Updated January 26, 2022
In 2014, Maasumeh Kaviani, Faculty Member at the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, and her team of research scholars conducted a study to see the effects of using lavender aromatherapy during childbirth on pain intensity perception, duration of labor, maternal contentment and Apgar scores. The researchers found the use of the lavender aromatherapy lowered the perception of pain, improved maternal contentment, but did not reduce the duration of labor. Safely using lavender aromatherapy in the birthing room is inexpensive, has no side effects and may be a holistic way to help women manage their births.
Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy which influences the body through touch and smell. It is thought that when essential oils are inhaled, impulses are sent to the limbic system in the brain via the scent receptors, which then stimulates the body’s neuro-hormonal system and creates a cascade of neurological responses in the brain and body. The body’s response depends on the chemical nature of the essential oil used, and can be balancing, uplifting or sedating, generally, reduction of stress hormones and increase in beta-endorphins occurs.
Previous studies indicate essential oils cross the blood-brain barrier, the placental barrier and also reach the baby via breast milk. Therefore, training is required on the safety of essential oils in order to prevent toxic effects on the unborn baby and the nursling. Some essential oils are totally contra-indicated during pregnancy and while nursing and the ones deemed safe must be used in lowered dosages in the childbearing year. Lavender is an essential oil that’s been deemed as safe to use during pregnancy and while nursing, but in lowered dosages. In addition, if an individual has known allergies and asthma, aromatherapy must be used with extreme caution. In fact, individual women with known allergies and asthma were excused from this study.
Lavender is known to support sleep, reduce anxiety, have a balancing and calming effect on the emotions and to have anti-infectious properties. There are many varieties of lavender. This study used lavender officinalis (also known as lavender angustifolia) variety.
The study used a small sample size of 160 women, 80 in the aromatherapy group and 80 in the control group. The inclusion criteria was 1) 36 weeks pregnant; 2) single pregnancy; 3) 3 -4 centimeters dilated; 4) those with allergies, asthma, specific sensitivity to lavender and other known medical problems were excluded. Assessment data was gathered via questionnaire and pain was measured using the Visual Assessment Scale (VAS), an instrument proven to be valid and reliable in measuring pain in labor. Demographic factors were matched in this study.
The use of lavender aromatherapy was as follows: 15 x 15 cm tissues containing 0.1 ml lavender diluted in 1 ml of distilled water, in addition to cotton fabric square of the same size in order to retain the scent were attached to the gowns of the women. Perception of emotional state and pain was measured before the intervention and then at 30 and 60 minutes after the intervention.
The researchers found there was a significant difference in pain perception and emotional contentment in the aromatherapy group than the control group. However, there was no significant difference in duration of labor and Apgar scores between the aromatherapy group and the control group.
This study showed, for this small sample size, that inhaling lavender aromatherapy in a safe, diluted form reduced pain and increased satisfaction for women in childbirth.
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Kaviani, M., Azima, S., Alavi, N., & Tabaei, M. (2014). The effect of lavender aromatherapy on pain perception and intrapartum outcome in primiparous women. British Journal Of Midwifery, 22(2), 125-128.
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