There is nothing like welcoming your little bundle of joy into the world. Planning for their birth is one of the first and foremost things you consider. Despite the evident excitement, it can also have women feeling stress, nerves, and anxiety. People know labor and delivery's pains, difficulties, and risks.
Though many medications are available to ease labor, many women prefer a more natural approach. Essential oils can be a good companion when undergoing the birthing process. Keep reading to discover the best essential oils for labor and delivery and how best to use them!
We’ve all Heard of Labor…but What Actually is it?
We often use the terms “labor” and “delivery” interchangeably, but they are two very separate things. Labor refers to the process your body goes through to prepare for childbirth. It involves both the chemical and physical changes that occur. There are three phases to labor:
- Early Labor: This is when your brain releases chemicals that stimulate your uterus to contract and your cervix to dilate
- Active Labor: The cervix dilates to around 7cm, and you begin to feel painful contractions
- Transitional Labor: The final (and most painful) push that brings your child into the world!
While labor can last days or weeks, delivery will take typically only last minutes to an hour.
How to Recognize the Labor Signs
Presumably, by now, you will have become all too familiar with how the body practices contractions. Braxton Hicks can feel very real, but there are better indicators that the body is beginning labor.
Perhaps the most reliable precursor is a “show.”
The plug of mucus that seals the neck of the womb usually falls away a couple of days before labor begins. Watch your knickers for a clear to milky-colored discharge. It often looks like a lump of gel; however, sometimes, it can have small streaks of blood. This is not usually a sign of anything untoward, but you should relay the information to your midwife.
Your waters breaking is a clear sign that labor is underway, but not everyone’s membranes rupture independently. Sometimes, the midwife needs to break them for the last part of the baby’s journey.
Labor can be prolonged, especially if this is your first child, so when contractions begin, time them. When they are regular, about five minutes apart, call your midwife.
Can Essential Oils Prompt Labor?
In truth, we don’t know the answer to this since experimenting on unborn fetuses to get a substantive answer would be unethical.
We know that certain oils react with oxytocin receptors, and oxytocin triggers labor.
For that reason, most of our guidelines for essential oils for pregnancy have two layers of safety. Most focus on waiting until 16 weeks until you use any essential oils. Theoretically, antibiotic oils could see a new embryo as an invader and cause an immune response towards it.
Others focus on 37 weeks as a safe time to use essential oils that interact with the womb. Oils that are safe during pregnancy but not until those last few weeks are the most useful to use when a midwife has confirmed that you are in entire labor. Rose, myrrh, jasmine, and clary sage ask the womb to contract.
That said, most midwives who use aromatherapy agree that while essential oils are helpful for labor, using too much is likely to slow the body down.
Using Essential Oils for Labor and Delivery: How Do They Help?
Essential oils are the essence extracted from a plant, herb, or flower. They are very high in concentration, making them very potent. Different essential oils offer other qualities and benefits depending on their constituents or the components they are made up of.
Some oils are reputed to help ease nausea, stress, and anxiety, all of which are common during labor and delivery. Common fears include the baby's safety, pain, tearing, and the potential for things to go wrong. The best essential oils for labor will ease these fears and anxieties and help reduce adverse physical reactions.
Are All Essential Oils Safe For Pregnancy & Labor?
No. There are some oils that you would want to avoid for a variety of different reasons. We have listed some of the best ones we would use below.
What Does the Research Say About the Use of Aromatherapy on Pain and Anxiety During Labor?
Studies show that anxiety can slow down labor and can cause difficulties. Trials that have used essential oils show that women are calmer and can focus better on their labor. However, the effects seem incredible if the oils are used in the first stages of labor. (Tabatabaeichehr,2020) (Liao, 2020)
Which Essential Oils are Best for Labor and Pregnancy
Bergamot essential oil is botanically known as Citrus bergamia and comes from a fruit commonly believed to be a hybrid between a lemon and a bitter orange. It is top on our list of the best essential oils for labor and delivery, as it can potentially help to reduce both pain and anxiety. In addition to reducing stress, research indicates that inhaling bergamot improves feelings of well-being, which is just what you want during your child's birth!
Using clary sage essential oil for labor offers plenty of potential benefits. The oil comes from an ancient herbaceous perennial, Salvia sclarea. Research indicates that clary sage helps to balance cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and too much of it brings on feelings of anxiety and depression. This is common in labor, which is why clary sage can be beneficial for reducing stress and improving mood.
Clary sage is often cited as one of the best essential oils to induce labor, however, use it with care. This video describes more.
In both aromatherapy and meditation practices, frankincense is known for its ability to both calm and ground. This makes it one of the best essential oils for labor and delivery, as staying calm can make a big difference. You can choose to inhale the earthy, musky fragrance or even dilute it and rub it into your lower back or abdomen to help relieve pain and discomfort.
