What to Know About Using Essential Oils During Labor

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 20, 2022
4 min read

Essential oils are popular and can be used as a treatment for many types of illnesses. They recently have become even more popular to use during pregnancy. There are useful essential oils for labor and delivery, anxiety, and brain fog. 

There are many different oils, but only specific essential oils are good for moms-to-be. Always consult with your OB/GYN, nurse-midwife, or family doctor to learn more about essential oils and symptom management.  

The art and the science of the use of extracted natural fragrant essences from plants are called aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is said to balance the body, spirit, and mind, replacing stress with harmony. 

Natural essential oils are gathered by distillation and have the properties and fragrance of the source that they came from. Consequently, essential oils can be used for a variety of things. 

In recent years have been used more frequently by pregnant moms all over the world. Research has shown that the fragrances found in some essential oils can assist with labor and delivery, calm moms during pregnancy, and decrease pain perception.

Essential oils can serve various functions at various times during labor and delivery. It is important to choose smells that you find complimentary, though, because your sense of smell is heightened during pregnancy. 

A tiny drop of oil on cotton sniffed during labor is enough to begin the aromatherapy experience. A diffuser can spread the smell throughout the room.

Once labor begins, certain essential oils can promote labor contractions. These essential oils include:

  • Lavender: Lavender is very commonly used. It is blended with clary sage to encourage contractions and relaxation. It is safe to use during labor, and it can be added to carrier oil during a massage.   
  • Clary sage: When used with caution, clary sage is very powerful and causes contractions of the uterus. The sage should never be directly rubbed on the skin, though. Many hospitals have diffusers that spray the clary sage essential oil. Some midwives and doulas also carry clary sage.
  • Ylang ylang: This is a scent that is floral and feminine. It contains a component called linalool, which helps with anxiety. It reduces pain, stress, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Since it comes from a flower, it costs more than wood or citrus oils. During labor, it can be diffused or added to a carrier oil for a massage.

Using essential oils during labor can cause numerous outcomes. It is important that you and your laboring partner know which oils work for you.

  • Rose and Lavender: Research shows that rose and lavender decrease anxiety during labor. It also decreases the mom's perception of pain, which decreases when she is relaxed. Memories are strongly attached to the sense of smell, so if you have been soothed by the smell of rose and lavender in the past, perhaps during a massage, breathing in the same aroma during labor can help you to focus on that experience. This combination can be mixed with water in a spray bottle to lightly coat your pillow. This can help during labor and with sleep postpartum. 
  • Peppermint: Peppermint oil is good for managing headaches. It is also a good treatment for nasal congestion, nausea, and muscle aches. The inhalation of peppermint oil can also be useful during postpartum recovery to treat difficult urination.

Overall, the most common aromatherapy oils used for labor and delivery include:

  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Eucalyptus
  • Citrus scents, such as orange

Leading up to and continuing after birth, essential oils can help moms to sleep better. Postpartum, many moms are stressed and have trouble sleeping. Well-rested moms are better able to manage pain, according to research. A study done on 158 mothers after delivery showed that those who inhaled lavender from cotton balls experienced a significant increase in sleep quality compared to those who did not. 

Additional essential oils can reduce labor pain, vomiting, headaches, and more. Some of these commonly used oils are:

  • Chamomile
  • Ginger oil
  • Lemongrass

Meanwhile, a few less commonly used oils include:

  • Neroli – decreases anxious nerves
  • Mandarin – helps with fatigue and fluid retention  
  • Petitgrain – helps to fight depression prenatally

In many traditions, including Roman Catholicism, the realm of spirituality is considered to always be surrounding us. When a sacred space is created, it is said to bring the “heavens to earth” and bring a greater awareness of reality. Setting up a spiritual birthplace may include the use of crystals, lighting a candle, or perhaps even a rosary. 

Aromatherapy with essential oils can assist in creating this sacred space. The oils set the mind apart by engaging the senses and utilizing different parts of the brain. Popular “spiritual” essential oils include:

  • Sage
  • Frankincense
  • Vetiver essential oil/sweetgrass smudging

Of course, one does not have to use essential oils in a spiritual context to enjoy their medical benefits.

  • As with a lot of things in life, more of something is not always better. Pregnant moms who choose to use essential oils should initially use one drop of their oil of choice and eventually work up to 3 to 5 drops after building up some tolerance. Sensitivity to smell increases during pregnancy, so moms can get overwhelmed. Oils could even cause nausea. The use of a cotton ball is an easy way to start.
  • Do not orally take essential oils while pregnant. Research has not yet shown if this is safe for either you or your baby.
  • Do not put concentrated oil on your skin. Many oils often need a carrier oil to dilute. An aromatherapist can give you directions on oil prep, though, to avoid skin irritation.

As with any new items being introduced for health, it is best to speak to your doctor to see if essential oils are good for you.