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Creative Uses for Aromatherapy During Labor
by Nancy Eggleston

All women have a strong desire to experience birth in a safe, comfortable and relaxed environment. Whether you plan to be at home, at a birthing center or in a hospital, consider surrounding yourself with favorite comfy, soft and pampering items to add a sense of familiarity and control during labor and birth. Aromatherapy and the healing properties of herbs are wonderful gifts to bring with you to accomplish these goals. They are excellent tools for preparing your body and mind for the wonder of birth and for calming anxiety or stress during labor.

If you have never used aromatherapy before, begin slowly and test some of the many aromatic scents ahead of time. Become familiar so that you know what may be pleasing to you as opposed to what may bother you during labor. Remember, your senses may be heightened during labor. We suggest that you make a trip to a specialty store that stocks excellent quality essential oils, talk with someone knowledgeable, choose two or three you enjoy, and then follow some of the suggested recipes and craft ideas below.

First, it is important to note that many essential oils are safe and helpful during pregnancy and childbirth. Some are useful alternatives to drugs. Yet there are several that can be harmful, causing menstrual bleeding, contractions of the uterus and/or possible miscarriage. We have included, at the bottom of this page, a partial list of essential oils and herbs you will want to stay away from during pregnancy. As you move into labor, a few of these essential oils are suggested, as you will note below. Please be sure to check with your midwife, health care provider or doctor before using any herbs or essential oils during pregnancy or labor. Never ingest essential oils.

Some citrus oils (bergamot, grapefruit, orange and lemon) are fine to use during pregnancy. Their uplifting effects, as well as their ability to ease an unsettled stomach, cause them to be a soothing choice for aromatherapy. We suggest that you not use them directly on the skin, especially before exposure to direct sunlight as they can cause skin pigmentation. Simply add a drop or two to a diffuser filled with water, place nearby, breathe deeply and enjoy.

Soothing and healing properties to choose from:

Geranium, rosemary, lavender and chamomile have pain relieving and relaxant effects.
Lavender is very balancing and calming. It is also very good for headaches.
Geranium supports circulation and breathing, and boasts antidepressant effects.
Neroli is a very good anti-depressant, but it also helps with anxiety, fear and apprehension.
Rose is considered a very feminine oil and is used as a uterine tonic which supports labor.
Jasmine is uplifting and yet balancing.
Bergamot is calming and relaxing.
Ylang Ylang is a strong scent - be certain that you find it pleasing ahead of time. I happen to love it, but may not have during labor. If you do enjoy this scent, it is a good choice for helping to lower blood pressure. It can be soothing and relaxing.

Aromatherapy uses many different methods to introduce the healing and calming properties of plant scents into your body or mind and awareness. Some essential oils, diluted with natural oils such as jojoba or almond, can be applied to the skin as a massage to reduce aches and pains and promote relaxation. (Use olive oil if you have nut allergies.) Many women choose to anoint chakra centers for relaxation, concentration and emotional strength. Here is a wonderful article with recipes and instructions.

Some women prefer not to be touched, massaged or rubbed in any way during labor. They also may not enjoy the lingering effect of an oil or scent directly on their skin. The suggestions below are especially wonderful for those of us who prefer a very light scent that can be easily removed from the room. Choose just a couple favorite scents and try to stick with those. It's easy to get excited and blend too many. The aroma is wonderful now, but later, during labor, less is better.

  • Make a spritzer by combining one or two drops of an essential oil listed above and four ounces of water. Pour into a clean, small spray bottle and shake well. Store in the refrigerator until labor day. You can adjust the amount of oil later if you find that you want a drop or two more.

    • If you are allowed to bathe during labor, spritz into the water for a soothing and relaxing soak.

    • Spritz on a pretty handkerchief and pamper yourself - how special is that?! You can hold it, twist it, wipe yourself with it, and share with your birthing partner when you've had enough.

    • Spray into the birthing room gently to soften and freshen the air around you.

    • Spritz on your feet for a clean, fresh feeling. Peppermint is a good choice for your feet as it is cooling and refreshing. Your feet are far enough away from your nose that the smell may be ignored if it bothers you later. Chances are, the scent will be gone quickly.

  • Choose a soft, pure cotton handkerchief or washcloth. Fold it over, sew up three sides and fill halfway with a mixture of rice and one tablespoon of dried lavender. Sew up the third side. Place in the freezer or in an air-tight plastic bag and set in an ice chest. This can be placed over your eyes for relaxation. (See Aromatherapy for Labor & Childbirth for chakra centers and place over each one during labor stages.) Other herbs to choose from are: dried orange or grapefruit peel, dried and crumbled rose petals, dried chamomile or raspberry leaves. Make several of these and keep a few ready to microwave in case you feel chilled.

  • Fill a new, soft, cotton tube sock with approximately 1/2 cup of rice and one or two tablespoons of dried lavender so that the amount fits neatly into the palm of your hand like a round ball. (Lavender is antiseptic and it is very soothing for aching backs and limbs.) Cut, and sew up the open end. Your birth partner can use this to rub the small of your back if you have back labor. This item can also be made by sewing about a half inch above the filled rice, then tying a knot at the top of the sock. Hold the sock in the palm of your hand, with the knotted end coming up between your thumb and first finger. It makes a nice "handle."

  • Fill a square piece of muslin fabric with a mixture of rolled oats and lavender or other dried herb. Pull corners up and tie tightly with a ribbon or string. Rub gently on your tummy, legs, back or neck. The oats are calming and soothing, as are the dried herbs.

  • Fill a small bowl with hot water and a few drops of your choice of essential oils above. Set somewhere in the room where it can be enjoyed, yet easily removed.

  • Add a drop or two of essential oil to a very natural, unscented body lotion. Some bath shops carry these, or you can make your own easily using recipes from Janice Cox's Natural Beauty books. Keep handy and ask your birthing partner to rub on your feet, back or legs during labor.

Part of our femininity is the wisdom to know how to care for ourselves and connect with healing. The joy is in doing so. The love is in sharing what we have learned. We wish you a very joyful, loving and calm birth filled with wisdom and good health.

Essential Oils to stay clear of during pregnancy:
Basil, clary sage, cedarwood, cypress, fennel, jasmine, juniper, lemongrass, marjoram, myrrh, origanum, parsley, peppermint, rose, rosemary and thyme

Herbs not to be taken during pregnancy may include:
  • rue
  • golden seal
  • juniper
  • autumn rocus
  • mistletoe
  • bearberry
  • pennyroyal
  • poke root
  • southernwood
  • wormwood
  • mugwort
  • tansy
  • nutmeg
  • cotton root
  • male fern
  • thuja
  • calendula
  • beth root
  • feverfew
  • sage

Additional Resources:
  . Aromatherapy Recipes for Labor and Childbirth by Francoise Rapp
  • Susun Weed's Meditation for Relaxation During Labor
  • Herbal Allies for Pregnant Women by Susun S. Weed

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