Geranium essential oil gives you mental and physical energy. Studies show that geranium essential oil can help stabilize our mental, physical, and emotional state during labor. Geranium can also improve the mood in the room as a whole, offering a burst of energy to whoever is part of your birthing team.
Lavender essential oil is probably most famous for its soothing abilities. People have been using lavender oil for decades to relieve physical pain, stress, anxiety, and sleeping problems. You can use lavender oil both during and after labor and delivery. Inhale the floral, fragrant aroma for calming purposes during labor, and then allow it to help you drift off into a peaceful sleep afterward for some much-needed rest.
Jasmine absolute is superb if labor is prolonged and you do not have strong contractions. If this is your first pregnancy, please let me advise you that labor is hard enough without using this if you don’t need it!
It is not safe until 37 weeks, and we recommend taking your bottle of oil with you to the delivery suite and only adding one drop to a blend if you need it.
That said, inhaling the perfume is relaxing and soothing and can also improve oxytocin levels to help your labor.
Chamomile is an essential oil with a long-running reputation for being great for stress relief. You will often see it in herbal teas and tinctures to promote rest and relaxation. Try diluting chamomile and rubbing it into your hands or lower back, or diffuse it to breathe in its soothing aroma. This is one of the most versatile essential oils safe in pregnancy.
Peppermint essential oil is a great oil when looking for energy and focus. These are important things in the birthing room, so we consider them one of the best essential oils for labor and delivery. Peppermint oil contains menthol, which offers a pain-numbing cooling sensation when diluted and applied to the skin, and it also helps improve blood circulation. This means more oxygen and nutrients flow around the body, with the additional benefit of staving off potential dizzy spells. Similar to lemon oil, peppermint can also help reduce nausea!
Ylang-ylang oil comes from a flower growing on the Cananga tree, which is native to hot, tropical areas such as India, Indonesia, and Madagascar, among others. Ylang ylang is often chosen in lists of essential oils to start contractions because of its profound hormonal effects. For this reason, you should not use it until 37 weeks of pregnancy. This oil is a great tool to combat stress and anxiety while filling the room with its luscious aroma.
A small study found that women who diffused sweet orange oil during labor had lower levels of anxiety. Orange oil also smells lovely and fragrant, helping to create a space that feels uplifting and positive.
The Best Essential Oils for Labor: How To Use Them
When it comes to using essential oils for labor and delivery, there are a few different methods. Whichever you choose to use is down to personal preference, though we do suggest going over your plans with your birthing specialist first. This will help to ensure nothing interferes with their plans.
When it comes to the topical application of essential oils, the most important thing to understand is that it is necessary to dilute them first. These oils naturally occur in plants, but in essential oil form, they are very concentrated. The National Holistic Association for Aromatherapy (NAHA) recommends diluting 15-20 drops of essential oil with at least 1 oz carrier oil for adult use.
Diffusion is the process in which any essential oil is dissipated into the surrounding environment. The inhalation of the aroma gives the benefits of the essential oil to the inhaler. While diffusion can offer many benefits, it is important not to use too much oil as other people can have sensitivities, and it may be too strong for an infant child.
Diffusion may be better for the beginning stages of labor rather than the end. You can also simplify things by adding a few drops of essential oil to a tissue or napkin, then simply hold that to your nose when you feel the need. This can also be done straight from the bottle with certain milder oils.
Our Favorite Essential Oil Recipes for Labor and Delivery
For Relief of Stress & Anxiety
Method of Use: Gently massage into wrists, hands, and feet.
To Ease Pain from Sore Muscles
Method of Use: Apply this blend on your lower back, shoulders, or on the places you want to relieve pain from.
To Combat Nausea
Method of Use: You can either diffuse this blend or simply inhale it to get quick relief from nausea.
Additional Tricks for Relieving Labor Pain
- Do your best to distract yourself by either walking around or participating in some sort of activity when possible. Engage with others to keep your mind off the birthing process
- Take a warm shower. This will help increase blood flow and perhaps give some much-needed comfort
- Yell, scream, swear, or do whatever you need to get through it!
The Potential Harms and Risks of Using Essential Oils During Labor
The most significant risk for aromatherapy for labor comes from water births and baths.
Once your waters have broken, the baby is no longer protected from the essential oils. Therefore, it would be better not to have essential oils in water birth or use them in your bath after your waters have broken.
Regarding birthing, every woman's experience is unique. This list of the best essential oils for labor and delivery is no longer extensive. If you have a favorite essential oil that brings you comfort, that might be the best option!
We only suggest checking in with your birthing team to ensure that whichever oils you are using are safe and that the methods won’t interfere with any part of the process. We wish pregnant readers all the happiness and joy in the world with the new addition to their lives!