Should You Use Essential Oils During Pregnancy and Birth? We Asked the Experts
A 2019 review on the effects of essential oils on labor, published on ScienceDirect suggested that aromatherapy can indeed reduce birthing pain.
As more people incorporate aromatherapy into their pregnancy journeys, questions about safety and efficacy come up. Organic Aromas sought to get first-hand information from the experts about essential oils and pregnancy.
This article features practicing aromatherapists, holistic practitioners, aromatherapy midwives and a doctor who shed more light into this topic. We also feature target group survey data results that unearth how people use essential oils during pregnancy and birth.
Organic Aromas asked these professionals whether essential oils were suitable or effective during pregnancy and birth, and this is a round-up of what they had to say.
Expert Advice on Essential Oils During Pregnancy and Birth
Nicole Schlogel is a certified midwife, aromatherapist and yoga teacher. She has been working with families for over 25 years, helping create successful natural birthing experiences. She works with women right from the beginning, incoporating aromatherapy at evey stage.
Organic Aromas: To your clients, you offer aroma massages for functional birth. Please explain to our readers what a functional birth is, and the importance therein.
Nicole: Our bodies are three dimensional, moving organisms and they function best when they are in balanced alignment with the spine at the center.
During pregnancy the body of one person grows inside of the body of another person and this can create imbalances in a woman’s posture or it can highlight imbalances that were present before the pregnancy.
Birth is a bodily function and it, too, works best when the pregnant body is in balanced alignment with the spine.
For me the term functional birth describes a birth that can enfold freely because the birthing body is balanced and aligned and therefore the baby can easily go through the movements of birth called the cardinal movements.
As a midwife I have seen many labors complicated by a baby who is in a position that isn’t favorable for a smooth birth. I am a curious person and I was searching for a reason why in some cases no matter what we did in labor, the baby just wouldn’t go through his or her movements to be born.
I observed that when I dinged deeper the people who struggled to give birth were often people who had a sore hip or back in pregnancy. They didn’t address the issue in pregnancy and they simply taught: ‘ Must be the position of the baby that’s causing the pain’.
Those observations got me curious and they have led me down the path of learning from some amazing body work teachers. Now, my approach is that the baby’s position is caused by the same issue that caused pain in the first place. In order to help with this and to prepare my clients for giving birth, I use massage supported by yoga based passive and active stretching routines. To enhance the effects of the treatments I use aromatherapy blends specific to the woman’s needs and I teach deep diaphragmatic breathing.
It’s a truly holistic approach that can include extra coaching if my clients want to deepen the effects of the sessions. During the hands on sessions my clients get a beautiful aroma massage with passive stretches. After their hands on session with me they get plenty of active stretches and deep breathing activities to do at home.
I see you offer online sessions with teachings and instructional videos, did you start offering these virtual services after the pandemic and how has the experience/reception been?
Yes, I did not expect to offer online services at all. I started offering my service in September of 2019 and just as it was gaining some momentum and people started finding me, the first lockdown happened. Initially I just put the my self employment on hold and went back to working full time shifts at my local maternity hospital and birth center.
When the second lockdown happened I decided that I needed to find a way to bring my vast experience and knowledge to my clients and I started to tentatively create an online presence. Now I run a busy online pregnancy coaching program helping pregnant vegans have a healthy and active pregnancy and personalize their birth plans so that they can look forward to giving birth to their babies naturally and on their own terms. I take clients from as early in their pregnancy as they wish right through to when their babies are ten days old.
What kind of essential oil blends do you use in your aroma massages and why?
I have a signature pain blend that I have used for many years and for many occasions. It includes German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomila), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Spanish Marjoram (Origanum marjorana).
The German Chamomile has anti-inflammatory as well as pain relief properties whilst offering calming and soothing effects that can help with anxiety. I use lavender for the same reason. I add Spanish Marjoram for its ability to relieve muscular tension. The three oils complement each other excellently and I have continued success for my clients with hip and low back pain.
You have stated that when done right, aromatherapy massages prepare women for birth. Please shed more light on this, and why women need to prepare in this respect.
When I talk about the aroma massages themselves as a way of preparing for birth, I mean that we need to consider the pregnant body as a biodynamic, three dimensional moving organism. We want to guide our touch and intention in such a way that brings balance and alignment to our clients so that birth can unfold with ease.
It’s the pregnant woman’s responsibility to consider her movement and lifestyle practices. An active and healthy lifestyle will result in a healthier pregnancy and an easier birth, no doubt. Body work, nutrition and movement are vital in my opinion.
But that’s not the whole story. There needs to be birth education, too and here is why: If someone wants a natural birth in today’s maternity systems, it is not enough to simply go with the flow and hope for the best.
