At the end of more than nine long months, when your feet are swollen, the pregnancy insomnia is real, and you simply can’t wait to meet baby, even the most patient mamas may start considering natural ways to induce labor. Castor oil is just one common method, but there’s more to it than swigging the bottle—there’s a lot of discussion about whether drinking castor oil to induce labor is actually
safe, let alone effective.
Read on to learn all about using castor oil to induce labor, including:
What is Castor Oil?
Castor oil is a liquid derived from the beans of the castor plant. It contains about 90% ricinoleic acid (RLA)—a unique substance our bodies recognize as an irritant.
The therapeutic uses of castor oil have been recognized for over 4,000 years, and were even described on ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls! Over time castor oil has been used to stimulate lymph and blood flow, assist the immune system, and as a laxative. It was used topically in ancient times, and became popular due to natural health guru Edgar Cayce recommending Castor Oil Packs on the liver (source). Castor oil gained popularity as an internal remedy in the early 1800s. Today, castor oil is commonly used to naturally induce labor. (source, source)
How Does Castor Oil Work?
Special receptors, known as EP3 receptors, are found primarily in the intestines, uterus, and immune cells of humans. The ricinoleic acid in castor oil stimulates these EP3 receptors, causing the smooth muscle fibers to contract. (source)
Because of this, ingesting castor oil results in diarrhea, intestinal upset, and often stimulates the uterus to contract.
Does Castor Oil Induce Labor?
This study found that 57.7 percent of women who drank castor oil went into labor within 24 hours. And a 2017 study found that 65 percent of women had gone into labor within 48 hours of drinking castor oil.
What’s more, mothers who drank castor oil in this study were 45 percent less likely than the control group to need drugs to induce labor.
And this study found that women who already had at least one other pregnancy were 25.5 percent more likely to go into labor within 48 hours of ingesting castor oil than the control group. But first-time moms in the study had little success inducing labor with castor oil compared to the control group. Study authors say a larger sample size is needed to draw conclusions about the overall effectiveness of castor oil to induce labor.
While it seems like there may be some truth to the fact that castor oil can help induce, there is still much research to be done and much debate about the safety of the practice.
Is it Safe to Drink Castor Oil During Pregnancy?
It’s important to ask your healthcare provider before drinking castor oil, as it may not be the best option for you. Gestational age and pregnancy history are just some of the factors to take into consideration when deciding whether to drink castor oil for labor induction.
Naturally inducing on baby’s schedule
Due dates can be off by several weeks, and only about 5 percent of babies are born on their due date! (source) Like any form of natural induction, castor oil to induce labor won’t work if your baby isn’t ready to meet the world yet.
Artificial induction forcefully stimulates a woman’s body to begin labor, which often makes labor harder and longer, and may not work if done too early (source, source). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends against inducing early, unless there’s a legitimate medical reason to do so (source).
Natural induction works with the body to nudge things along once the cervix shows signs of ripening and the baby is deep into the pelvis with their head engaged. You can take your Bishop Score to see if you are a prime candidate for some type of induction.
Castor oil and VBAC safety
Because castor oil is such a strong natural remedy, certain precautions should be taken. In one case study, a woman who had previously had a C-section had uterine rupture after drinking castor oil. However, she drank the castor oil in an attempt to induce early at 39 weeks.
While the study abstract doesn’t give a reason for this outcome, as mentioned earlier, castor oil has been shown to activate prostaglandin receptors, which can stimulate uterine contractions and potentially cause a scarred uterus to tear. (source)
“Women induced with prostaglandins were more likely to rupture at the site of the uterine scar than those induced with oxytocin, suggesting that prostaglandins could induce local, biochemical modifications that weaken the scar, predisposing to rupture.” — source
Researchers from another study concluded:
“We do not recommend utilizing castor oil for induction on a scarred uterus until its safety is confirmed in larger studies.”
Other Side Effects of Castor Oil to Induce Labor
In addition to the safety concerns outlined above, castor oil doesn’t taste very good, research suggests mamas may experience these other unpleasant side effects:
- Intestinal cramping
Will Drinking Castor Oil Harm My Baby?
There’s some debate in the medical community about this as well. Some experts say castor oil can cause baby’s intestines to contract as well, causing meconium, a thick green bowel movement, to pass before birth, possibly resulting in meconium aspiration.
However, there is not enough evidence to proof this point. For example, in one study, a group of women took castor oil to induce labor, while the other was given placebo.
“There was no difference between either the rate of meconium stained liquor or APGAR score between the two groups. The number of participants was small hence only large differences in outcomes could have been detected.”
Another study found that it was the control group, not the women who drank castor oil who had higher rates of meconium stained amniotic fluid. However, this could be because the chances of baby having his/her first bowel movement in utero is higher the longer the pregnancy is overdue.
Larger studies are needed, but the evidence so far shows castor oil is likely of little concern for baby.
How to Use Castor Oil to Induce Labor
As with any medical decision, castor oil to induce labor has risks and isn’t the best choice for every pregnancy. Be sure to discuss drinking castor oil with your birth team before sipping away.
When to drink castor oil
Castor oil should NOT be taken before 40 weeks gestation.
Due dates are only due estimates, and fighting your body’s innate wisdom can result in a more difficult labor. Castor oil and other forms of natural induction can cause complications when used earlier than necessary. It’s not healthy to rush baby if they’re not finished developing.
How much castor oil to induce labor?
In the majority of the studies referenced above, women were given 60 milliliters, about ¼ cup, of castor oil. Many experts recommend starting with 2 tablespoons to see how your body responds before taking more (source).
How to take castor oil to induce labor
Castor oil certainly doesn’t taste pleasant, so there are a few tricks to getting it down:
- Mix it with coconut water, which is an excellent source of electrolytes and fluids.
- Mix it with a orange juice or another strong tasting juice.
- Whisk it into a few eggs, then scramble.
You can also a Midwife’s Brew:
- 2 tablespoons almond butter
- 2 tablespoons castor oil
- 8 ounces of lemon verbana tea
- 10 ounces of apricot juice
- Blend all ingredients until smooth.
- Serve over ice.
Warning: Dehydration from diarrhea is not uncommon, so it’s important to replenish electrolytes and fluid when drinking castor oil. Labor can become longer and harder when mama is dehydrated. (source)
How Long Does it Take for Castor Oil to Work?
As referenced above, castor oil doesn’t always work to induce labor, but research suggests more than 50 percent of women will go into labor within 24 hours of drinking castor oil and nearly two-thirds of women will go into labor within 48 hours of drinking castor oil.
No matter how antsy you are to meet baby (and not be pregnant anymore!), it is so important to discuss any natural induction options with your doctor or midwife. The most important consideration should always be the safety of both mama and baby. Hang in there—that little one will be in your arms so soon. ?
How About You?
Did you try castor oil to induce labor? What other ways did you try to induce?