Essential oils are incredibly useful and effective when used properly during labor. They can curb nausea, relieve anxiety, and provide pain relief. When used safely, essential oils can be an incredible non-invasive way to support a birther during labor.
Essential Oil Safety
First and foremost, it’s important to buy reputable and authentic essential oils. They should be decently expensive and come in small glass containers. Anything over 20 ml or under $10 is probably not trustworthy. Using a low quality or artificial oil can disrupt estrogen levels, which is counterproductive to the natural release of chemicals during labor.
Secondly, essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin. They are concentrated oils, and can have adverse reactions when applied to skin. (Some people recommend applying essential oils topically, I do not). Unless specifically advised by a medical doctor, do not apply any non diluted essential oils to the skin. It’s also a bad idea to apply them to your skin during labor in case you get sick of a certain scent, or have an adverse reaction.
What Essential Oil Scents to Use
There are three general scents you should use during labor. A floral scent, a citrus, and a mint. All three serve different purposes and can be useful for different emotions and sensations during labor.
A floral scent, such as lavender or lily, can be used to relax. This can be helpful to release anxiety, ground your baby and body, and center yourself into your labor. Partnering a calming scented essential oil with affirmations or hypnosis can be a wonderful way to incorporate all senses during labor.
A citrus essential oil, like orange, can give a real energy boost during labor. If you’re getting ready to push, or trying to incorporate movement, utilizing a citrus essential oil can give you a boost of energy without a crash.
A mint essential oil, like peppermint, can curb nausea. Mint scents are particularly helpful during transition, which is when most birthers experience nausea during labor.
How to Use Essential Oils
“The Waft Method” - My personal favorite method is wafting the essential oil under your nose, back and forth. If labor is too intense, having a doula or partner waft it for you is particularly helpful. The movement of the essential oil makes it so you can continue to smell it, as opposed to keeping it in one spot and getting used to the scent. This also allows for easily switching up the scents depending on preference or need. You can also apply a few drops of essential oil to a cloth and waft the cloth under your nose, as opposed to the bottle of essential oils.
“Diffusing” - Probably the most common method of using essential oils is with a diffuser. You can buy any diffuser and place a few drops of essential oils into it, creating fragrance for the entire room. If you do choose to diffuse, please ask the hospital / birthing staff if anyone has allergies or sensitivity to essential oils before use. Additionally, this can be frustrating if the birther gets sick of a certain scent, and there is no way to remove the scent from the air. Adversely, everyone in the room benefits from diffusing essential oils. The birther, partner, doula, and medical staff all reap the benefits of essential oils and diffusing them creates a calming and positive environment for everyone involved.
“Urinary Relief” - Perhaps the least known but most amazing benefit of peppermint essential oil is its ability to make you urinate. During active labor, it’s important to empty the bladder before pushing, as to free up space for the baby’s head to descend into the pelvis. However, the many sensations of labor and contractions can make it difficult to urinate. A lesser known essential oil trick is to place a few drops of peppermint essential oil into the toilet bowl (*do not apply to skin or vulva) and sit. The sensation of the peppermint oil from the water causes the urethra to release urine. And voila, you’ve peed!
Essential oils are safe and effective when used properly during labor. As always, ask your doctor or midwife for their opinion and advice on essential oils. A doula can help with essential oil questions and use during the stages of labor - and most doulas keep a few in their bag!
Expectant parents have a never ending to-do list to prepare for a new baby. Somewhere at the top of the list should be creating a birth plan. During birth, the frontal lobe - aka the decision making and logical thinking part of our brain - turns off. The majority of brain activity is focussed in the back of our brain - the mammalian part. Which is convenient that our bodies inherently know how to birth offspring and will naturally do so, but unhelpful when an array of modern medical procedures and interventions are presented to us without the ability to think critically. A birth plan provides the opportunity to review the evidence for various birth procedures prior to labor, while the ability to think critically and rationally is still functioning.
What is a Birth Plan?
A birth plan is a list of preferences for your ideal birth. Your birth plan should include your desires about early and active labor, medical intervention, pushing, and newborn care. Birth plans are not set in stone, as many variables change throughout the entire process. Birth plans are unique to each birth - so you should rewrite one for each pregnancy. Most doulas have their own checklist or outline for formatting a birth plan, but some hospitals have premade birth plans their staff are more familiar with. It’s best to check with your obstetrician or midwife to see what is routine for their practice.
A successful birth plan is maximum one page in length. It can seem overwhelming to shorten all this info into a single page, but a doula can be helpful in discussing where your birth plan specifics differ from routine practice.
What’s the Importance of a Birth Plan?
A birth plan is less a concrete, unchangeable outline of your labor, and more an educational resource for the birther. The process of creating a birth plan allows the birther to explore evidence based information regarding birthing procedures and interventions. This provides an added layer of advocacy and autonomy for the birther, so they can be better prepared for the options that will be given to them during labor. A birth plan will inform the labor and delivery staff of your preferences. Some birthers who want to achieve natural labor would prefer the staff doesn’t offer an epidural or narcotics. This can be specified in a birth plan. Additionally, if your obstetrician is not available for your birth (which is common unless in the case of a planned induction), the obstetrician delivering your baby will be more familiar with your preferences.
Birth plans can also include trauma and sexual trauma history. These topics are essential to birth, but rarely included in medical history. It is a safe, unspoken, non triggering way to disclose your trauma history with your medical team. Additionally, having a doula who’s aware of your previous trauma can help advocate for you in a safe and respectful way.
Creating a birth plan also gives the partner of the birther the ability to be included in the decision making process for their child. Even though the partner is not birthing the child, establishing a mutually agreed on birthing plan involves the partner in the first decisions being made in their child’s life.
Why Should I Create a Backup Birth Plan?
I can almost guarantee your birth will not be identical to how it was envisioned. Every labor is unique, each baby presents differently, and there are hundreds of variables in a single labor. Creating a backup birth plan prepares the birther to advocate for themselves in an unpredictable scenario. If the birther was planning a vaginal delivery, but an unforeseen cesarean is unavoidable, a backup birth plan could include preferences for a cesarean delivery. This makes the change more palatable, and leaves the birther and their partner less overwhelmed. Having a backup birth plan can also help in reflecting and honoring the birth. At least one thing is set to change from your initial goal for labor, and having a backup plan or alternative possibilities can help the birther feel more confident in their birth even though their initial desires had to be adjusted. This can be extremely useful in the months to come as the birther reflects on their birthing experience.
Topics / Procedures Included in a Birth Plan:
Your birth plan should include your preferences sorted into three sections: background details, labor & giving birth, and after birth.
Labor & Giving Birth:
A doula can help provide you the unbiased education and evidence based studies for procedures and interventions that could take place during birth. Scheduling a prenatal visit with a doula can help you and your partner discuss the best options for your birth plan.
Tessa Vasiliadis is a birth doula in the Greater Boston area. Tessa is passionate about reproductive rights and education, as well as creating a healthy and successful birthing experience for all birthers regardless of gender identity, race, or socioeconomic status.