Studies, Risks, and Dosage for Inducing Labor with Castor Oil
How It Works
Castor oil is a liquid laxative that you can find in most drug and health food stores. There are three main ways it works:
- It induces contractions in the bowels, which in turn can cause the uterus to to begin contracting as well.
- It dehydrates the body, which can also cause contractions.
- Scientists have discovered that ricinoleic acid, a key component of castor oil, targets prostaglandin receptors on smooth muscle cells in the intestines and uterus to stimulate contractions.
Before Inducing Labor With Castor Oil
- Try other methods first. Other forms of natural induction can be a lot more pleasant and won't have as many potential side effects.
- Don’t take too much. Never take more than 1-2 tablespoons (max 1 oz or approx 30 ml) in a 24-hour period.
- Drink lots of water, as castor oil is a laxative and will dehdyrate you.
- Don’t induce early. If your body is not ready to go into labor it will not work. Unless you have a good reason (discomfort is not a good reason!) don't attempt this before 40 weeks. If you're facing medical induction, make sure you're aware that it's within your rights to refuse or ask for a later date.
- Only take it to induce. Do not take it as a way to speed up labour. Doing so can make birth even more painful.
- Do it at your own risk. Talk to your medical professional if in doubt.
Castor Oil Risks, Dangers, and Side-Effects: Meconium
If you research castor oil induction thoroughly, you'll find that there are two camps. One camp claims that castor oil may have the same laxative effect on the baby as it does on the mother. As such, using the oil to induce may increase the chance of meconium – the baby’s first stool – being passed during labor. That can potentially be harmful to the baby if it’s aspirated, or inhaled into the lungs, potentially causing pneumonia or some developmental delays. The second camp claims that castor oil labor induction has no relation to passing meconium.
This is still an area of controversy, so you’ll want to look at the research and make your own decision. But these are the facts that I’ve found, which can help you make your own decision.
- Babies born postdate (40 weeks and over) have a higher chance of passing meconium in the womb because their bowels are more mature.
- Babies born without using castor oil to induce labor can still pass meconium in the womb (at any gestation date).
- Babies born with castor oil labor induction often do not pass meconium in the womb.
- No well-documented study has linked meconium and castor oil labor induction or proven that (these types of) laxatives can pass through the placenta in any form.
- Approximately 57% of women who take castor oil go into labor. Remember this is a statistic only and may not take into account how far along they were or other conditions such as prelabour or other forms of natural induction.
But Isn't Castor Oil Used for Abortion?
Another common argument against using castor oil is that it’s an abortifacient. While true, it’s somewhat beside the point: abortion and induction share the same basic goal of evacuating the womb. Many medical induction aids (including pitocin) are also commonly used in abortion.
Medical Opinion on Castor Oil and Labor
Even medical opinion on the subject varies widely. Some obstetricians and midwives regularly recommend the use of castor oil to induce labour once a woman passes 40 weeks while others discourage or strongly warn against it.
Until the last few decades, castor oil and soap enemas were commonly used in hospitals to induce labor. However doctors discovered other methods of induction that had higher success rates because they were more forceful on the body.
If you do have a high-risk pregnancy or are ill, it's a good idea to either seek medical advice or avoid castor oil as an induction method.
Studies and Medical Links Regarding Castor Oil Induction
If you want to do more research on your own - which I recommend - you may want to start with some of the studies below.
- Castor Oil Literature Review: This meta-analysis reviews the biggest studies on castor oil inductions, offering an overview of the current research on the subject.
- Castor Oil Increases Labor Onset - This study finds that women were more likely to go into labor within 24 hours of taking castor oil.
- Castor Oil Study On 600 Women - This study found that there was no big difference in likelihood of going into labor between those who did or did not take the oil. However, the study also found no harm to the infants either.
According to a 2012 research paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,scientists have discovered that ricinoleic acid, a key component of castor oil, targets prostaglandin receptors on smooth muscle cells in the intestines and uterus to stimulate contractions,
The well known guide "What to Expect When You're Expecting" simply says on the topic of Castor Oil induction:
Castor oil. Hoping to sip your way into labor with a castor oil cocktail? Women have been passing down this yucky tasting tradition for generations on the theory that this powerful laxative will stimulate your bowels, which in turn will stimulate your uterus into contracting. The caveat for this one: Castor oil (even mixed with a more appetizing drink) can cause diarrhea, severe cramping and even vomiting. Before you chug-a-lug, be sure you're game to begin labor that way.
What Does Castor Oil Taste Like?
Castor oil is a thick liquid which some people do not like the taste of at all. Others say it is nearly tasteless.
It is a thick, clear, oily liquid similar in taste and consistency to cooking oil. Some report a soapy taste as well.
Castor Oil Side Effects
- Diarrhea - Since castor oil is a laxative, this is a very common side effect.
- Vomiting - A small number of women also vomit due to the strong effect of the oil.
- Cramping - The bowel will usually cramp due to the laxative effect of the castor oil but not everyone will feel it. Some women will experience violent cramps however.
- Nothing - some women will not experience any side effects at all.
Castor Oil Preparation
- Make sure you have plenty of water available to keep you from being dehydrated.
- Be close to a toilet.
- Have your hospital bags ready.
How Long It Takes
It takes anywhere from two to six hours for side effects to begin. Side effects can last from one to six hours. It can take from 5-24 hours for castor oil labor to begin, if it's going to.
Benefits of Castor Oil Induction
- You don't need to be dilated or engaged for it to work.
- Your system is clean so that it's unlikely you'll have any "accidents" while pushing during labour, except in the rare cases where labor begins very fast or was about to begin when you took the castor oil anyway.
- Although stronger than other natural induction methods, castor oil still will not put you into labor unless your body is ready - unlike a medical induction.
Castor Oil Dosage and Methods for Induction
Many people recommend taking half a cup or more of castor oil. Personally I'd only recommend taking 1-2 tablespoons at most. As long as you take enough to make the castor oil do it's job, you don't need to overdose on it and, in fact, taking too much can lead to severe dehydration.
There are plenty of ways you can take castor oil, it's completely up to you. Here are some suggestions:
- Mix with orange juice or a strong flavoured drink to cover the taste.
- Take as a shot then chase it with something to remove the taste.
- Drink over ten minutes either mixed or in small straight amounts.
I decided to try castor oil as a last ditch effort when I was at 41 weeks. I was scheduled for a medical induction at 41+3. According to the doctor just three days before, I was undilated and the baby wasn't completely down in the birth canal.
I drank one tablespoon of castor oil at 3pm in the afternoon. I was running to the toilet from approx 5.30pm to 7pm and then had no more side effects. I cleaned my house so I was ready, just in case, and about 11.30pm I decided that it was time for bed.
I lay down on the bed and immediately had my first contraction. This was followed by a second contraction two minutes later. We arrived at the hospital and my baby girl was born 4 hours later, a healthy 8lbs, 4oz and with no complications. She had an almost perfect Apgar score of 9 followed by a 10.
In hindsight, I would not induce labor with castor oil again, because now I'm aware that I can refuse medical induction. However I would still personally choose it instead of pitocin in the event I needed it.
If you're going to try inducing with castor oil or have already, I'd love to receive a comment below with your experience.