Essential oils have become somewhat of a craze in recent years thanks to companies like Young Living and doTERRA.
It seems like there is an oil for everything we face in life, and pregnancy / birth is no exception. Everyone includes their essential oils and diffuser in their hospital bag, with many hospitals even having diffusers in the room available to use. But is tossing a couple of drops of lavender or Clary Sage into a diffuser and calling it a day really as effective as we would hope?
So, what is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment which uses oils extracted from plants, specifically their aromatic characteristics. Aromatherapy uses pure Essential Oils for healing properties and shouldn’t be confused with fragrance oils.
An Oxford Brookes University study during the 90’s found that out of 8,058 mothers, over 50% rated it as helpful with less than 1% having adverse symptoms.
Let’s go over some essential oils that have been shown to be effective in labour and how to use them to assist you through your pregnancy and labour.
Clary Sage Oil is very commonly used in labour and late pregnancy. Anecdotally, people have used Clary Sage to induce labour. While labour will not naturally begin until the body is ready, clary sage is deeply relaxing and is said to increase oxytocin levels which encourages contractions. For this reason, it is safest to wait until after 37 weeks of gestation to prevent any chance of clary sage encouraging pre-term labour.
Lavender Oil is extremely versatile and promotes relaxation and rest while reducing anxiety and depression symptoms. Lavender can be used throughout pregnancy to help encourage rest in the lead up to labour as well as during labour.
Rose Oil is a sweet floral aroma which helps to relax the mind as well as the ligaments. It is also a uterine relaxant, which not only helps during labour but also assists with postpartum recovery. Because 10,000 fresh rosebuds are used for a 5mL bottle of pure rose oil, you’ll find that rose oil has a high price tag. However, you can often find 3% or 5% rose oils which are mixed with a carrier oil to make it more affordable.
Jasmine Oil is a beautiful scent which encourages feelings of joy, peace, and confidence. Ever wonder why you can’t help but smile when you walk past a jasmine bush?
Care should be taken when essential oils during pregnancy. Specifically, those with high levels of phenols. If you are ever in doubt, consult your local aromatherapist (if you’re in the Northern Rivers, you can find your local aromatherapist here).
There are a few different ways to administer essential oils during labour. The most common way that people use essential oils is by using a diffuser. What many people don’t realise is that after 30 minutes with a diffuser in a small space, you are at risk of adverse reactions such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms. It’s important to give the body a break from the scent.
Not to mention how quickly a labouring parent can change their mind, and it’s not easy to quickly remove the scent if a diffuser has been used.
Other effective ways to administer is by using a misting spray or by using the oil directly on a cloth or tissue. I love to use a cooling spray with witch hazel and peppermint, this one is also helpful with reducing nausea (if you’re a labour-vomiter like me)!
My favourite way to use aromatherapy in labour, however, is as an anchor. An anchor can be used during labour to help ground and relax you and is created by connecting a physiological response to an external signal such as a specific noise, touch, image or, as we’ll go over today, scent.
In the same way we can feel relaxed after smelling the hoodie of a loved one, aromatherapy can have the same impact throughout labour. Imagine only needing to inhale throughout labour to relax your body, sounds too good to be true right? Not only is it true, but it’s also incredibly easy to achieve.
If you do any kind of hypnobirthing course, it’s likely that you’ll be encouraged to do an evening routine throughout pregnancy. This is because the act of repetition creates second nature habits and responses, think Pavlov’s Dog. Each night you’ll do a relaxation routine so that when it comes to your birthing day, you’ll be able to slip into your state of calm and relaxation much easier. This may include listening to a meditation track in combination with quiet and gentle intimacy with your partner, massage, focusing on your birth affirmations or vision board or any other items or techniques you decide to use during labour. I recommend creating a beautiful routine that you look forward to each evening and trying to commit to doing it every night.
Now we can incorporate aromatherapy into the routine. You may do this by putting a couple of drops of your chosen scent or blend on a cloth and setting this beside you while you do your routine. You might also choose to buy a room spray or create your own smelling salts.
The idea is that when you’re in labour and need to ground yourself, your partner or doula can grab your essential oil blend and put it on a cloth for you to smell so that you can travel back to that calm space that you have created with you partner. You’ll smell that familiar scent, close your eyes and see yourself lying next to your partner hand in hand enjoying a quiet and beautiful moment together.
Easy right? 10 minutes of relaxation at night through pregnancy can make a huge difference through your labour. It certainly sounds worth it to me! You can start this practice at any point in pregnancy, I recommend starting during your 2nd trimester to allow plenty of time for your mind and body to make that connection.
My personal experience with this technique came to light during my journey as a doula. Once I hit 37 weeks of my pregnancy, I spent every spare moment soaking myself in Clary Sage oil in an attempt to encourage labour (though my body clearly wasn’t ready as it took another 4 weeks to happen). During labour the gentle smell of Clary Sage helped me to stay relaxed and calm through the many obstacles which led to my repeat caesarean.
My goal for labour was to have a calm and positive experience within myself and with the help of aromatherapy I was definitely able to achieve this. After my daughter was born the Clary Sage bottle was pushed to the back of my bedside drawer. Months later I pulled it out to make a massage oil for an expecting mother and found tears in my eyes as I opened the bottle, as the smell hit me my mind and body immediately travelled back to those special moments of quiet and calm and anticipation. That’s when I realised just how much of an impact it had on my labour. Over a year later I will still open the bottle for a little whiff to take me back to the day I met my baby.
When you start to think about what essential oils you want to use, reach out to an aromatherapist to find out which ones are safe and best for you and your purposes. Happy Birthing!
My name is Ashleigh Rankin of Fearless Beginnings in Lismore NSW. I am a qualified doula who has trained at the Doula Training Academy. If you would like more information about my doula services, please contact me:
0423 740 321