Essential oils can be a very welcome addition to your hospital or home birth self-help kit for use during labour. They can be administered in a massage oil (1 drop essential oil to 1 tsp base oil), a spritz bottle or a compress. Burning essential oils is also effective but unsuitable in a hospital setting. Only a limited number of aromatherapy oils are suitable for use during labour and I cover those I consider most useful here.
Lavender Lavendula angustifolia – well known for its calming and relaxing properties this essential oil also has analgesic and antiseptic qualities making it a must have during labour. Combined with massage in an oil blend it is a wonderful way to eases aching muscles. A few drops can also be added to a face spritzer for cooling and calming.
Chamomile Roman anthemis nobilis– you are probably familiar with the use of chamomile as a soothing and calming herbal tea. These attributes along with its anti-spasmodic properties make this an excellent addition to massage blends for labour to promote calm and ease aches and pains.
Frankincense boswellia neglacta – Often used during meditation practice to help slow and deepen the breathing this essential oil can support in a similar way during labour. It is particularly useful to aid regulation of the breath if you feel nervous and anxious, are hyperventilating or if your labour is fast.
Citrus Oils – mandarin citrus nobilis, orange citrus sinensis, lemon citrus limonum. These essential oils have a dual benefit of calming and uplifting and can be welcome during labour to refresh and revive if your energy is flagging. They also help to balance calming oils when used in a blend.
Clary Sage salvia sclarea– This essential oil is often recommended for labour but has to be used with caution. It is an analgesic and can help to accelerate a slow labour. However, if used too enthusiastically during the early stages it may actually slow the labour and overuse at any stage can have a soporific effect. It is not suitable during pregnancy before labour and should only be used in consultation with a qualified aromatherapist if you are considering using it for an overdue baby. Additionally it should not be used in conjunction with pethidine and epidurals or if you have low blood pressure. Because you cannot predict how your birth will go it is better to use as a separate oil and it can work particularly well in a compress.
Peppermint menthe x piperita – A great essential oil if you vomit or feel nauseous during labour, it is also cooling and refreshing. Avoid if you suffer with high blood pressure.
Jasmine, Rose and Neroli – These beautiful floral oils are wonderfully fragrant. In turn they can help to soothe pain and help get slow labours going, promote regular contractions and ease fear and apprehension. It takes thousands of blossoms to produce a small quantity and as a consequence they are among the most expensive essential oils.
If you have a medical condition it is best to check with your health professional before using aromatherapy and you should also avoid using essential oils in a water pool or bath if your waters have broken.
The use of essential oils during labour is supported by research. An eight year study* conducted at the John Radcliffe hospital Oxford evaluated more than 8,000 women receiving aromatherapy during childbirth and measured its effect on maternal anxiety, fear and pain during labour. 61% of the women received aromatherapy to relieve anxiety and fear. 50% of both mothers and midwives found it helpful, and 13% found it unhelpful. Of 537 women using frankincense and lavender for pain, 64% found frankincense helpful and 54% found lavender helpful. Chamomile was also found to be effective in alleviating pain. There were fewer epidurals and a reduction in pain medication usage in the aromatherapy group and minimal adverse (1%) effects noted.
Many of the women I have seen for pregnancy massage over the years have experienced the positive benefits of combining relaxing massage with a suitable essential oil blend during pregnancy. The associations of calm which are formed can then be recreated during labour when this same oil is used.
If your birthing bag is bulging more than your bump you may prefer to pack a pre blended massage oil. Nom Nom Relax Oil combines essential oils of lavender, chamomile, frankincense and orange and can be safely used from the second trimester of pregnancy, during labour and beyond. The pump cap makes dispensing easy for your partner allowing them to control the amount used and prevent accidental spills. Get them to brush up on their massage techniques in preparation for the big day by following these TIPS
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All the best for the birth of your baby!
*Burns E et al. An Investigation into the Use of Aromatherapy in Intrapartum Midwifery Practice The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Vol. 6: 141-7. 2000.