Emily Sisco, C.N.M.
Birthing Centers, Midwifery, Obstetrics & Gynecology (OB-GYN), Women's Health
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Women will often ask me about the use of essential oils in labor. Essential oils can be used for many things, and they’re starting to be used more and more by pregnant women around the world. Essential oils are natural oils that are obtained by distillation and have a characteristic fragrance of a plant or other source from which they came.
Oils can be used for a variety of ailments. They are becoming more common to use during pregnancy, labor and postpartum to treat anxiety, aches and lack of focus. There are so many to choose from, but here are a few that may help pregnant women.
I have talked with women who have had success managing headaches in pregnancy with peppermint oil. Peppermint oil can also be helpful for nausea, nasal congestion and muscle aches. Peppermint oil inhalation has even been found to be helpful for postpartum women who have difficulty emptying their bladder, too.
Lavender and rose
Studies have found that lavender and rose essential oils can decrease anxiety in labor. We know that a woman’s perception of pain also can decrease when she is relaxed. Because the sense of smell is strongly linked with memory, if you’ve experienced relaxation with the smell of lavender or rose in the past, inhaling it during labor likely will help you recall these relaxing experiences.
I personally have used many essential oils, but my favorite is lavender. I use lavender oil mixed with water in a spray bottle on my pillow to promote restful sleep. This technique might be especially helpful for postpartum moms.
Want to try them?
If you are pregnant and would like to try essential oils, consider:
- Like many things, more is not necessarily better. I recommend pregnant woman start with one drop of their chosen essential oil and increase up to three to five drops based on their tolerance. Pregnancy can increase sensitivity to smell, and some women can find aromatherapy overwhelming. It may even trigger symptoms, such as nausea. Try placing the oil on a tissue or cotton ball for inhalation, which can easily be removed if you don’t tolerate it well.
- Avoid placing it on your skin. Oils often require a carrier oil, such as coconut or almond oil, to dilute the oil and avoid skin irritation. A qualified aromatherapist can give more details regarding preparation of specific oils.
- Do not ingest essential oils during pregnancy. There just isn’t enough research to support that this is safe for your baby.
- Even though I use them, the research is still limited, and it is best to talk to your medical provider first.
Emily Sisco is a certified nurse-midwife with Mayo Clinic Health System