As a doula, I think of myself a little like Mary Poppins’ bag – full of resources that can help ease your transition to parenthood. One resource that tends to get used over and over? Essential oils! Essential oils can chemically reprogram your physiological fear & pain responses, without artificial medical intervention. Pretty cool, right? It’s non-invasive and can be used in lieu of or in conjunction with other interventions, like an epidural, c-section, or Pitocin drip. Plus, there are also lots of benefits to be used in pregnancy and postpartum as well.
It’s not all multi-level marketing hocus pocus either; there are peer-reviewed studies on the benefits of essential oils in labour (in the hospital too, might I add!) Mainly, these studies found that the aromatic inhalation of essential oils during pregnancy has been shown to alleviate pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting (Safajou, F., Shahnazi, M., & Nazemiyeh, H, 2014). In another study, midwives in the United Kingdom were effective in using essential oils to improve the mood of their labouring patients, which contributed to the use of aromatherapy in midwifery units in the UK today (Burns, E. E., Blamey, C., & Lloyd, A. J., 2000).
This research makes total sense in practice. My clients go NUTS for essential oils, used as a comfort measure in labor, or to relieve morning sickness in their first trimester, or even to help with that first postpartum poop (a daunting task, am I right mommas?)
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s talk health and safety. There are multiple ways to use oils, but it’s never a good idea to use directly on your skin. This is plant medicine and some pretty potent stuff that can cause adverse reactions when used directly. Try these methods instead for safe application.
For use in massage, on the palm of the hand, or with a cold/hot compress. There is the potential for an adverse skin reaction with any oil, so test all oils early in pregnancy. Always dilute with a carrier oil (1%). I love to use sweet almond oil, but other oils like coconut oil do the trick just as well.
The best method for childbirth as it’s easy to clean & clear from your birth space. You can dilute oils in a bowl of hot water, make a little tent with a face cloth over your face and the bowl and inhale. Or put 5-10 drops on a cotton ball/tissue and wave in front of your face – my favourite method on the job because you can get rid of the scent by popping the cotton ball into a Ziploc bag. You can also purchase a personal inhalation device or a diffuser.
Bath / Pool
It isn’t safe to apply oil directly to skin; since water & oil don’t mix, even a carrier oil doesn’t make for safe use. I recommend diluting in Aloe Vera Jelly (not gel) as it’s thick & stable.
Now that we’ve covered safety, let me take you through my top 5 favourite oils for pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
Lemon: useful for all stages, is a super great anti-nausea hack. In labour, it’s also helpful for cleansing any not-so-pleasant smells (spoiler alert: bowel movements happen in birth. So does vomit sometimes. Totally normal, but nonetheless always good to have a cleansing scent around).
Clary Sage: Helps connect with intense emotions found in labour to promote euphoria. Causes prolactin release, the mothering hormone. Clary sage can also lower blood pressure if too high, but if already having a low BP, use this oil with caution.
Roman Chamomile: Grounding & centering. Useful if pain makes labouring person feel like they’re ‘crawling out of their skin.’ Use to find your rhythm & proper maternal positioning, which triggers oxytocin.
Lavender: Promotes relaxation & counters anxiety, which promotes oxytocin. Useful in a perineal compress for pain relief, or put 1-2 drops in your padsicles for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Also helpful in a pillow mist to help you nap when the baby is sleeping.
Peppermint: 1-2 drops in the toilet bowl can open up your pelvic floor to release for your first bowel movement after birth. Exhausted after a night of cluster feeds? Inhale or diffuse for an instant energy pick-me-up. Headache from pinching your need in awkward nursing positions? Pop some diluted peppermint oil to the back of your neck for some tingly magic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rhiannon Langford is a full-spectrum doula & fertility coach based in Toronto, Canada. As founder of Birth Boss Maternity Care, she guides families to feeling empowered as they transition to parenthood. Beginning her studies in bioethics and birth justice at Columbia University, she is now a certified Maternal Support Practitioner and has trained in many complementary practices, including aromatherapy, crystal healing & nutrition. She offers her doula services virtually worldwide.