Your baby was due yesterday. Your feet and back constantly hurt. Trips to the bathroom happen every 30 minutes. The nursery is prepared, and your packed hospital bags are ready for the big day. But it seems your baby is content to stay put. A friend told you she used castor oil for labor induction, and you are ready to try it. Let’s look at castor oil for inducing labor and see if it is right for you.
What is Castor Oil?
Castor oil is a naturally produced vegetable oil from the Ricinus communis plant native to southern Asia. The main component of castor oil is ricinoleic acid (RA). RA causes intestinal cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration since it is a strong laxative. It also contains ricin which is a dangerous toxin. The oil is processed and refined, which removes all toxins. Okay, enough science.1
Midwives have widely used castor oil for labor induction, but its use is controversial. There is mixed evidence on its effectiveness in inducing labor, and multiple side effects exist.1
Now, please don’t confuse castor oil with Castrol motor oil. Believe it or not, I have cared for women who have taken Castrol motor oil by mistake, which causes diarrhea but can also cause more severe side effects.2
Using Castor Oil for Inducing Labor
So, you are getting desperate for contractions to start. Here is what you need to know about using castor oil for inducing labor.
You can purchase castor oil online or at most pharmacies. The oil is taken orally as a single 60 ml or 2 oz dose. You can mix it with orange juice to disguise the terrible taste. Most women swallow it as quickly as possible as it can be hard to get down slowly. But only take one dose.
After drinking castor oil for labor induction, you can expect intestinal cramping. Hopefully, you will also start having uterine cramping as the oil stimulates both. Some women feel cramping shortly after taking it, and others do not for several hours.1,3
Researchers believe castor oil for inducing labor works in several ways, such as the following:1,3
- It causes intestinal spasms and diarrhea that irritate the uterus and start contractions.
- It may directly cause uterine contractions.
- Dehydration from using castor oil causes uterine contractions.
- It may promote the release of prostaglandins, which softens the cervix and leads to the dilation of the cervix.
Before taking castor oil for inducing labor, discuss it with your medical provider. It’s essential to wait until your baby’s due date to take it unless you have a medical condition that requires delivery before then. Babies should stay in the womb until at least 39 weeks and, better yet, until your due date.
Does Castor Oil for Labor Induction Work?
Research indicates that if castor oil works to induce labor, it will do so within 24 hours. A review of studies on the effectiveness of castor oil for inducing labor shows it does increase your chances of going into labor. It also prepares your cervix for delivery, even if it does not induce labor. But this does not mean it works every time.4
A study of pregnancies that were 41 weeks or more found that it was effective for labor inductions in women who had given birth before but not for women having their first babies. So, if you have had a baby before, castor oil is more likely to induce labor.1
It also appears to be an effective and relatively safe method to induce labor in women who previously had Cesarean sections. However, don’t use it if your doctor or midwife has advised against a vaginal birth with this pregnancy.5
As a nurse midwife, I have seen many patients come to the hospital believing they are in labor after taking castor oil, only to find they have intense intestinal cramping. Diarrhea and vomiting that women experience after taking castor oil can be miserable. Many women are treated for dehydration. On occasion, though, someone is in labor.
Side Effects and Safety Concerns
So far, castor oil may sound like an excellent option to get labor going. Well, not necessarily. There are multiple side effects, risks, and safety concerns to taking castor oil, including:6
- Intestinal cramping
- Too many contractions of the uterus
- Stress to the mother
- Irregular and painful contractions that are not labor
- Stress to your baby
- Increased risk of the baby having a bowel movement (meconium) before birth
- Increased respiratory problems in your newborn
- Increased risk of a less vigorous baby with a lower one-minute APGAR score at birth7
Because of frequent diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration associated with taking castor oil, plenty of water and other fluids is essential to replace the lost ones. If you cannot keep fluids down, call your medical provider. You may need to go to the hospital for IV fluids.
Before taking castor oil for labor induction, please consider the side effects and risks. Is it worth it? Is it better to wait for labor to start naturally? Remember, unnecessary interventions also lead to taking unnecessary risks.
Advantages of Using Castor Oil
After that long list of side effects of using castor oil for labor induction, have you decided to skip it and continue waiting for labor? That is reasonable. But before you choose, there are certain advantages to trying castor oil for inducing labor, especially if you are 41 weeks or more and looking at a medical induction. Castor oil is:
- Taken in the comfort of your own home
- Easy to obtain
- Low cost
- Less invasive than typical medical methods of induction
Other Options for Inducing Labor
If you decide castor oil for labor induction is not for you, there are other natural methods to try. Unfortunately, most of these methods have yet to be proven to work. Discussing any concerns or questions with your healthcare provider is a good idea. Some alternative natural ways to stimulate labor include:8,9
- Nipple stimulation
- Exercise including climbing stairs, squats, and cardio
- Eating spicy food
- Eating pineapple
- Eating foods containing basil, oregano, and ginger
- Drinking raspberry leaf tea
- Getting a labor induction massage
- Applying evening primrose oil to your cervix
- Acupuncture or acupressure
- Finding ways to reduce stress and relax
- Using various herbs
- Membrane stripping by your doctor or midwife
The end of pregnancy is often challenging and frustrating. It is tempting to try to speed things up and start labor. But there are many things to consider. Castor oil is one method for labor induction, with scientific evidence supporting its use. But there are many side effects and health concerns that you and your healthcare provider need to weigh.
There should be a good reason to induce labor; impatience isn’t one of them. Any method that causes labor, either by medical intervention or home methods, forces your body before it is ready. Induction can increase the risk of complications for you and your baby. Labor that occurs naturally is usually shorter and more manageable. As difficult as it may be, try to enjoy your last days of pregnancy and know that your little bundle of joy will soon be in your arms.