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Aromatherapy for Childbirth - What you need to know

Aromatherapy for Childbirth - what you need to know

Have you thought about using aromatherapy to help you cope with labour? Perhaps you have experienced a massage where essential oils have been used and you loved the feeling of relaxation they promoted or does the smell of lavender just makes you want to turn your nose up in disgust. Either way, using aromatherapy as a way of coping with labour and enhancing postnatal wellbeing is well-established and promoted locally here in Central Scotland.

This blog post does not constitute medical advice, please check with your midwife or GP before using essential oils during your pregnancy, labour and your postpartum period. They will be able to discuss your suitability and recommend appropriate oils.

A couple of years ago I undertook a RCM accredited training programme to learn more about aromatherapy for childbirth and how I could use it to support the parents I work with antenatally. I confess I was a little ignorant about how essential oils could help, not quite understanding there was more to it than ‘whafting’ the smell the lavender about. Different essential oils have different properties that can help with some of the physical symptoms and psychological barriers that women can face during labour and birth.


Aromatherapy is the administration of essential oils, extracted from plants which can be administered by topical application via massage, inhalation or dispersed in water. It promotes relaxation, whilst relieving stress, anxiety, tension, pain, nausea and more.

Considered a holistic form of complimentary medicine, aromatherapy works due to the chemical constitutes found within the plants being used, the way it is administered and the effect the aromas have on the limbic system - the part of the body which affects your mood, emotions and memory.

As an aside - smells and memories are often intertwined. Cinnamon and gingerbread perhaps remind you of Christmas and a certain perfume might remind you of your mum. Relaxing during pregnancy with a particular smell present in the room can often 'take you back' to that place of safety and calm during labour when you smell it again. This is one part of hypnobirthing which we discuss during The Complete Birth Prep Package.

Joy chatting with pregnant mum in an antenatal course.


Ancient Egyptians have used aromatic oils as early as 4500 BC, so the art is not new. We are also lucky locally as both NHS Lothian, NHS Forth Valley, NHS Fife and NHS Lanarkshire have midwives who are trained in the practice.

NHS Lothian state: A full range of aromatherapy oils is available in the NHS Lothian hospital labour wards and the Lothian Birth Centre. Aromatherapy can help relax you and invigorate your senses to support you through your labour and birth experience. Different oils have different purposes. Your trained midwife can guide you to create a wonderful concoction for diffusing or for massage.”


Aromatherapy for birth - what you need to know

The above image is a very brief snap-shot of a 6 essential oils, but many more can be used during labour and birth and have different properties.

Some of the benefits of using aromatherapy are:

  • Aids relaxation and well-being

  • Eases physical discomforts and psycho-emotional issues of pregnancy

  • Can help to facilitate physiological birth

  • Aids pain relief

  • Stimulates the uterus to contract during labour - aiding labour progression

  • Helps with recovery after birth

When might a midwife recommend using aromatherapy:

  • If mum is suffering from stress, anxiety, tension, fear, tiredness, insomnia in pregnancy, labour or the first 6 weeks after birth

  • Physical discomforts of pregnancy - eg: backache, nausea and constipation

  • As a way to ease labour pain and discomfort

  • To encourage the uterus to contract effectively

  • If mum has gone post-dates and is overdue to encourage labour to start

  • To help with the recovery process after birth and the transition to parenthood

  • To help with breastfeeding problems / milk supply

  • To help prevent or reduce the impact of postnatal depression

pregnant woman relaxing


Putting essential oils into a defuser or using them for massage are perhaps the most common ways they are used, but there are many different ways that oils can be inhaled or used on the skin.

Aromatherapy for childbirth

Other easy applications:

Sniffy pots are a great way to use essential oils. Take a small screw-top pot with some cotton wool placed inside and add up to 3 drops of your essential oil. When you need to use it, you can give the contents a sniff. Great to help with headaches, nausea or anxiety.

Compress up to 4 drops of essential oil into a bowl of hot or cold water. Use a flannel soaked in the water as a compress. Great for placing on the forehead or lower back.

Defuser use up to 6 drops depending on room size & ventilation to fill the room with aromatics.

Aromatic fanning use1 drop on a fan to waft as appropriate.

mum and newborn baby


"Health Boards (should) provide options for pain relief including aromatherapy, to optimise the normal birth process regardless of where birth takes place."

"Aromatherapy, as a complementary and alternative modality, can help in relieving maternal anxiety and pain during labour."

"We have at least eight randomized controlled trials that looked at specific essential oils and they found that essential oils that were used in these studies did decrease pain and anxiety among people who were having unmedicated births. Using essential oils to help manage labor pain is affordable (and) noninvasive."


Speak with your care team to see if essential oils would be suitable for you to use during your pregnancy and birth and attend an antenatal course where you can learn how to put these skills to use to help you prepare for parenthood.

Birth Prep with Joy Antenatal Courses West Lothian

For more birth hints, tips and info, follow me on social media or join me and other local parents-to-be on The Complete Birth Prep Package plus Hypnobirthing

Joy x




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