Aromatherapy Options for Child-Birthing by Brittany Wilhelm
Life is a beautiful miracle. The most exhilarating experience of giving birth is mixed with both bittersweet pain and the most euphoric joy once the new little life is placed into the mother’s welcoming arms. Nine months of carrying this growing baby in her womb strengthens the immediate bond established between mother and her baby at the very moment of entrance from her womb. All hardship is forgotten, and now love and joy encompass this precious little baby as he or she begins a brand new life.
Every human being today has come into this world through the most spectacular of delivery processes from the mother’s intricate womb. The birthing of a child is a most natural course of life, and a very beautiful one. Many incredible activities are happening in the mother’s body in such a uniquely harmonious fashion, allowing her to bring forth a new generation from her own flesh. The mystery of proliferation has always been of the greatest enigmas of life.
The Birthing Process
A multitude of complex movements happening amongst the mother’s organs, hormones, bodily chemicals, and intelligent cellular communication are happening during this process. Her systems have to work conjunctively together in the most stressful of minutes and yet still in perfect communication. She is feeling sensations in areas she’s never felt before; her muscles are stretching like they’ve never stretched before, and the intruding thoughts she has to battle in order to make it through this long delivery moment. The end result is so much more fulfilling than she would have thought possible during the difficult progression.
All this accumulation of stress happening in the birthing mother’s body is collectively called a process of “labor”, where her internal muscles are working in capacities and intensities that they don’t normally work in. The physiology of this process involves three major hormones which initiate and further the progress of labor, and then help the mother through the recovery process as the baby begins life outside of the uterus. The three hormones are: catecholamines (stress hormones), oxytocin, and endorphins.
When the labor pains increase, the levels of oxytocin are rising in her body. The instinctive reaction is for her to change positions and try to ease the pain through slight movements. High oxytocin levels along with the increased pain send messages to the brain with more hormones, which causes the endorphins to be released. When these arrive, they help decrease the perception of the labor pain and moderate the amount of oxytocin, allowing the uterus and the woman to have a break. The endorphins come to relieve her of the pain experience until the rhythm starts again.1 For first time mothers, the labor process can last anywhere from six to twelve hours, on average. The cervix must be dilated to 10cm before the baby can begin its delivery.
During this labor process as the oxytocin is being released, the uterus surrounding the baby begins to push the baby downwards into the birth canal, shifting the surrounding organs into different positions. The cervix (the opening of the uterus) stretches to accommodate the size of the child preparing to make its grand debut. This causes sensitive skin to extend to new lengths, though they are created for and capable of this very process. Contractions begin to occur immediately before childbirth, which are a tightening of the muscles of the womb that occur at increasingly frequent intervals and eventually push the baby out of the womb.2 These happen each time the uterus muscles flex, producing pain sensations like a strong cramp. They last about 30-60 seconds each and allow for rest to happen in between.3
Because the labor pain is stronger and more frequent than any other type the woman has experienced in her life, over 50% of women in labor opt for a pain- reducing option. The most popular of which is an epidural anesthesia – a pain-relieving injection into the woman’s lower back – which numbs her body from the waist down, especially including the uterus which is the source of most of her child-birthing pain. On the positive side, this injection relieves the woman’s mind from feeling the pain from the lower half of her body.
This epidural injected in her lower back next to the spinal cord fundamentally cuts off the pain communication between the lower body and the brain. There is a common belief about labor pain – in general – that it is the most helpful ingredient to the progression of the baby’s arrival. When the pain is felt, the mother naturally shifts her body to accommodate it and momentarily relieve the pressure. This process of constantly changing her body position is actually benefiting the baby’s movement down the birth canal, which is argued against being interfered by pain-reducers such as epidurals.
An aspect of using an epidural which is commonly overlooked is the aspect that the lower half of the mother’s body is now without sensation; she no longer feels the pain accompanying the birth process, but unfortunately she is also unable to feel the muscles she needs to use to push the baby out. This may cause complications if the baby does not emerge from the birth canal within the necessary time frame.
Another issue that may occur during giving birth happens when the cervix has not dilated widely enough. Such a “labor stall” may occur where the labor does not progress and contractions are not strong enough to push the baby down the birth canal quickly enough. The mother’s body gets out of sync with itself and needs an outside influence in order to progress this delivery process.
