Labor is a pain. Literally.

If you deliver at a hospital, you’ll probably have a number of options available to help ease some of the discomfort. But if you’re not OK using pain medication and/or plan to have a natural birth, you might want to consider alternative treatments.

Essential oils may help treat backaches, nausea, ankle aches, and a number of other discomforts that come with the beautiful miracle of birth.

Research has found that aromatherapy, along with a massage, can help you relax during labor. It might also alleviate some of the pain. It could even help induce labor if you’re past due. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you try that, though.

What Is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy involves massaging essential oils into your skin and inhaling them. The oils are extracted from plants and distilled.

A study published in Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery found that aromatherapy was effective in reducing labor anxiety, fear, and in some cases, pain.

Keep in mind that essential oils are very concentrated and potent. Proceed with caution and don’t use more than the recommended amount.

How Do I Use Essential Oils?

There are various ways to use essential oils, but the most common are massaging and inhaling.

To massage oil into your skin, dilute a drop or two with a teaspoon of base oil like grapeseed oil. You can also use sweet almond oil if you’re not allergic to nuts. Have your partner massage the oil into your feet, temples, or lower back.

If you’re over being touched or probed, you can also simply inhale the aroma. Add two drops into a vaporizer, or no more than four drops into a warm bath. Let your lungs do the work while you bask in the calming scent.

Essential Oils for Labor

Only certain essential oils are safe to use during labor. And keep in mind, these are only OK to use if you’ve had a healthy, low-risk pregnancy.

Try sniffing out various oils before you go into labor. Some scents will appeal to you more than others and it’s not necessary to indulge in them all.

Here are five of the essential oils and their uses that moms swear by.

1. Frankincense

Frankincense is a calming oil that’s especially useful toward the end of the first stage of labor.

Place a single drop on the center of both of your palms, or rub some onto your lower back and tummy. Besides relieving pain, this essential oil can also help heal a tear after childbirth.

2. Clary Sage

Clary sage is the best option when it comes to minimizing tearing and relieving muscle tension resulting from emotional stress.

Doulas are a big fan of this essential oil. When applied at the last stages of labor, the mother can really get into a euphoric state, instead of threatening vengeance on the father of the child.

To use, dilute a few drops and apply on skin over reproductive organs. Or, place a drop on each palm and inhale between contractions.

Note: Clary sage can induce labor, so don’t use this unless you’re ready to give birth and have consulted with your doctor. If you get the OK, place a couple of drops on your inner ankles.

3. Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil can help with exhaustion, nausea, heat, and aches during labor. Massage into back, hips, and temples — anywhere but your eyes after mixing with carrier oils. Or simply place a small drop on your tongue. For a burst of energy, inhale the aroma. Spearmint is an alternative.

Peppermint might be helpful in negotiating a breech baby into a proper birthing position by rubbing it on top of the abdomen.

4. Myrrh

Myrrh is a great option for moms experiencing stalled labor. To move the labor along, place a few drops of myrrh on a cotton ball and take a few sniffs. This might help increase contractions.

Post delivery, if you have an issue with the umbilical cord stump, applying a few drops of myrrh can help it fall off easier.

5. Lavender

The fear and anxiety of childbirth can be as crippling as the physical challenges. The scent of lavender oil calms the nerves as much as a glass of pinot (some of us learned the hard way that wine isn’t allowed when you give birth).

Note: Lavender alone can’t induce labor, but it’s often blended with oils that can.

The Takeaway

Before you lube up on essential oils, research the products and where they’re coming from. Let your doctor know your aromatherapy plans ahead of time.

If you get really into it, you can even hire an aromatherapist to be available during your labor for peace of mind.

Orly Minazad is a freelance writer/editor, humor essayist, and bad cook. She’s a contributor to LA Weekly and Emmy magazine and has shared her personal stories on The Nervous Breakdown, Blunt Moms, and Zocalo Public Square. She has a master's degree in professional writing from USC and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.