Aromatherapy in Labor and Delivery

The time has come. After nine months of anticipation you are standing at the door, suitcase at the ready, stopwatch in hand. You’ve timed the contractions at every two to five minutes on the dot, and as the drama of birth opens its curtains before your very eyes, you wonder if all your preparations will have been enough.

Childbirth is definitely one of, if not the most difficult labors a woman faces in her lifetime. Today, much is written about gentle, natural birthing options, which are healthier for mother and child. By providing a proper state of mind and natural analgesic, aromatherapy can be used to create a memorable, magical birthing atmosphere. This article will explain some of the best ways to prepare for childbirth using essential oils.

One of women’s greatest fears when approaching childbirth is that of damaging the delicate perineal tissue. Doctors and midwives ask whether you would prefer to have an episiotomy or risk a tear. Why not prepare the perineum beforehand with soothing massage? Studies have shown that women who perform daily perineal massages in preparation for childbirth are 30% more likely to deliver over an intact perineum. Besides making the tissue soft and supple, the massage can mentally prepare the woman to relax these muscles and open outward in response to pressure, a skill that will no doubt come in handy when the baby is making his way into the world.

Ideally, you should begin daily 5-10 minute massages at six to eight weeks prior to term. First, empty your bladder. Soaking for 5-15 minutes in warm water and lavender oil can relax the vaginal wall, making the perineal massage more comfortable. If you are doing the massage yourself, place one foot on the seat of a chair or the side of the bathtub; otherwise, a partner can perform the massage while you sit back comfortably with your back resting against pillows.

Mix 1 ounce wheat germ oil with 3 drops lavender and 1 drop geranium. (Sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, and cold-pressed olive oil are good substitutes for wheat germ oil. You can also use a blend of the oils.) After dipping into the massage oil, insert your thumb or middle fingers into the vagina just enough to stretch the perineal tissue, approximately two to three inches. Press the vaginal wall back toward the rectum, massaging in a U-shaped motion. Gently stretch the vagina open for 20-60 seconds, or until you feel a tingling or slight burning sensation. Stretch both the inner portions as well as the outer rim of the perineum. Make sure to wash hands thoroughly before and after perineal massage, and discard any unused oil.

Wherever you are planning to give birth, aromatherapy can be utilized. For use during labor and delivery, add to your suitcase your favorite essential oils and oil blends, an aromatic diffuser (electric models are the best for use in birthing centers and hospitals), flannels and bowls for compresses, and a plastic tub for sitz baths. Make sure to practice with your partner so that he or she is ready to serve you in your hour of need. Discussing your wishes with your health care provider is also a good idea, so that you don’t end up in a battle of wills just at the time you planned to create your ideal birth environment.

The following essential oils are ideal for labor and delivery. Due to the heightened sensitivity to smell during labor, it is best to use only a couple oils at a time.

Neroli, bergamot, rose, or frankincense help relieve fear and anxiety, and promote relaxation between contractions. These are good oils to use in your diffuser.

Lavender is good for aches, and helps in balancing and calming the laboring woman. After your cervix has dilated to at least 2 cm, you may consider taking a 30 minute lavender bath. Studies show that this can improve progress in labor and significantly reduces the need for drugs.

Between contractions, a foot or lower back massage can soothe and stimulate pain relief. Add 20 drops lavender and 8 drops clary sage in 4 ounces of olive oil.

Jasmine, lavender, or clary sage compresses can stimulate or strengthen contractions, and cool compresses to the forehead keep you feeling refreshed. To prepare a compress simply add 3-4 drops essential oil to a bowl of warm or cool water. Drape a flannel over the surface of the water to absorb the film of the oil. Ring out cloth and apply to area.

1 drop peppermint oil offered on a handkerchief can ward off nausea, or can be used as a pick-me-up during the transitional phase, when fatigue may settle in.

If tension is preventing you from opening the cervix during contractions, an abdominal massage or a compress of 8 drops Spikenard, 7 drops Jasmine, and 3 drops lemon verbena in 4 ounces olive oil can help. Evening primrose oil massaged directly on the cervix can also assist in relaxing the tissues.

Whatever turn your birthing takes, allow the effects of aromatherapy to penetrate your mind and relax your body.