Aromatherapy Use and Safety
Aromatherapy is becoming a more popular choice for women who are looking for healthier and more natural pain-relieving options during the birthing process. To define, aromatherapy is “the art and science of using essential oils to heal common ailments and/or complaints.”4 Instead of using the traditional epidural which eliminates both pain and necessary sensations, many women are turning to a more organic approach to reduce the unbearableness of the pain while still experience the miracles of her body giving birth to a beautiful new baby. Several different essential oils work well in conjunction with each other to accomplish this modus operandi and have shown much success in practice.
Much research and the assistance of a certified aromatherapist is imperative when choosing to go this route because of the sensitivity to the oils that the pregnant mother may have during this time in her life. Many oils may cause negative reactions in either the baby or in her own body, which is why specialized and only expert treatment is vital. When this happens, aromatherapy can offer positive and pleasant experiences for the mother, both during and after the delivery process.
As we begin looking at how to use essential oils for the well-being of the birthing mother through this process, the first issue of concern is always safety. The oils used must be recognized as the highest quality oils, 100% pure – even of therapeutic quality – with no added synthetics, pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals. Also, the supplier should report their oils as being organic (not necessarily certified) and from non-genetically modified (GMO) seeds. The quality of the oils is important so that the mother knows exactly what she is using through this intense and vulnerable delivery process when all her body’s organs – including the largest one being the skin – are under great duress and sensitive to everything that in the environment at this time. The oils are very concentrated so the highest quality needs to be administered to her.
Therapy with aroma in this sense of childbirth can be particularly helpful with the stress, emotionally-triggered delivery process, and physical needs such as: stretched or striated abdominal wall, high blood pressure, labor pain, xyphoid process pain, avoiding a tear, misalignment of baby, hemorrhaging, fear, retained placenta, and/or others.
To quote Bensouilah and Buck on safety, they say, “The use of essential oils in pregnancy is a contentious subject, especially during the vital first 3-month period. It is extremely unlikely that a nightly bath containing a few drops of essential oils will cause any problems for the unborn child,”5 and also that “there are no records of abnormal fetuses or aborted fetuses due to the ‘normal’ use of essential oils, either by inhalation or topical application.”6 This information is comforting and may reassure delivering mothers that the use of these oils most likely will not harm or injure the baby she is birthing.
Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy
The selection of oils is extremely important during this stage in a woman’s life, and research must be done to see which oils are safe for her use. According to the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA), “there are oils that should not be used in aromatherapy at all, regardless of whether the client is pregnant or not. These include: sassafras, wormwood, cassia, pennyroyal, mustard, and elecampane.”7 These oils should be avoided, and especially during pregnancy.
Other oils that have high levels of phenols, ethers and aromatic aldehydes can sometimes irritate the skin, which should require additional care and precaution. Oils that are high in these compositions, and should therefore be avoided during both pregnancy and also delivery include the following: Cassia, Wintergreen, Birch, Anise, Tarragon, and Clove Bud. The oils safe for the nine months are typically higher in alcohol content overall.8
To investigate into the use of aromatherapy in intrapartum midwifery practice, a study was done on 8,058 mothers giving birth between 1990-1998, all of which were subject to ten different essential oils were used among different intervention and control groups. Among the essential oils, these were used: Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Rose (Rosa damascena), and Frankincense (Boswellia carterii). The study found that 54% of the birthing mothers had a decrease in pain from the Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and fewer women (than normal) asked for epidural anesthesia.9
Essential Oils to Use Topically
Through the use of some specific essential oils, positive effects can be experienced during labor and delivery, and the use of even one of these oils will have more positive effects than not using any at all.
The following listed may help encourage feelings of connectedness, relaxation and wellness. The oils may be used at an 8% dilution per single-use when necessary, or in blends of a maximum of three oils together. Having the oils blended with one or more carrier oils is important for the effects of the essential oils to last longer and be gentler on the person under stress, which would apply in this situation with a mother giving birth.
The following oils may help the delivery process in the following ways:
Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
This oil has shown to help a number of women in inducing labor and strengthen the contractions and aid cervical dilation. The chemistry is similar to estrogen, which may stimulate both uterine muscles and also encourage relaxation. Because the scent may be unfavorable to some, it is recommended in a diluted topical application.10
Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
This oil relaxes muscles, easing the pain of contractions while allowing them to work more efficiently. May be applied to wrists and ankles.