Pregnancy and birth interventions are overused and cause birth trauma and caesarean sections that are not always needed. If someone wants a natural birth, they need to prepare and learn about pregnancy and birth so that they can stand their ground and make informed decisions when interventions are offered. It is hard to decide if you truly need to have an induction of labour for example when your provider only presents one side of the coin to you. Balance is again what is needed in order to choose.
I have met countless women who went into pregnancy expecting everyone to consider it a normal event in their lives and therefore resulting in a natural birth who have had their dreams crushed by a maternity system that focuses only on risk, not the bigger picture.
My approach offers pregnancy lifestyle coaching and education for my online and for my hands on clients.
What piece of advice would you give a pregnant lady or one trying to conceive regarding the use of essential oils in their journey?
Health concerns the body, mind and spirit. Essential oils can support us on all of those levels. There’s a blend for most pregnancy ailments.
Pre-pregnancy and early pregnancy are also often anxious times. Waiting for a pregnancy to announce itself and then adapting to being pregnant and the hugeness of this news can cause emotional turmoil and I like to address this with roman chamomile, neroli and sweet orange oils.
For nausea I like citrus oils, especially lemon and also peppermint and ginger.
Later in pregnancy, a belly oil with cypress, neroli and juniper can help with preventing stretch marks.
Feel free to download my Aromatherapy For Vegan Pregnancy Guide here for some of my favorite recipes to address common ailments in a cruelty free way.
Alison Angold is a Certified Aromatherapist and Massage Therapist for over 25 years. She has shared her expertise in Thrive Global, Healthline, among other leading publications.
“Having essential oils in a birthing kit is an ideal way to relax the mind and body, while easing the pain of labor at the same time. Jasmine essential oil is useful during labour as it is known to strengthen uterine contractions, so could potentially ease childbirth – even though this could be the case, it is always best to speak to your doctor or midwife about the use during labor.
Lavender is a good all-round oil, and the scent of the lavender can help to soothe the body and calm the mind, so that a sense of well-being is given.
Mandarin is considered the only oil that is safe to use throughout pregnancy, and has a light, refreshing aroma, which will help create positivity and reduce anxiety, through the process of childbirth.
Petitgrain is another oil that might be chosen due to its potential to not only decrease anxiety, tension and nervousness, but can also calm the stomach muscles, so would be a good oil to have on hand for after delivery, to soothe and calm stomach tension and help the body recover.
It is important to note that the use of many essential oils is not advised during pregnancy, and to always check with your GP or midwife before using them.”
Louise Broadbridge is a Registered Senior Midwife, Mother & Founder of Let’s Talk Birth & Baby. Louise has worked in health care for over 25 years and believes that care provision should be based on the individual. Every pregnancy, labor, birth and transition to parenthood should be one that is cocooned in help and support from highly qualified and professional practitioners.
She founded Let’s talk birth & baby in 2017 is the face behind Instagram @thehonestmidwife. Louise has delivered antenatal courses to over 20,000 expectant parents and strives for more honesty surrounding the transition from young and single to pregnant, early parenthood and beyond offering evidence-based information, support and advice minus all the fluff! Louise is currently the spokesperson for Bluebell.
Organic Aromas: Should women even consider using essential oils for birthing?
Aromatherapy is a beautiful way of enhancing your labor and birth experience and can even support you in the days and weeks that follow your baby’s arrival.
Aromatherapy Essential Oils are used in two different ways: Inhalation and skin absorption.
Inhalation prompts the body’s sense of smell which can detect 1000s of different aromas. The more volatile the oil the easier it is to smell. Use of diffusers and handheld fans are ways of using aromatherapy via inhalation.
Skin absorption via light touch massage and use in baths, foot spas, compresses and rubs is a pleasant and effective way to introduce the many positive properties of essential oils into the body.
Organic Aromas: What are the best essential oils to include in a birthing kit?
Clary Sage – helps to promote contractions, aids sleep and can even help with breastfeeding.
Lavender is a trusted and reassuring oil that is amazingly versatile. Using either a massage oil or by diffusion, the oils from this evergreen shrub can help to heal the skin, help circulation in addition to helping to keep you calm and relaxed.
Mandarin is packed with antioxidants which can help to give a detoxifying effect. This citrus oil can be a lovely way to refresh your senses and help reduce the risk of muscle spasms, anxiety and constipation. Mandarin is also quite versatile and can be used in massage oil blends for use from after 5 months of pregnancy. This oil can also help with circulation and digestion.
Peppermint Essential Oil is produced by steam distillation of the perennially herb that is so recognisable as it is used in so many different forms. Its use as an essential oil is varied and failsafe in that very few people dislike the smell or taste even of peppermint. A tried and trusted remedy for nausea.
The fresh herby oil can be used to help digestion and bloating, focus the mind and provide a fresh and awakening perspective. A great oil to use for the treatment of nausea and to combat headaches, pain, confusion or muscle spasm. It is also thought to promote self-confidence. Basically, it is the gift that keeps on giving!
