When I last gave birth in 2011, I had little knowledge of the benefits of essential oils. But with my sister-in-law about to give birth any day now and a pregnant client also interested I decided to investigate how essential oils can offer support during labour and birth. A quick PubMed search uncovered some promising results!
A study in a large British teaching hospital found 50% of birthing mothers rated using essential oils to be helpful. A reduction in the need for additional pain relief was also noted. During the years of the study, the use of pethidine in the study centre declined from 6% to 0.2% of women. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10784271/)
Another study found a decrease in the stress hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine with the use of essential oils during labour, but subjective anxiety was unchanged. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16418554/)
However, a systematic review of the anxiety-reducing effects of aromatherapy during the first stage of labour did show benefit. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6428160/)
Remaining calm and relaxed is key during labour. Fear, stress, and anxiety increase the body's fight or flight response which can lead to a slowing of labour, a distressed mum and baby, and a cascade of medical intervention.
So, what essential oils may be helpful during the labour process?
From the studies and following some essential oil obsessed midwives I came up with the following:
For calming and relaxing:
Diffuse, pop on a washcloth or cotton pad for inhalation when needed, or apply diluted to the soles of feet.
Geranium - soothing and also may enhance circulation.
Ylang ylang - may also reduce high blood pressure.
Balance blend by doTERRA - this blend contains woody oils of Spruce, Ho Wood, Frankincense, Blue Tansy, and Blue Chamomile and helps the Mum to stay grounded, present and focused, giving courage and strength. (This blend is also prediluted and super safe for babies).
For pain relief:
Dilute with fractionated coconut oil and massage into the lower back, abdomen, and/or bottoms of feet.
Basil - suggested by The Essential Midwife. Apply diluted to abdomen, low back and temples. Particularly useful in transition.
Black pepper - especially if back labour. Suggested by the Essential Midwife. Heavily dilute as can cause skin irritation.
For promoting strong, regular contractions when labour is stalling or struggling to establish:
Clary Sage - apply diluted to the little toes at the nail bed, inside the ankle bones on both feet and the lower abdomen every 15-20 minutes until the strength of contractions has increased.
Myrrh - like clary sage it can help intensify contractions.
For endurance and an energy boost:
Inhale or place on a cool washcloth.
Inhale from a cotton ball or pad.
For perineum support during crowning:
Dilute and apply to perineum to minimise tearing, discomfort and swelling.
Helichrysum - is the arnica of essential oils and is beneficial for tissue repair. Applied to the low back it may even help prevent post-partum haemorrhaging.
Frankincense - a powerful healing oil for emotional balance and inflammatory issues.
Remember not to go overboard with the oils as a little can go along way. For example, one drop of peppermint essential oil is equivalent to 28 cups of peppermint tea!
If using topically, be sure to dilute with fractionated coconut oil, jojoba or olive oil. A spot test on the skin is helpful.
It is also recommended to test the scent of the oils before the intensity of childbirth to avoid any negative experiences due to scent memories. Lavender can sometimes remind me of my grandmother's sock draw!! Check-in with your partner also, in case they have a serious aversion to a particular scent.
A diffuser is a low maintenance way to disperse the scent and get the benefits of aromatherapy. But, it can be just as helpful to place a drop of essential oil on a cotton ball or pad to be inhaled when needed. A drop on a cool washcloth placed on the back of the neck or forehead is another way and can be very refreshing. Adding a few drops to the birthing pool or bath may also be suitable.
Since essential oils aren't well regulated it's really important to choose pure, unadulterated oils from a company you trust. Many oils state they are pure but contain synthetic additives or refined filler oils. You don't want that!
I can't get them all! Which would you pick?
If I had to pick just three essential oils to have on hand during labour, I'd go with lavender, clary sage and peppermint. If I could have four, I'd add the doTERRA Balance blend and diffuse it instead of lavender.
Lavender has a huge body of research to support its effectiveness. Most commonly it is used for stress relief, calming the nervous system and sleep. But, it can also be used for skin related issues, bites, stings, minor burns and pain relief. It is safe for babies and is a highly versatile and popular oil.
A clary sage and lavender combo massaged across the low back, abdomen, ankles and feet, could provide some pain relief during labour and assist labour progression. It's certainly worth a try. Otherwise, they are at least likely to provide benefit through their powerful calming properties.
(Please know, clary sage is not suitable for babies and young children).
Studies support the use of peppermint essential oil for nausea, endurance, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, memory and muscle relaxation. Like lavender, it is renowned for its versatility. So, even if it isn't needed during childbirth, it is likely to be useful in the future.
Giving birth changes your life. It is a physical, emotional, and spiritual experience that should be positive and rewarding. I believe any natural tools to support a birthing mother through this intense process should be considered, particularly when they are safe and have been used for thousands of years like essential oils have. Happy birthing!
For more info on why I choose doTERRA essential oils, click here. Or for help with ordering please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org