What is Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is a traditional healing practice that has been used for thousands of years, utilizing plant extracts, or essential oils. The first evidence of its use appeared 5 000 years ago. Ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, used essential oils for healing.
The development of clinical aromatherapy in modern science began accidentally in France on the eve of World War I. In 1910, chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse experienced an explosion in his laboratory, causing severe burns. He found that his burns were healed by the essential oil of lavender. He subsequently founded the French Society of Aromatic Products and published about twenty works that are still considered the gold standard in aromatherapy today. These works gave aromatherapy its reputation and name, as Gattefosse introduced the term “aromatherapy” in 1935.
Essential oils are obtained from various parts of plants, such as flowers, leaves, stems, bark, roots, or seeds. Most oils are produced by steam distillation, which yields the highest quality, concentrated product. Citrus oils are typically obtained by cold pressing the peel. Additionally, carbon dioxide extraction is increasingly being used, which also yields high-quality oils. However, solvent extraction is not suitable for clinical use.
The Use in Medicine
Essential oils have become increasingly popular as a natural remedy for stress, anxiety, pain, and other physical and emotional ailments. Moreover, they have been proven to enhance mood, cognitive function, and relaxation.
However, despite its name, aromatherapy involves more than just inhaling pleasant aromas. Essential oils can be used in various ways, such as massages, applications, wraps, compresses, masks, and even in baths. For local use, they are usually mixed with high-quality base oils such as coconut, almond, argan, olive, sunflower, jojoba, grape seed, and avocado oils, which provide additional benefits when cold-pressed.
While aromatherapy is generally safe, it can be harmful if not used correctly. Essential oils are highly concentrated substances that can cause skin irritation or even burns. Therefore, it is crucial to consult a specialist, especially during pregnancy and before childbirth, since some oils are contraindicated during this period.
The Benefits of Aromatherapy During Labor
A multitude of studies have substantiated the efficacy of aromatherapy in alleviating pain and decreasing anxiety during childbirth. Though the exact mechanism of how essential oils operate remains unknown, the crucial aspect is that they deliver results. It is probable that aromatherapy influences the limbic system, which is responsible for regulating emotions and memories. When this area is stimulated, it reduces feelings of apprehension and stress, thereby leading to a decrease in pain sensitivity.
Further research suggests that aromatherapy can also decrease cortisol, the stress hormone, or amplify the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter. In other words, essential oils prompt the production of innate substances that soothe the mind and decrease discomfort.
There are several ways to use essential oils, such as in massages, baths (excluding the birthing pool), hot or cold compresses, inhalation, or diffusion into the air.
It goes without saying that pain mitigation and a positive outlook are paramount for a woman in the intricate and momentous process of labor. Aromatherapy provides a relatively straightforward solution for both, but it is critical to apply oils correctly and only under the guidance of a physician. Therefore, before acquainting oneself with the essential oils beneficial for childbirth, you should gain knowledge on:
Contraindications and Safety Precautions for Using Aromatherapy During Childbirth
To start with, if you intend to use essential oils during labor, it’s vital to inform your attending doctor. It’s also crucial to select the oils beforehand. Even the ones recommended for childbirth should be tested, since you may have an allergy or find a particular scent unpleasant.
If you are experiencing any complications or risky conditions during pregnancy, expecting more than one child, or taking medication, using aromatherapy without consulting your obstetrician-gynecologist is not recommended.
Typically, for baths, a dose of 3–4 drops of essential oil is sufficient when diluted in a small amount of base oil or whole milk. For massage, one drop of essential oil mixed with a teaspoon of base oil is enough. When using an aroma lamp, vaporization should not exceed 10–15 minutes per hour.
Lastly, ensure that you only use high-quality, certified products with an expiration date clearly stated on the bottle. The bottle should also be made of dark glass.
Important Note Regarding Clary Sage Oil
Clary sage is a widely used and potent substance that should be approached with caution and avoided prior to your due date. Its use can trigger strong Braxton-Hicks contractions that are not indicative of labor onset, but rather act as training contractions. At best, this can cause distress for your baby, and at worst, it can lead to bleeding.
Starting from the 41st week of pregnancy, clary sage oil may be used to stimulate labor, provided that these guidelines are strictly followed:
- Use only one or two drops, mixed with a tablespoon of base oil, during a bath;
- Never apply the oil directly to your belly or use it in an undiluted form;
- Ensure that your doctor is aware of your intention to use Clary Sage oil beforehand.
Here are some options to consider:
- Citrus oils such as grapefruit, bergamot, mandarin, lemon, and orange are known for their mood-boosting and relaxing properties. However, be cautious of any citrus allergies before use.
- Lavender is a great option for relaxation and calming effects, and can even lower blood pressure, reduce headaches, and aid in falling asleep. But if you’re taking blood pressure medication or planning on using epidural anesthesia, it’s best to avoid it.
- Frankincense, chamomile, jasmine, and rose are all effective in reducing anxiety, especially during the transition phase of labor, between the first and second stages.
- For pain relief during childbirth, black pepper and eucalyptus oils can be used as analgesics.
- If you’re experiencing nausea, peppermint oil can help alleviate symptoms.
- Clary sage – as mentioned above, this oil is effective for contractions and promoting labor.
You can use oils either individually or in combination, depending on the desired effect. It’s important to consult your obstetrician-gynecologist to find the option that’s best for you.
After delivery, essential oils can also be used. Lavender is particularly effective at reducing inflammation after tears or episiotomies, making it a viable alternative to iodine. However, it’s recommended that you wait three months before using aromatherapy with your baby. It’s also wise to consult a pediatrician who has experience with aromatherapy.
We hope your childbirth will be smooth and easy!
To learn all, you need to know about the pregnancy process and prepare for childbirth, take the course by Natalia Silina, the founder of the Women’s Health School, Pregnancy and Postpartum Period – The Complete Guide.
I’m eager to offer these courses in English. Please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can always choose your doctor at the Lior Medical Center.
Authored by journalist Maria Zavialova and curated by Dr. Natalia Silina, PhD, a gynecologist-endocrinologist and the founder of the Women’s Health School educational project, all content published on the Women’s Health School website has undergone rigorous review.