your hands and perineum thoroughly and dry it with a clean tissue before using the ointment. Wait 1 to 2 minutes for the area to dry thoroughly. Then put a 2 cm length ointment onto the area where the stitches are using a sterile pad. Apply every morning and every evening for at least 10 days.
1. Mohammadi, A., Mohammad-Alizadeh-Charandabi, S., Mirghafourvand, M., Javadzadeh, Y., Zahra Fardiazar, Z., & Effati-Daryani, F. (2014). Effects of cinnamon on perineal pain and healing of episiotomy: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Integrative Medicine. Epub ahead of print. http://www.jcimjournal.com/jim/showAbstrPage.aspx?articleid=S2095-4964(14)60025-X
2. NHS Maternity Statistics - England, 2012-13. (2013). Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), UK. Accessed online 28 October 2014: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB12744
If you are pregnant it is not a good idea to use cinnamon oil before your baby's birth. Cinnamon can induce uterine contractions, which in a vulnerable mum may cause miscarriage.