My Doula Tips for Aromatherapy in Labor

As a birth doula, I’ve got loads of tricks and tips that I like to use to make labor a more enjoyable experience.  One of my favorite doula tools is my mini essential oil kit.  When it comes to aromatherapy, I’m a beginner.  There’s a whole world of knowledge out there about how different essential oils affect the body, mind, and spirit in various ways.  In my experience, I have learned that essential oils are very powerful.  Smells and birth go hand-in-hand as the olfactory receptors exist in the same part of the brain that birth resides in–the limbic system.  It makes sense that smell plays an important role in birth, as birth is one huge sensory experience (Hint: It can actually feel good).  Not a birth goes by without me using essential oils in someway.   

For birth, I like to keep it simple.  I stick to a few tried and true smells that I know most moms like.  I’m not loyal to any brand.  I’ve bought the more expensive doTERRA, or random brands I find on Amazon.   I have noticed doTERRA seems to have brighter smells, but mostly I can’t tell a difference once it’s in the air or on the body.  

I’m currently using 4 main essential oils during labor:



Peppermint is helpful for those not-so-glamorous, but totally normal, nauseous moments.  Vomiting in labor is real.  It really sucks, I know.  I vomited up coconut water in between every single contraction for at least 2 hours towards the end of my birth with my first born, Nico.  But vomiting is also a good sign.  It’s common for it to come once labor has shifted into “active labor.”  This happens when contractions are from 3-5 mins apart.   Often, this is when moms might transition to the hospital –which makes car rides super fun.  I take out the peppermint oil and mix it with just a dab of carrier oil, and put it on her pressure points Tip:  I use sweet almond oil as a carrier oil because it’s light without any of it’s own smell.  Generally, closer to the face works better, so I go for the eyebrows, the temple, and upper neck.  I may dab some at her wrists so she can hold the smell right to her nose.  Using a washcloth with a few drops of peppermint is nice too.  Tip: Find the pressure point in between the thumb and forefinger and hold it for 3 seconds at a time to help reduce nausea.  While vomiting in labor is real, peppermint really works to reduce nausea. 



Lavender is soothing and very relaxing with a clean, bright smell.  It’s a smell that almost everyone loves.  However, I always check in to make sure that moms are enjoying any smell I bring out.  I usually add the oil to a cotton ball and have the mom smell it first to see if she likes it.  It’s normal for moms to change their mind, as labor gets more and more intense.  Remember that it’s easy to wash off a smell if it’s not jiving at any point.  I love to use lavender mixed into massage oil and rubbed over the lower back, shoulders, and across the eyebrows.  Massage is a great comfort measure to help moms relax through contractions.

Bonus: Ask your partner to prepare for labor together by giving you lots of massages!  Simply squeeze a quarter size amount of oil in the palm of your hand.  Add a few drops of essential oil and rub your hands together to mix and warm.  Then, immediately massage into the skin to soothe muscles and waft the scent around.  Deep pressure feels really good during labor.  I instruct partners to think about downward motion when massaging.  Moms need grounding touch during labor.

Hospital rooms tend to smell like strong cleaning supplies.  As soon as I enter the labor and delivery room, I spray the sheets with lavender.  This will give the room a nice smell, but it won’t be over powering.  I put about 10 drops of oil in a spray bottle with a cup of water.  Shake to mix. 

I also immediately bust out my favorite aromatherapy tool –the diffuser.  I have a nice diffuser that glows with a soft light that changes colors.  It’s a relaxing mood setter plus it mists out any essential oils you add to it.  Labor does not like bright lights.  It goes against the instinctual brain.  For mommas to get deep into their birth, they need darkness, quite, and lots of love.  Another favorite doula tip is to put the diffuser into the shower, get in there with your partner and turn off the lights.  It’s very spa like with the humid air and calming smells.  Birth can be a romantic, bonding experience.  And the more those love hormones are going, the faster and easier labor goes.  

If at any point, mom isn’t digging the smell I just turn it off.  No problem.  The smell goes away very quickly.  Hospital staff tends to love it when they walk into a nice smelling room.   It’s pleasant to everyone, and it signals that you are a special momma. 



is a key energizing scent.  I tend to use this oil when moms start telling me “I’m so tired.”  Nearly every birth gets to the point where the mood is low.  Moms might even start to say, “I’m not sure I can do this.”  That’s my cue to pep things up!  I utilize the “Take Charge” method, and get eye-to-eye with mom.  I tell her with all my love and seriousness that I know she can do it, and we’ll work on taking it one contraction at a time.  I whip out my lemon essential oil, and dap it a few times on a cold washcloth.  I have the mom breath in the smell while I dap her face, neck, and upper chest.   I change the birth music to something more booty shaking, and we change positions to be more upright.  When contractions are very close together, and moms start questioning themselves, this is the transition stage of labor.  If you have chosen to not use a doula (which, of course, I highly recommend you do), it’s important to memorize the stages of labor (click to get a handy PDF).  Transition signals the end is in sight!  Lemon oil is a great way to freshen things up, lifting spirits, and mentally preparing for the pushing stage.  

Clary Sage

Lastly, clary sage is the all around women’s essential oil.  Not only is it relaxing to the nervous system, it’s a toner for the uterus.  It can help contractions stay regular by signaling the body to produce labor hormones.   This makes sense because clary sage is also used as an aphrodisiac.  This may surprise you, but the same hormones that got you pregnant are the same hormones used to get the baby out.  Birth is sexy in a lot of ways (after you stop vomiting).  This special oil can be used at any point in labor mixed in with lavender, or by itself.  It can be helpful to bring on labor if you’ve experienced a labor stall, where contractions have slowed down.  Doula tip most people don’t know about: Use clary sage to help during the pushing phase.  I mix in a few drops with carrier oil on a washcloth or dry cloth.  Then I rub all around the perineum to help moms stretch and reduce tearing.  Clary sage is used to relax muscles while also being an antiseptic. 

I hope this has given you lots of ideas for how to use aromatherapy in labor.  As a doula, I strive to educate people on the importance of normal psychological birth, and all it’s mysterious benefits and potential positive affects.  I love sharing my doula tips to empower mommas for a better birth.  Interested in learning more about my birth doula services?  Contact me for a consultation!