The Science of Scents

By Lori Swanson, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services

Have you ever felt invigorated by the smell of citrus? Or calmed as you walk through a forest? There’s a reason for that, and it is essential oils. Essential oils are produced by plants and have been used for health, wellness and beauty purposes for thousands of years. Scents are powerful. In fact, many pharmaceutical drugs are synthetic versions of the chemical constituents that are found in essential oils.

Because they’re natural and plant-based, essential oils make great options for expectant mothers. They are safe for babies to be around. Our bodies know what to do with these plant-based oils, which is why there aren’t side effects unless you have an allergy to that plant. It’s important to know if you or your coach have any allergies before using an essential oil, just to be safe.

As a registered nurse at St. Luke’s Birthing Center, aromatherapy has been part of my life and work for over 15 years. While becoming a certified aromatherapist, I completed my research paper on stress and pregnancy. Of course, being pregnant and giving birth is an exciting experience, but it can also bring waves of other emotions including stress. I believe stress is one of the things essential oils work best at reducing the symptoms of, and there is research to support that.

One of the most important things to remember is that when mom is calm, there are physiological benefits for baby, too. Aromatherapy can be incredibly helpful at creating that serene environment for delivery.

Because of this, St. Luke’s Birthing Center offers essential oils and diffusers at no charge to our laboring moms. As these scents fill the air and help mom relax, they often do the same for birth coaches, nurses and doctors. The right essential oils can have a great calming effect on everyone involved, which is ideal.

We offer four different essential oil options for moms:


To help expectant and laboring moms with nausea relief.

  •      Also aids in relieving headaches and fevers
  •      Can be applied to temples
  •      Great for energizing tired moms or easing sore muscles after pushing


Sometimes referred to as “the mother of all oils.”

  •      Calming
  •      Mood-lifting
  •      Can help with sleep
  •      Great for skin issues and rashes

Citrus Fresh

For calming and uplifting.

  •      Analgesic (or pain relief) properties
  •      Antibacterial
  •      Energizes tired parents who aren’t getting much sleep
  •      Blend of citrus essential oils

Gentle Baby

Blend designed for laboring and postpartum moms. Gentle enough for babies to be around.

  •      Made from a blend of oils
  •      Analgesic (or pain relief) properties
  •      Very calming
  •      Contains oils that can strengthen contractions naturally
  •      Partners can use this to massage mom’s feet while she’s in labor

Most moms who do choose to use essential oils usually have a positive experience. We use a very diluted solution for topical use, as pregnant women have accentuated senses of smell. You may even consider adding essential oils to your St. Luke’s Birth Plan.

St. Luke’s Birthing Center is located in Duluth, MN, with St. Luke’s clinics in the surrounding region, including Superior, WI. To schedule a tour of St. Luke’s Birthing Center, call 218.249.5605.


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