Frankincense is a tree found in North Africa and when cut produces “tears” which are then distilled to make a liquid, yellow in appearance which can be used to promote emotional and physical healing. This beautiful oil can reduce fear, panic and in turn reduce the risk of depression and tension. Use during labor can help to slow breathing and minimize stress hormones.
Triggering biochemicals in the brain Frankincense helps to calm you down by promoting the release of endorphins which are our happy hormones and the body’s own natural pain killers. No known contra-indications. Hey, it was given as a gift at the birth of Jesus – it must be good!
Organic Aromas: Why are these oils the best and do they have any ill side effects?
The majority of these oils have excellent calming effects and can be used at various times throughout labor. However, many essential oils do have some contra-indications meaning that they may not be suitable for you.
Always check with your midwife before using any oils – just to be on the safe side!
Dr Daniel Boyer
Dr Daniel Boyer M.D is a practicing Doctor of medicine with a focus on medical research. He specializes in molecular biology, histology, pharmacology, embryology, pathology, pediatrics, internal medicine, surgery, gynecology and obstetrics. He is based at Farr Institute https://www.farrinstitute.org/.
“Best essential oil options for a birthing kit as I have discovered in my practice;
- citrus blossom oil
- clary sage essential oil
- lavender oil
- peppermint oil
- jasmine oil
Why are these oils the best?
These oils have shown the potential of reducing pain and discomfort during delivery, and also decreasing anxiety levels which have been linked to propagating more pain during delivery. In addition, they may also reduce the time you spend on delivery.
Essential oils are linked to some side effects that may include;
- May lead to allergic reactions if used directly on the skin
- Use of too much essential oil may lead to symptoms that may include; irritation of the nose, irritation of eyes, development of a headache, and lung irritation/asthma
Should women even consider using essential oils for birthing?
Whether to consider using essential oils for birthing may depend on an individual’s choice. This is because, even though using essential oils for birthing may help reduce pain during delivery, prescribed medication’s effectiveness is inconclusive on their potency. Proper effective use of essential oils is the way forward.”
Stephanie Fritz LM, CPM is the Author of Essential Oils for Pregnancy, Birth & Babies. She also shares her expertise and wisdom on The Essential Midwife Blog.
“Pregnancy and childbirth can be so confusing, what’s safe? what isn’t? What’s best to take to the hospital? What’s best for my baby? So many books, posts, blogs, friends, parents (the list goes on!), all offering different advice and sometimes sharing things that may not necessarily be true!
Using essential oils in pregnancy creates an empowerment that is so valuable. Being able to have solutions that are timely and effective is essential.”
Sean Kelly is a practicing Yogi, Aromatherapy Student and a Holistic Wellness Trainer
“Essential oils have been proven to help with delivering a baby, they may help relieve anxiety, nausea, and pain during the process.
When using an essential oil, don’t apply it directly onto your skin, this can cause a skin rash or allergic reaction. It’s best to start off slowly to allow your senses and body to adjust.
Here are some oils that have been widely used:
- Lavender oil: During labor, lavender oil may help relax and calm you. After delivery, you can still safely use lavender oil to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Orange & Geranium oil: These oils can help you decrease pain in labor. You can use them together with a carrier oil or diffuse throughout labor when your pain intensifies.”
Essential Oil Safety Fact Sheet
At Organic Aromas, we always advocate for the safe use of essential oils. Below is our simple safety fact sheet;
- Essential oils should never be ingested or used internally.
- One should always dilute them with suitable carrier oils.
- Always use 100% pure essential oils because additives can be harmful to health.
- Never use oils on mucous membranes such as the ears, eyes and nose. Also, never use it on open wounds or cracks on the skin.
- Phototoxic essential oils can cause sun damage on skin. After using such oils, avoid the sun for not less than 12 hours.
- Essential oils should be kept away from children and pets.
- Always seek guidance from a professional if you don’t know which oil to use and how to use it.
Survey Results on The Use of Essential Oils During Pregnancy
Organic Aromas created a poll fish target group survey with over 200 respondents, seeking to find out how women during pregnancy use essential oils. 44% of respondents said that they have used aromatherapy at some point in their pregnancy. Over 50% of people surveyed stated that they used essential oils for anxiety, nausea and depression during pregnancy. 51% highly recommended the use of essential oils during pregnancy.
See figure below:
Most experts agree that aromatherapy during pregnancy can be helpful. They also agree that proper use of essential oils must be observed. If you have never used oils before, consult your healthcare provider before you consider them before, during and after pregnancy.
Organic Aromas is your trusted source of insightful information in this respect. Aromatic oils have been used for millennia to tackle various challenges in the mind, body and soul. Pregnancy and birth is an incredible journey that every woman needs to enjoy. Essential oils have the power to allow you to enjoy every step of the way.