Objective: The principal aim of the study was to examine the contribution of aromatherapy to the promotion of maternal comfort during labor and as a tool to improve the quality of midwifery care.
Design: Evaluative study.
Setting: Delivery suite in a large British teaching hospital with approximately 6,500 deliveries per annum.
Subjects: A total of 8,058 mothers were evaluated between 1990 and 1998.
Interventions: Women were offered aromatherapy to relieve anxiety, pain, nausea and/or vomiting or to strengthen contractions. Routine data collected on the use of aromatherapy over the period were analyzed. Data from the unit audit were used to provide a comparison group of mothers not given aromatherapy (n = 15,799) from the study center.
Outcome measures: Outcome measures include mothers' ratings of effectiveness, outcomes of labor, use of pharmacologic pain relief, uptake of intravenous oxytocin, reported associated symptoms, and annual costs.
Results: The use of aromatherapy during childbirth was an increasingly popular care option with mothers and midwives. More than 50% of mothers rated it as helpful, and only 14% found it unhelpful. The use of aromatherapy was not confined to low-risk mothers. Sixty percent of the sample were primigravidae, and 32% overall had had their labor induced. The administration of aromatherapy in childbirth did appear to reduce the need for additional pain relief in a proportion of mothers. More than 8% of primigravidae and 18% of multigravidae used no conventional pain relief during labor after using essential oils. During the years of the study, the use of pethidine in the study center declined from 6% to 0.2% of women. The study also showed that aromatherapy may have the potential to augment labor contractions for women in dysfunctional labour. A very low number of associated adverse symptoms were reported (1%).
Conclusion: This study represents a successful example of the integration of a complementary therapy into mainstream midwifery practice and forms a basis for future research.