Aromatherapy is the use of scents and plant oils to help improve your physical and mental well-being.


It's one of many complementary therapies available to assist you in keeping calm, feeling confident and as relaxed as possible during labour.

Aromatherapy can also be very soothing when combined with massage for labour. But how does it work? When's the best time to use it? And which oils are most useful for childbirth?

Aromatherapy in labour - here's everything you need to know

What is aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy involves the use of plant oils, usually in the form of essential oils, to help boost your mind and your body.

Different oils have different effects on the senses. For example, you might've heard that lemon and ginger helps counteract morning sickness in early pregnancy - or used lavender products to help you sleep.

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It's thought of as a complementary therapy, but sometimes it's also referred to as an 'alternative medicine'.

How does aromatherapy help in labour?

Numerous oils may be beneficial during labour to help relieve stress, relax, act as a uterine tonic (which supposedly boosts female reproductive health), stimulate circulation and so on.

If nothing else, aromatherapy will help clear *that* hospital smell, which some mums can find a tad unsettling.

How are aromatherapy oils used in labour?

Generally speaking, aromatherapy oils can be used in a couple of different ways. You can:

  • pop it directly on the body in a carrier oil (e.g. via massage)
  • use it with an oil burner or vaporiser so that the scent is carried in the air.

If you're using an oil burner or vaporiser, you simply pop several drops of oil in the water.

You can combine 2 or 3 oils in combination, but we'd say it's best not to use more than 4 in one go.

If you need a strong boost with a particular oil, then your birth partner can put a couple of drops on a hanky for you to hold close to your nose and inhale.

If you're using the oils for massage, then use 20 drops of oil per 100ml of carrier oil that you use.

There are several carrier oils to choose from: sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba, wheatgerm and olive oil are good examples.

NB: Make sure you avoid nut-based oils if you're allergic to nuts, and if you're very sensitive or are worried about an allergic reaction, do a patch test on your skin 24 hours before.

Which aromatherapy oils are best for labour?

If you're considering using aromatherapy for assistance during labour and birth then it is well worth consulting a trained aromatherapist for advice and guidance.

The support of your birthing partner will also be essential as you will have other things on your mind during labour than choosing what oil you need.

The following are some oils that you may find useful:

  • Lavender - You may already be familiar with lavender as a means of promoting a good night's sleep. The scent is well-known to aid relaxation and promote calm. The oil is also a painkiller that stimulates circulation and healing and may strengthen contractions
  • Clary sage - One of the oils that you should avoid during pregnancy itself, clary sage can strengthen contractions during labour. It's also a great oil for lifting your spirits and reducing anxiety, but it's not recommended for use if you are using gas and air
  • Neroli - Calms and reassures as well as helping relax. Is also a powerful anti-depressant
  • Bergamot - A generally uplifting and refreshing oil
  • Chamomile - Soothing and calming, helps to reduce tensions and anxiety
  • Jasmine - Acts as a uterine tonic, painkiller and anti-spasmodic. Also known to strengthen contractions and can be used in a compress to aid delivery of the placenta
  • Rose - Is a uterine tonic and anti-depressant
  • Geranium - Helps breathing and boost the circulation
  • Marjoram - A uterine tonic that also aids breathing and can help to lower blood pressure. It is also an effective pain reliever and antispasmodic.

Indeed, it seems clary sage combined with lavender is one of the most popular choices for childbirth.

"Definitely clary sage and lavender to help labour - I used almond oil as a base but apricot and sunflower are also good," says Sophia, who is a member of our MadeForMums community.

"I've got clary sage and lavender to soak into cotton wool balls and for massage (mixed with almond oil)," agreed Amy.

Don't forget that some oils are NOT recommended during pregnancy, so these are just recommendations for labour.

Which aromatherapy oils are safe during pregnancy?

When can I use aromatherapy during labour?

If all's going to plan during your birth, there's no technical reason why you can't use aromatherapy during any stage of labour.

However, hospital policies may vary widely on what they allow or encourage in labour and delivery rooms, and if you're rushed off for a C-section, you won't be taking the vaporiser with you.

So, if you're keen to use aromatherapy in hospital, speak to your midwife well in advance just to make sure your hospital knows the score.

For home births, you'll have complete freedom to use aromatherapy whenever - simply make sure you've got your essential oil combo juuuuust right.

Images: Getty Images

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