In the past year, more of our pregnant patients have begun to ask about the effectiveness of aromatherapy, or the use of essential oils, for pain management during labor and delivery. We’ve seen a trend among patients looking to use essential oils during their labor and delivery.
Aromatherapy is the art and science of using naturally extracted aromatic essences (essential oils) from plants to balance and harmonize the body, mind, and spirit every day or during stressful experiences. Labor and delivery can certainly fall into that latter category, and research has shown that some fragrances can have a calming effect during childbirth and even reduce the perception of pain.
However, like all interventions, it’s important to understand how to use essential oils and to work with your doctor or midwife before delivery to create a labor and delivery stress and pain management plan.
Essential oils that can help with stress during labor
Some of the most common oils used for aromatherapy during labor and delivery are:
● Citrus, such as orange
● Peppermint, which also can help control nausea
A National Institutes of Health study focused on the effect of aromatherapy on anxiety during labor using the essential oil of orange. One hundred women were randomly assigned to either a control group that had distilled water diffused in the room during labor or to an intervention group that received diffused orange essential oil. The study found that those receiving diffused orange essential oil had lower levels of anxiety during labor.
Stress can influence how we react to pain. By reducing stress, we can effectively ease pain – particularly when other pain management techniques are introduced. Pain management is among the core benefits of aromatherapy during labor.
How essential oils help women manage pain
Essential oils can help reduce sensations of labor pain, as well as nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Some of the most common oils used to achieve pain management during labor with aromatherapy are:
● Clary sage
● Ginger oil
A patient favorite is lavender, and it’s backed by science. A review of clinical trial data found that when lavender is used during labor as aromatherapy, women reported less pain. Other studies have found that lavender can reduce pain, nausea, and dizziness after cesarean section, as well as pain, redness, and need for topical pain relief after episiotomy when used in a sitz bath.
Essential oils also might help women get better sleep. Many postpartum women have trouble sleeping due to stress. Research has shown that when people are well-rested they’re better able to manage pain and stress. A study using lavender fragrance was conducted with 158 mothers after delivery. Those in the first group inhaled lavender from a cotton ball for 10 deep breaths and slept with it next to their pillow until morning four times a week for eight weeks. The second group did the same actions but with a placebo. At the end of the study, the sleep quality of the mothers who used lavender improved significantly.
Not all oils are created equal
Certain oils are safer and more effective than others. With an influx of essential oils on the internet – and likewise an increased volume of potentially unsafe, low-quality products – it’s important to talk to your midwife or doctor if you’re interested in trying aromatherapy during pregnancy or delivery. We want you to be comfortable with your birth plan, and we’ll help you identify traditional and alternative relaxation and pain management techniques that can work for you.
One particular caution is to use essential oils in the way they’re intended. Some are safe to use right on the skin while others should be used only in a diffuser. We advise patients to avoid oils that seem “off the beaten path” unless specifically prescribed by a doctor. When we don’t have a lot of data or research about an oil, it’s better to play it safe and avoid it than to run the risk of an adverse reaction to its ingredients.