The use of aromatherapy and essential oils during childbirth is associated with a better labor outcome. According to an 8-year study done with over 8,000 mothers at a hospital, women who used aromatherapy to reduce anxiety and/or fear used less epidural pain relief and had a higher rate of spontaneous vaginal delivery. Spontaneous vaginal delivery is a delivery that happens on its own without the use of forceps, vacuum extraction, or a cesarean section.
One explanation behind this is the idea that anxiety and pain are often interrelated. When people are anxious or fearful, they experience pain more acutely. Some essential oils have been found to help alleviate mothers’ feelings of anxiety and fear, and therefore reduce their perception of pain. Such mothers would be less likely to need an epidural or an instrumental delivery, which leads to improved maternal and neonatal outcomes. While there are a variety of situations in which a cesarean is medically necessary, for normal low risk pregnancies the risks may outweigh any benefits.
Additionally, aromatherapy may have the potential to enhance labor contractions for women who experience dysfunctional labor — a term which refers to difficult labor, abnormally slow progress of labor, lack of progressive cervical dilation, or lack of fetal descent. Clary sage is the essential oil most commonly used to augment labor contractions. Using essential oils to encourage labor is not a quick process, unless the mother is already on the verge of labor. However, once labor has started, essential oils have been shown to speed up a slow labor while decreasing the perception of pain.
Listed below are a few essential oils that have been shown in research to support the childbirth process, as well as some techniques for incorporating aromatherapy during labor. These usage tips could be passed along to birth partners and birth doulas.
Popular Aromatherapy Oils Used in Labor and Rationales for Choices
- Bergamot – Analgesic, antispasmodic, helps relieve fear, uplifting
- Lavender – Analgesic, helps relieve fear, calming effect, and can enhance uterine action
- Clary Sage – Analgesic, helps relieve fear, calming effect, and can enhance uterine action
- Frankincense – Analgesic, excellent for fear, calming, and helps balance emotions
- Jasmine – Analgesic, helps relieve fear, calming effect, and can enhance uterine action
- Rose – Occasional use for bereavement & depression, can also help enhance uterine action
- Place 2 to 3 drops of any of the above essential oils on a tissue or cotton hall and inhale frequently, or place near pillow while sleeping.
- Inhale any of the above essential oils directly from the bottle.
- Mix 2 drops of clary sage essential oil with 2 teaspoons carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut oil, to facilitate absorption. Apply to abdomen and inside of ankles every half hour.
- To speed up a slow labor, mix 2 drops clary sage essential oil, 2 drops lavender essential oil and 2 drops jasmine essential oil. Blend with 1 tablespoon carrier oil and massage lower abdomen and lower back.
In conclusion, essential oils can provide both psychological and physiological support during labor in the form of calming anxiety, alleviating sensation of pain, and naturally encouraging labor contractions. Aromatherapy is safe and convenient. It can be used at home, at a birthing center or hospital, or even while en route to the hospital.
Burns E, Blamey C, Ersser S, Barnetson L, Lloyd A. An investigation into the use of aromatherapy in intrapartum midwifery practice. Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.) [serial online]. April 2000;6(2):141-147. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 30, 2017.
Spontaneous Vaginal Delivery. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2017, from https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/spontaneous-vaginal-delivery#3
Kaviani M, Maghbool S, Azima S, Tabaei MH. Comparison of the effect of aromatherapy with Jasminum officinale and Salvia officinale on pain severity and labor outcome in nulliparous women. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research. 2014;19(6):666-672.
Burns E. April 2000.
Musil A. Labor encouragement with essential oils. Midwifery Today With International Midwife [serial online]. 2013;(107):57-58. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 30, 2017.
Dhany A, Mitchell T, Foy C. Aromatherapy and massage intrapartum service impact on use of analgesia and anesthesia in women in labor: a retrospective case note analysis. Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.)[serial online]. October 2012;18(10):932-938. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 30, 2017.