Aromatherapy to Help Women in Labour

Aromatherapy is being offered to women in labour as a natural pain relief technique at North Bristol NHS Trust.

Midwives trained in aromatherapy and are now offering women relaxation and massage with essential oils to help ease labour pains, sickness, muscle aches or anxiety.

There are 24 midwives at North Bristol NHS Trust who recently completed aromatherapy training and are offering the therapy at Southmead Hospital’s birth suite and in the community for home births.

Midwives have learned about the chemistry of oils and how to mix them to target their properties to relieve symptoms.

The midwives use seven basic oils which are mixed with a base oil:

  • Bergamot
  • Clary sage
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Frankincense
  • Grapefruit


Different combinations of oils, a maximum mixture of three, can be used to suit different symptoms.

For example, it is thought that grapefruit can help to relieve headaches or clary sage can be used to ease labour pain.

The oils can be applied by infusion through inhalation, in a footbath, through a compress to the skin or a drop on the hand.

Midwives can also apply aromatherapy through massage and only those trained can prescribe and mix the oils.

New mum Sarah Ludwell, 18, from Kingswood, gave birth to her first child, Ethan, on Friday May 14 at Southmead Hospital.

She said: “I had a bath with the oils and a smell stick which attaches to your top.

“I felt a little sick so they gave me peppermint on the smelling stick which is supposed to help with nausea and it really helped, the sickness went away.

“I also had frankincense and lavender which helped me to feel relaxed.

“The atmosphere was really calm and cosy, it just felt like I was at home.”

 Mary Carlisle, manager of the birth suite at Southmead Hospital, said: “Aromatherapy reduces anxiety and fear by helping women feel more relaxed and can help to reduce symptoms such as heart burn or backache.

“When women in labour are relaxed their need for pain relief is reduced but every woman is individual and we can use the oils specific to their needs.

“Aromatherapy will not be appropriate for every woman and our midwives undertake a health assessment to ensure that the oils will be safe and beneficial.

“We are promoting choice and aromatherapy is ideal for women who want a home birth, giving them another option for pain relief.”

Aromatherapy will also be offered at Cossham Birth Centre, Bristol’s first midwife-led birth centre, when it opens in the autumn of 2011.