Soothing Scents: Using Aromatherapy in Pregnancy and Labor

You may have practiced your breathing techniques for labor, but have you considered what scents you’ll be inhaling with all those sniffs and “hee-hee-hoo’s”?

Aromatherapy can have powerful effects on a woman in labor, said Candice Lewis, a Certified Herbalist with a focus on women’s health issues. Lewis offers herbal consultations for issues including fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum through Baby Moon in Lexington.

“There are countless benefits to using aromatherapy during pregnancy and delivery” Lewis said. “There are essential oils which act as uterine relaxants, cardiac tonics, and pelvic elasticity promoters. This is invaluable during labor.”

Some oils are antiseptic, antibiotic, good for nausea and headaches, uterine tonics, and even those that have a strengthening effect on contractions during active labor. There are also essential oils that help those recovering from shock or excessive blood loss, calm the central nervous system, act as sedatives, and even some that can give a sense of euphoria.

Lewis said essential oils are safe and effective to use in the delivery room. However, as with anything, there are appropriate times for using each oil.

“For example, clary sage oil and sage oil should not be confused. Both of these essential oils should not be used during pregnancy,” Lewis said. “Clary sage can be used to facilitate labor and strengthen contractions and is welcomed during active labor as it is safe for baby. However, sage oil has a residue that is left on the skin which, when absorbed, can be toxic to the baby, even during labor.”

Lewis recommends that mothers make sure they are using authentic, therapeutic grade oils to avoid any adverse skin reactions or asthmatic episodes. Try each oil out before using during labor to be sure it is something you enjoy and are comfortable using.

Aromatherapy isn’t limited to mothers planning natural childbirth. Women using pain medication during childbirth can still safely and effectively use aromatherapy.

“It may be that less pain-relieving aromatherapy is necessary, but still oils can be used which can help strengthen contractions, fight infections, or even just set a nice mood for the woman and her, soon to arrive, baby,” Lewis said.

Julie Six, a Lexington mother of three and birth doula, used oils when delivering her youngest child because she wanted to avoid conventional medications.

“I had researched the topic and knew that in my previous births I had experienced nausea,” Six said. “I wanted to use something that wasn’t invasive and medical and learned how oils could help.”

Six had a roll-on container with peppermint oil she could open and hold to her nose. She said during her unmedicated labor and delivery, the oils soothed her nausea. After her delivery, a few drops of the peppermint oil even helped release her bladder, a task all women face post-delivery and many struggle with.

“It helped a lot,” she said. “My stomach settled and I felt like I had more energy.”

For therapeutic benefits, a few drops of essential oil can be added to a room diffuser and inhaled. A few long-held favorites for relaxation are lavender, nutmeg and chamomile.

To derive medicinal properties from the plant oils, a few drops can be added to a carrier oil such as olive or grapeseed oil, or to lotion, and then massaged on the body.

Since pregnant women can be very sensitive to smells, prepare for adjustments to the strength of the smell. Diluting essential oils can lessen the scent. You can spray the oils onto a washcloth that can be kept near the mother. If desires change, the washcloth can be easily removed.

“There is nothing better than the smell of some relaxing aromatherapy to really help encourage a sense of calm and restoration,” Lewis said. “Everyone can personalize this and can use any scent which reminds them of a calm, soothing place.”

Candice Lewis lives in Lexington and is mother to one-year-old Tegan. She can be reached through Baby Moon at (859) 420-6262.