The Spanish have a lovely term to encapsulate giving birth. "Dar a luz" meaning to bring to the light (literally "give") conjures up this wonderful image of a newborn baby being pushed into the world. If you have been considering a natural birth then the use of aromatherapy might have crossed your mind. But before putting any of this into your birth plan, you must check with your midwife that he/she is happy to allow it. Also, before you start, use the oils cautiously. They have a strong effect on the mind and body but if excessive amounts are used, can have a different effect from the one anticipated.
There are some oils which can assist you during labour.
Rose otto (rosa damascena), also known as rose damask or Bulgarian rose has many recognised actions on the body and is a favourite with aromatherapists for use on females in general. Physiologically, it balances the hormones, calms the nerves and has a strong affinity with the female reproductive system. It is to be avoided during the 1st and 2nd trimesters because of its emmanagogue action (bringing on menstruation) but, if your pregnancy is progressing well AND your midwife agrees to it, you may use it during the 3rd trimester. Rose otto aids elasticity and, blended in a carrier oil, can be massaged into the perineum in the last few weeks. The same action can be performed during labour. Rose otto is also good for strengthening the womb and the Braxton Hicks contractions. (I can only think you would want the latter to give you good practice for the real thing!) The down side is that rose otto is a very expensive oil. Expect to pay well over £20 for a 2.5ml bottle. Bulgarian rose is usually the most expensive since it is considered superior for its perfume. Cabbaage rose (rosa centifolia), also known as rose maroc or rose de mai, is a slightly cheaper alternative to rose otto. There is very little difference between the two in terms of therapeutic indications. That said, cabbage rose is harder to find and I have no price for it myself as I never use this oil.
Clary sage (salvia sclarea), one of the oils you are strongly advised to stay away from during your pregnancy, can be extremely beneficial to you on the big day. It has a narcotic effect and can be used either blended into a carrier oil which your birth partner massages into your lower back or in a warm compress pushed onto the lower abdomen or lower back, basically where it hurts most. Another way to use it is to dap a couple of drops onto a face pad or tissue to hold to your nose/mouth when you need some relief. A good combination is clary sage with rose oil. This might be a substitute for gas and air. Just before you feel a contraction coming, breathe in deeply from your face pad, then after the contraction has passed, breathe in gently and rhythmically from the face pad.
Jasmine oil ( jasminum officinale) is a heavy, strongly scented oil and, for that reason should be used in small amounts. Another expensive oil though not as much as rose otto, this can be useful at the final stage of labour where there is no risk to the baby and you want the baby to move out. It helps to calm the labour pains, but more than that, it can help with expulsion of the placenta.
A fourth oil which can be an aid to childbirth is lavender (lavandula angustifolia). This has mild sedative properties (although I found it to be heavily sedative when I was pregnant), it is a relaxant and it stimulates uterine contractions. From a study done in the midwifery group at the Ipswich Hospital in 1992, a lavender bath is recommended where 3-5 drops of lavender oil are dropped into a bath of water. The water is agitated to circulate the oil, which will evaporate within 15-20 minutes. The only safety precaution here is that there is potential access to the foetus but this depends on when during the labour you take the bath. If you anticipate a water birth and want to use oils in the water, neat oils can cause corneal ulceration to the baby. I would advise that you ensure the oil is mixed in with a little carrier oil or milk before dispersing in water. Use up to 7 drops in two teaspoons of oil or milk.