In a nutshell
Clary sage essential oil is often said to be effective at triggering contractions when you’re overdue but there’s no scientific evidence that using clary sage essential oil will help bring on labour – either after or before your due date. If you want to try it, though, it’s not thought to be harmful in small amounts in the later stages of pregnancy, and some midwives think it can help reduce anxiety and pain when you actually do go into labour.
The expert view on using clary sage to bring on labour
“There is currently no evidence that clary sage is beneficial in inducing labour, but is is unlikely to cause harm if you want to try,” says our expert GP Dr Philippa Kaye.
You should always check with a healthcare professional before using it, though, adds Dr Philippa. “Please have a discussion with your midwife or doctor before using any essential oil in case, for you, there is a reason you shouldn’t be using it – maybe because you have a particular medical condition or you’re taking medication that could interact with clary sage.”
It’s also worth noting that some aromatherapists will not use clary sage essential oil on a pregnant woman – precisely because of its anecdotal association with stimulating uterine contractions. Others – including midwives who use aromatherapy – do not use it unless a woman is in the very late stages of pregnancy (36 to 37 weeks, typically) or has already gone into labour.
So why is clary sage thought to bring on labour?
The reason that’s often given for clary sage bringing on labour is that it increases your levels of the hormone oxytocin – which is a hormone that, at the right levels, stimulates your uterine muscles to contract and also increases the production of prostaglandins that increase contractions further.
There have been almost no scientific studies to confirm this. However, a (very small) 2017 Japanese study1 on women between 38 and 40 weeks of pregnancy has suggested that inhaling clary sage essential oil ‘induced an increasing trend in oxytocin levels’ but had no effect on uterine contractions.
I want to try clary sage: how do I use it?
If you have been given the go ahead to try clary sage essential, there are a number of ways to use it.
Put 1 or 2 drops in the bath. Starlet, who posts on on our MadeForMums Chat forum says, “I found it really relaxing – a bit overpowering at first but you get used to it.”
Mix a few drops with a carrier oil and rub it directly on your bump.
Inhale it. Another of our MadeForMums Chat forum posters, duckymumdrum, recommends you “sniff [a few drops of it] it on a flannel or a muslin”
Clary sage essential oil does smell quite strong and earthy. You may prefer, as some of our MadeForMums Chat forum posters recommend, to mix it with a few drops of lavender essential oil.
What about using clary sage during labour?
While there’s no evidence that clary sage can bring on labour, it is often used by NHS midwives once labour has started – to relieve anxiety and to help with muscular aches and pains.
“The midwife told me that it can help with labour,” say MadeForMums Chat forum poster Anonymousmumdrum. “Her suggestion was to use it as massage [oil] and to smell it when I’m in established labour.”
“Some people do find that it is beneficial to help with pain, for muscular aches and pains,” confirms Dr Philippa. ‘It’s also said to reduce anxiety – which may also help alleviate labour pain.”
Can I get clary sage on the NHS?
It’s very unlikely, says Dr Philippa. “If you wish to use clary sage essential oil while you’re still pregnant, you would have to get it yourself.” You can find a small bottle easily in most healthfood stores.
However, if you go into labour and your attending midwife uses aromatherapy, you may well be given (with your permission) clary sage essential oil (and other essential oils) for free.
Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.
1. Changes in salivary oxytocin after inhalation of clary sage essential oil scent in term-pregnant women. Takodoro, Y et al. BMC Research Notes 10, 717 (2017)