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!
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.