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Essential oils are a simple, portable way of taking care of yourself. They can help
relieve fear and depression, revive flagging spirits and enhance well being.

All of these things are particularly important in labour. The more anxious and fearful a
woman is, the more difficult it is to cope and the greater her perception of pain. Several
studies have shown that women respond well to the use of essential oils during labour.
Benefits include less anxiety, pain, shorter labours, shorter hospital stays and less post-
natal depression.

The largest study into the use of aromatherapy in labour involved 8000 women in
Oxford over a period of eight years. It found that women who used aromatherapy in
labour had fewer inductions, fewer caesareans, and a 30 per cent drop in the use of
pain relieving drugs.

Aromatherpy is inexpensive, easy to administer and has no known adverse effect in
labour. While it is not a magic charm, it is a simple way for a woman to control her
immediate environment and maintain her self-confidence.

During labour there are a number of ways to use essential oils:

An inhalation. You can make an inhalation by putting a few drops of your chosen oil on
a hankie. Wrap this in a plastic bag and keep it to hand to use when needed. Steam
inhalations are effective and easy to make at home, but not very practical in hospital.
You can now buy hand held inhalers, rather like coffee mugs with special tops. Take a
flask of hot water to the hospital to make the inhalation.

A compress. Add between 8-10 drops of essential oil to half a cup of water. Soak a
face cloth in the mixture and apply to your forehead.

A refreshing spray. Labour is a hot sweaty business. Keep yourself cool by mixing
100ml of water with 2-5 drops of your chosen essential oil. You can spray this directly
onto your face or body or onto a pillow or bean bag.

Room scents. You can spread the scent of an essential oil through a room using an oil
burner, or by placing one or two drops on a cool light bulb before turning the light on.

A massage. Always use essential oils diluted in a light carrier oil. Sunflower oil will do
at a pinch. Alternatives are sweet almond, apricot kernel and grapeseed oils. In a
tablespoon (15 mls) of base you could use up to 15 drops of essential oil. (1 drop of
essential oil to 1 millilitre base oil.) During labour you may find that your sense of smell
becomes very sensitive and many women use half this quantity and still feel the

In a bath. Mix your choice of essential oil in apricot kernel oil, or in a neutral, water-
dispersing oil available from health food shops and natural toiletry stores. Alternatively,
mix it into a small amount of whole milk. Pour this mixture into the bath. Aim to relax in
the bath for at least 15 minutes.
Which oils?

When choosing essential oils you will get what you pay for. Some synthetic oils masquerade as
aromatherapy oils and will not have the same therapeutic effect. The key is to look for the Latin name
of the herb on the bottle.

Certain oils work better in labour than others. The Oxford study used essential oils such as lavender,
frankincense, camomile, rose, jasmine, eucalyptus, peppermint, lemon, mandarin and clary sage.
Each one works in a specific way.

Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia or Lavandula officinalis) is a versatile oil which can be emotionally
calming, sedating, relaxing in labour. It can help regulate contractions and is also a good antiseptic.
(Some manufacturers recommend that you do not use lavender during pregnancy)

Clary sage (Salva sclarea) can help ease stress and tension and make contractions more efficient. It
is an anti-spasmodic oil so can relieve cramp.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is cooling and refreshing. Useful in relieving headache, nausea and

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) has many of the same properties as peppermint and mixing the two
is often very effective particularly for headaches. Alone it can help relieve nasal congestion and is an
effective antiseptic.

Camomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is an anti-inflammatory. It can calm and soothe the emotions.

Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) is useful in cases of hyperventilation as it slows and deepens
breathing. It can calm anxiety and is useful for asthmatics.

Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) is a potent antidepressant and relaxant.

Rose (Rosa damascena) is also an antidepressant and calming for frayed nerves.

Lemon (Citrus limon) and mandarin (Citrus reticulata) are refreshing, uplifting, and cooling they can
be mixed with other oils to enhance their effect.

If you are mixing essential oils, keep it simple - no more than five oils in a single mixture. Every
women responds better to some oils than others. Try experimenting before labour so you know which
ones work best for you.

For further information on every day use of aromatherapy, a useful book is Fragrant pharmacy by
Valerie Ann Worwood. It has receipies for the treatment of every concilable ailment and a nice
chapter on preganacy and aromatherapy for children).


Burns E and Blamey C, Using Aromatherpy in Childbirth, Nursing Times, 1991; 90: 54-60 Reed, L amnd Norfolk L,

The Use of Aromatherpy in Intrapartum Care, Oxford Brookes University, 1999

Aromatherpy in Midwifery, Int J Alt Complementary Med, December 1993:15-7

                        Handout from Article ‘Labouring with Aroma’s’ by Pat Thomas