Aromatherapy and massage intrapartum service had a positive impact on reducing rates of all types of intrapartum anesthesia, according to recent research. The combination of aromatherapy and massage was seen as a beneficial addition to conventional midwifery practice.

The study, “Aromatherapy and Massage Intrapartum Service Impact on Use of Analgesia and Anaesthesia in Women in Labor: A Retrospective Case Note Analysis,” involved 1,079 women (601 nulliparous women and 478 multiparous women) who received aromatherapy and massage intrapartum service (AMIS) at one maternity unit in the United Kingdom over a three-year period.

Evaluation forms were collected from the AMIS group. Information on this form included the subject’s name, hospital number, age, ethnicity, parity, gestation, pre-existing medical conditions and pregnancy complications. Clinical details and labor outcomes, as well as details about which essential oils were used and how they were administered, were also included on the form.

Data on the particular aromatherapy oils used were collected to see which were most popular and effective. Bergamot, lavender, clary sage, frankincense, peppermint, jasmine and rose essential oils were used in this study. Bergamot and frankincense oils were most used, while rose was the least used oil.

Information collected from the AMIS group was compared to clinical data of women who did not use AMIS during the same time period (July 2007 to July 2010). In the non-AMIS group, 5,500 records were collected from computerized data that included pregnancy, labor and delivery information. To obtain a similar sample size (1,079) as the AMIS group, data from every fifth person in the non-AMIS group was obtained.

Exclusion criteria for both groups included pre-existing medical conditions, previous uterine surgery or contraindications to certain essential oils. Statistical software was used to analyze the data from both groups. Information was anonymized prior to using the software.

The average age of women in the AMIS group was 30.43, compared to 29.86 in the comparison group. The average gestational age of women in the AMIS group was 40.04 weeks, compared to 39.72 weeks in the comparison group.

Various application methods were observed to determine how mothers and midwives preferred to use the essential oils. Massage was the most popular method, with about 50 percent of women receiving aromatherapy oils via massage. According to the researchers, the three main reasons for using the AMIS was to help relax and calm women in labor; to provide a more natural option to pain relief; and to enhance contractions.

Three methods of analgesia (TENS machine; nitrous oxide and oxygen; and pethidine) as well as three modes of anesthesia (epidural; spinal anesthesia; and general anesthesia) were compared in this study.

Results of the research revealed the use of TENS units, nitrous oxide and oxygen, and pethidine was higher in the AMIS group, possibly because women opted to choose these less invasive forms of analgesia. However, the AMIS showed significantly lower usage of epidural, spinal anesthesia and general anesthesia, which are known to have increased risks during pregnancy and labor.

“The analysis showed that having an AMIS appears to have a positive impact in reducing anesthesia during labor, which, in turn, has the potential to improve maternal and neonatal outcomes,” conclude the study’s authors. “In [the] future, research is needed to identify the impact of extraneous variables, such as the preferences and influences of midwives for pain relief choices made by women in labor.”

Authors: Asha Louise Dhany, Theresa Mitchell and Chris Foy.

Sources: The Birthing Unit, Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom; Health and Life Sciences, University of the West of England, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom; and Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. Originally published in 2012 in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol.8, No. 10, 1-7.