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
Geranium may help stimulate circulation, ease breathing, and regulate the pulse and blood pressure. It is similar to both Clary Sage and Jasmine. May be applied topically.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
Nutmeg supports the adrenals and nervous system, and help with both fatigue and blood sugar levels.11
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
Frankincense grounds the mother and helps her focus on the birth. 12 It is also a calming oil that may help relieve pain and anxiety. Used along with Myrrh, this blend may help to heal the umbilical cord and help the pulsing to calm down. This may be applied topically to area of pain.13
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint should not be used topically during pregnancy; only through inhalation. However, it may be one of the most useful oils during delivery. It provides equilibrium support and digestive support to prevent vomiting. It has a calming effect and may help to relieve some delivery discomfort. 14 Apply to back of neck or wrists and ankles.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is a relaxing oil which can be used through the entire pregnancy and delivery process. It helps relax the muscles and skeletal structure, helps takes the edge off pain and is good for topical application for premature contractions. In a blend with other oils, especially Jasmine, it may help to induce labor.
Chamomile, German (Matricaria recutita)
Chamomile has been shown to bring a relaxing effect, to uplift, and to calm those in stressful situations. This oil is very gentle and may be applied to back of neck or wrist and ankles. 15
Many doulas and midwives are using aromatherapy now for a more relieving experience. One doula named Hailey Aliff stated, “I have personally used Clary Sage at multiple births which were either stalled or moving slower than normal. After each dose of Clary Sage used at the proper time, the mothers would have a big contraction with a lot of progress following it.”16
Oils for Inhalation
During the period of delivery, the birth-giving mother is extremely sensitive to her smells and surroundings. A maximum of three oils should be mixed together for a diffusing blend. The following oils are helpful to either have the mother smell by inhaling or by topical 8% dilution:
Though Jasmine should not be used at any time during the pregnancy, it may be good for inducing labor at the time of delivery. It is helpful when there is a lack of progress during delivery, also stalling out of labor and with emotional support. It may be inhaled either individually or blended with Lavender oil, or applied to the wrist and ankles or back of neck.
Rose (Rosa damascena)
Though this oil is expensive, it has been found to be more effective than the lavender oil at releasing anxiety and calming women. It may be diffused or inhaled during delivery to improve everyone’s emotions, confidence and ability to focus.
Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora)
This oil may be used for lack of delivery progress, fear or tension.17 It may also be applied to the wrist and ankles or back of neck.
Testimony after testimony from women who have used aromatherapy for their child-birthing needs are being found now, and in online studies and research projects. For the mother who is expecting a child and is precarious about the pain and how to deal with it in the hours of delivery, aromatherapy is a growing alternative to safe pain relief, as opposed to the traditional epidural route. Using essential oils for the process of birth does not guarantee a perfect birth, a quick 2-hour birth, or a pain-free one. However, these oils do help during the entire process to relieve, relax, support, ground, and balance the mother as she goes through one of the most memorable times of her life. Giving birth to a precious new baby is not a small endeavor and deserves the utmost attention in order to have the most rewarding experience. Aromatherapy is a growing practice helping to achieve this preferred result in almost every situation when administered.
1 Judith A. Lothian, Choices in Childbirth, (2008), (The Purpose and Power of Pain in Labor).
2 Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition] (1998-2007). Microsoft Word Edition.
3 Pain During Childbirth, (2011-2016), Women’s Specialists of New Mexico, LTD. http://wsnm.org/Forms/Pain.During.Childbirth.pdf
4 Totilo, R. (2013), Therapeutic Blending with Essential Oil, Rebecca at the Well Foundation.
5 Bensouilah J, and Buck P. (2006), Aromadermatology. Abindon, UK: Radcliffe Publishing Ltd.
7 Pregnancy Guidelines, (2013), International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists.
8 Totilo, R. (2013), Therapeutic Blending with Essential Oil, Rebecca at the Well Foundation.
9 Burns, E., Blamey, C., Ersser, S., Barnetson, L., Lloyd, A. (2000), Journal of Alternative & Complementary Therapies.
10 Karen Newell, Better Childbirth Outcomes, (2011-2012), (Natural Induction). http://www.better-childbirth-outcomes.com/natural-induction.html
11 MindBodyandSoleOnline, (2010), Essential Oils for Women, Pregnancy, Childbirth and Children of All Ages, Butterfly Miracles with Essential Oils.
12 Burns, E., Blamey, C., Ersser, S., Barnetson, L., Lloyd, A. (2000), Journal of Alternative & Complementary Therapies.
13 Crews, Hannah, DownLavenderLane, (2014), Essential Oils for Pregnancy and Childbirth: My Story, https://downlavenderlane.com/2014/07/02/essential-oils-for-pregnancy-and-childbirth-my-story/. 14 Ibid.
15 Kate, ModernAlternativePregnancy, (2013), Essential Solutions for Labor, http://www.modernalternativepregnancy.com/2013/06/10/essential-oils-for-labor/.