SOOTHING SCENTS: Using Aromatherapy in Pregnancy and Labor

By Katie Saltz

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, according to Candice Lewis, a Certified Herbalist with a focus on women’s health issues.

Lewis, a Lexington mother of a 1-year-old, offers herbal consultations for fertility, pregnancy and postpartum through Baby Moon, a maternity store and resource center in Lexington.

“There are essential oils which act as uterine relaxants, cardiac tonics, and pelvic elasticity promoters. This is invaluable during labor,” Lewis said.

Some oils are antiseptic, antibiotic, good for nausea and headaches, uterine tonics, and there are even those that have a strengthening effect on contractions during active labor.

Essential oils help people recovering from shock or excessive blood loss, and can calm the central nervous system and provide a sense of euphoria.

Essential oils are safe and effective to use in the delivery room, Lewis said.

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 adverse skin reactions or asthmatic episodes.

Try each oil out before 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, Lexington mother of three, 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.

During her unmedicated labor and delivery, she said, the oils soothed her nausea.

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.

Because pregnant women can be sensitive to smells, prepare for adjustments to the strength of the aroma. 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.