Aromatherapy for pain management in labour

Smith CA, Collins CT, Crowther CA
Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2011


Aromatherapy draws on the healing power of plants with the use of essential oils to enhance physical and mental wellbeing. The oils may be massaged into the skin, in a bath or inhaled using a steam infusion or burner. The pain of labour can be intense, with tension, fear and anxiety making it worse. Many women would like to labour without using drugs, or invasive methods such as an epidural, and turn to complementary therapies to help reduce their pain perception Many complementary therapies are tried and include acupuncture, mind-body techniques, massage, reflexology, herbal medicines or homoeopathy, hypnosis, music and aromatherapy. The review identified two randomised controlled trials of aromatherapy. One trial involving 513 women compared one of Roman chamomile, clary sage, frankincense, lavender or mandarin essentials oils with standard care. The aromatherapy was applied using acupressure points, taper, compress, footbath, massage or a birthing pool. The second trial involved 22 women randomised to bathe for at least an hour in water with either essential oil of ginger or lemongrass added. All women received routine care and had access to pain relief. The trials found no difference between groups for pain intensity, assisted vaginal birth, caesarean section or the use of pharmacological pain relief (epidural). Overall, there is insufficient evidence from randomised controlled trials about the benefits of aromatherapy on pain management in labour. More research is needed.


Smith CA, Collins CT, Crowther CA. Aromatherapy for pain management in labour. COCHRANE DB SYST REV. 2016; Issue 7. Art. No.: CD009215. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009215.

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