Research: BURNS and colleagues,

Listed in Issue 64


BURNS and colleagues, Oxford Centre for Health Care Research and Development, Oxford Brookes University, UK examined whether aromatherapy contributed to maternal comfort during labour and improved the quality of midwifery care.



Between 1990 and 1998, 8,058 mothers were evaluated in the delivery suite of a large British teaching hospital. Women were offered aromatherapy to relieve anxiety, pain, nausea and/or vomiting or to strengthen contractions. 60% of the sample were primagravidae, and 32% had their labour induced. Data from the unit audit were used to provide a comparison group of 15,799 mothers not given aromatherapy. Data were analysed for the following outcome measures: mothers’ ratings of effectiveness, outcomes of labour, use of pharmacological pain relief, uptake of intravenous oxytocin, reported associated symptoms, and annual costs.


Aromatherapy use was increasingly popular with mothers and midwives. More than 50% of mothers found it helpful, versus 14% who found it unhelpful. Aromatherapy during childbirth appeared to reduce the need for additional pain relief medication in a proportion of mothers. More than 8% of primagravidae and 18% of multigravidae used no conventional pain relief during labour after using essential oils. The use of pethidine at the centre declined over the years of the study from 6% to 0.2% of women. There were indications that aromatherapy may be able to augment labour contractions for women in dysfunctional labour. The number of associated adverse symptoms reported was very low (1%).


The study demonstrated the successful integration of a complementary therapy into mainstream midwifery practice and forms a basis for future research.


Burns EE et al. An investigation into the use of aromatherapy in intrapartum midwifery practice. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 6 (2): 141-7. Apr 2000.


The Oxford Centre above is becoming a centre of excellence in incorporating complementary therapies into mainstream midwifery.

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