Note: You should receive medical advice from your doctor before trying castor oil. This is not medical advice.
So, you want to induce labor, but you aren’t sure if anything works. Your friend told you to try castor oil to induce labor, but you’ve heard conflicting reports. Is castor oil safe for labor inductions?
Once your due date has come and gone, you start to feel anxious. You’re ready for this pregnancy to end, and you want to give your baby a little bit of a nudge that it’s time to leave the womb. Castor oil is an old wives’ tale and included in many of the lists for natural ways to induce labor.
Your midwife might suggest castor oil. Many include this ingredient in their concoctions to help induce labor, but is it a safe choice? We’re going to take a look at what the evidence shows us.
What is Castor Oil?
Castor oil comes from the beans of the castor plant, and it contains ricinoleic acid. Your body absorbs this oil and releases it into your intestines, creating a laxative effect.
Doesn’t that sound lovely?
That’s why castor oil is sometimes used to help relieve constipation. If you need to empty your bowels before surgery or a doctor’s appointment, this will do the job nicely. For centuries, this oil has been used medicinally all over the world for different ailments, such as:
- Treating gastrointestinal issues like constipation
- Treats different skin conditions and skin infections
- Treats pain and inflammation
- Stimulates the immune system
Nowadays, castor oil is found in dozens of different applications. In these forms, it’s safe to consume and doesn’t lead to the unpleasant side effects that taking straight castor oil would produce. You can find castor oil in:
- Food additives
- Flavoring agents
- Skincare products
Can Castor Oil Induce Labor?
For years, doctors and midwives suggested castor oil as an alternative method for inducing labor. They believe that it stimulated contractions in the uterus because it stimulated contractions in the intestines, leading to you emptying your bowels.
It’s said that the intestines, uterus, and immune cells contain special receptors, known as EP3 receptors. The ricinoleic acid contained in castor oil stimulates EP3 receptors, leading to uterine contractions.
There isn’t any real medical evidence that supports the validity of this belief. Castor oil may induce labor, but we have no studies that prove it’s real.
The results genuinely are mixed when it comes to using castor oil to induce labor. A small study indicates that half of the women who took a dose of castor oil went into active labor within 24 hours. Another study suggested that women who had at least one other pregnancy were 25% more likely to go into labor within 48 hours of ingesting castor oil.
That study said that first-time mothers typically had little success inducing labor with castor oil.
On the other hand, a study completed by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggested that, while there were no harmful effects associated with castor oil, it didn’t help to induce labor.
Are There Dangers to Taking Castor Oil?
When you take castor oil, it can cause irregular and painful contractions. That could cause stress for you and your baby. Not only can that lead to exhaustion for you, but unnecessary stress can also lead to stress on your baby.
A baby who is stressed during labor might pass meconium, or their first bowel movement, before delivery. Meconium can be dangerous for the baby if it’s inhaled. It can lead to breathing problems and lung infections.
Some women are strictly in the camp that castor oil leads to passing meconium just as it causes the mother to have diarrhea. It’s impossible to determine this, but here are some other things to consider.
- Babies who are born postdate have a higher risk of passing meconium in the womb.
- Babies who are born without any induction or use of castor oil still pass meconium
- It’s not common that babies would pass meconium due to castor oil labor induction.
- It’s merely an assumption. There are no real studies that link meconium and castor oil together.
In one study, a woman seeking a VBAC drank castor oil to attempt to induce early at 39 weeks. Her uterine ruptured after drinking the castor oil. While the study doesn’t give a reason for this, doctors know that castor oil contains prostaglandin receptors, causing uterine contractions. That might cause a scared uterus to tear.
Some evidence suggests that women induced with prostaglandins had an increased risk of rupture at the site of their uterine scar. This finding might indicate that prostaglandins weaken the scar tissue.
The Side Effects of Castor Oil
When you take castor oil, it can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. That also can lead to some unpleasant side effects for you, such as:
- Stomach Pain
- Pooping During Childbirth
- Allergic Reactions
How to Use Castor Oil to Induce Labor
If you decide to go this route, always talk to your doctor. Ask your birth team about the risks and benefits of drinking castor oil.
Castor oil should NEVER be taken before 40 weeks of gestation. Due dates are considered an estimate, and your baby might not be ready for delivery if you try to induce before your due date.
How Much Castor Oil to Take
Your doctor or midwife might have a suggestion for how much to take. It would be best to start by taking 1/4 cup of castor oil (60 milliliters). You can begin by taking two tablespoons to see how your body responds before taking more.
How to Take Castor Oil
Not only does castor oil have a disgusting taste, but it also has a texture that makes it unpleasant to drink. Chances are you won’t want to drink it straight, so you have to find ways to mix with something to make it more appealing.
Here are some suggestions.
- Mix with coconut water because it is a source of electrolytes.
- Try mixing it with orange juice or another strong tasting juice that can mask the flavor.
- Add it to scrambled eggs
- Put a dose into a smoothie.
How Long Does It Take for Castor Oil to Work?
Castor oil doesn’t always work to induce labor. If your baby or body isn’t ready for labor, it probably won’t work.
If it is going to work, you can expect it to take effect within 48 hours. A majority of women will go into labor within 34 hours, but some need up to 48 hours.
Should I Try Castor Oil to Induce Labor?
It’s always best to speak to your doctor before you decide to take castor oil. Castor oil might be dangerous, especially if you have any other complications.
If your doctor gives you the go-ahead to try castor oil, be sure to follow his dosing recommendations. You might be told to take it when you wake up in the morning, allowing you to stay hydrated and monitor your symptoms.