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Studies, Risks, and Dosage for Inducing Labor With Castor Oil

Susannah Birch is a certified birth doula and owner of Trimester Talk, a leading pregnancy website. She used castor oil in the 41st week.

How to induce labor with castor oil.

How to induce labor with castor oil.

Is It Safe to Use Castor Oil to Begin Labor?

Castor oil is a pale or yellow vegetable oil that's pressed from castor beans, and it can be found in most drug and health food stores. Although it has been used for centuries to treat a variety of health conditions and is most often taken orally as a liquid laxative, it is also a widely-used and effective way to start contractions after 40 weeks of pregnancy. According to Karly Nuttall, licensed midwife and hormone specialist who has helped deliver over 700 babies during her two decades of clinical experience,

Using castor oil to induce labor is simultaneously a good and bad idea. It's strong and often effective when no other non-chemical methods of induction work, but you pay the price in intestinal woes! My clients who have been brave enough [...] say they're glad they did it but would never do it again. [...] Because of that I only recommend it as a last resort [...] and I only recommend trying it after 41 weeks.

I am a certified birth doula and owner of Trimester Talk, a leading pregnancy website. During the 41st week of my own pregnancy, I decided to drink a little castor oil as a last-ditch effort to get things moving, and it worked. While my experience is valid, be sure to read this whole article and talk to your healthcare provider about the dangers of castor oil before deciding for yourself. Below, you'll find all the research I conducted and the questions I found answers for in order to make my decision.

How Does Castor Oil Help Start Contractions?

When taken orally, there are three main ways castor oil works to induce labor:

  1. It induces contractions in the bowels, which in turn can cause the uterus to to begin contracting as well.
  2. It dehydrates the body, which can also cause contractions.
  3. 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 Meconium Debate: What Is the Biggest Risk of Taking Castor Oil to Induce Labor?

If you research castor oil induction thoroughly, you'll find that there are two camps:

  • Those who claim that taking 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. This can potentially be harmful to the baby if it’s aspirated, or inhaled, into the lungs, potentially causing pneumonia or 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 talk to your doctor and look at the research yourself before you decide. But here are some facts that might help you make a 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.
  • Approximately 57% of women who take castor oil after 40 weeks go into labor. However, this is a vague statistic and doesn't account how far along they were (how many weeks over 40 they were pregnant) or other conditions such as pre-labor or other forms of natural induction.
A tablespoon or two of castor oil should be enough to start contractions.

A tablespoon or two of castor oil should be enough to start contractions.

Other Possible Risks, Dangers, and Side-Effects of Using Castor Oil to Begin Contractions

Along with the possible risk of meconium, there are some other things to consider:

  • nausea: although you have a 57% chance of inducing labor, the chance that you will feel nauseous is almost 100%. A small number of women also vomit due to the strong effect of the oil.
  • intestinal discomfort: intestinal cramping and gas are the most common side effects.
  • diarrhea: since it is a laxative, this is a very common side effect.
  • dehydration: diarrhea usually causes dehydration, so you'll need to make sure to drink lots of water.
  • pooping during labor: nobody wants to talk about this, but it's true. Pushing the baby out uses the same muscles as pushing out a bowel movement, so you can imagine what's likely to happen during labor if you have diarrhea. But the truth is that it is extremely common to have a bowel movement while pushing, it can't be avoided, and it happens to most women, whether or not they used castor oil to aid labor.
  • nothing: some women will not experience any effects or side effects at all.

Approximately 57% of women who take castor oil after their due date go into labor within 24 hours.

What Do Doctors and Experts Say About Using Castor Oil to Start Labor?

Medical opinion on the subject varies widely. Some obstetricians and midwives regularly recommend the use of castor oil to induce labor once a woman passes 40 weeks, while others discourage or strongly warn against it.

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Read More From Wehavekids

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.

Below, you'll find links to several studies and publications.

If you want to do more research on your own—which I recommend—you may want to start with some of the studies and publications listed here.

  • Castor Oil Increases Labor Onset. This study found 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 the likelihood of going into labor between those who did or did not take the oil. However, the study also found no harm to the mother or infants, either.
  • Castor Oil Literature Review. This meta-analysis reviewed the biggest studies on castor oil inductions, offering an overview of the current research on the subject.
  • 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.
  • On this subject, the well-known guide What to Expect When You're Expecting says this:

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.

But Isn't Castor Oil Used for Abortion?

Some people argue against using castor oil because they've heard it’s an abortifacient, a substance that causes abortion. While this is true, it’s somewhat beside the point: abortion, induction, and the contractions experienced during labor all share the same basic goal: moving the baby out of the womb. Many medical induction aids, including Pitocin, are also commonly used both in abortion and in birth.

Before Inducing Labor With Castor Oil

  1. Try other natural ways to induce labor first. Other forms of natural induction (including nipple stimulation, evening primrose oil, exercise, and sex) can be a lot more pleasant and won't have as many potential side effects.
  2. Don’t try to induce contractions early, before 40 weeks. If your body is not ready to go into labor, it will not work and can cause complications. 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.
  3. Only take it to induce. Do not take it as a way to speed up labor. Doing so can make birth even more painful.
  4. Do it at your own risk. Talk to your medical professional if in doubt.
  5. Don’t take too much castor oil. Never take more than 1-2 tablespoons (1 oz maximum, or approximately 30 ml) in a 24-hour period.
  6. Drink lots of water, as castor oil is a laxative and will dehdyrate you.

How Should I Take Castor Oil?

The short answer: You drink it. Some people drink it straight, while others prefer to mix it with something. Here are some suggestions:

  • Mix with juice or a strong-flavored drink to cover the taste or dilute the texture.
  • Take as a shot, and then chase it with something to remove the taste.
  • Drink slowly over ten minutes, either mixed or in small straight amounts.
There is some debate about how much castor oil should be used to induce labor.

There is some debate about how much castor oil should be used to induce labor.

How Much Castor Oil Do I Need to Induce Labor?

Many people recommend taking half a cup or more of castor oil. Personally, I'd only recommend taking 1-2 tablespoons at most. Take enough to let the oil do its job, but don't overdo it—in fact, taking too much can lead to severe dehydration.

What Does It 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.

What can I drink with castor oil?

If you need to, you can either mix or "chase" it with any kind of juice, tea, or liquid you'd normally drink. Have a tall glass of water on hand to wash it down.

How Fast Does It Work?

It can take anywhere from two to six hours for castor oil's effects to begin, and the effects can last from one to six hours. It can take from 5-24 hours for labor to begin, if it's going to, although labor does not start for approximately 43% of women who use it.

Preparation

  • Make sure you have plenty of water available to keep you from being dehydrated.
  • Be close to a toilet.
  • Have your bags packed and ready to go to the hospital.
Mix the castor oil with other liquids to help it go down more easily.

Mix the castor oil with other liquids to help it go down more easily.

Benefits of Castor Oil Induction

  • You don't need to be dilated or effaced for it to work.
  • 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.
  • It's all-natural and plant-based. You can even buy it organic, if that's important to you.
  • You decide if you want to try it or not. Being in control of the if, when, how, and how much you use is a great comfort to many women.
  • It can clean out your system so that it's less likely you'll have "accidents" while pushing during labor, except if labor begins very quickly or was about to begin when you took the castor oil anyway.

My Experience

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 3 p.m. in the afternoon. I was running to the toilet from approximately 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and then had no more side effects. I cleaned my house so I was ready, just in case, and at about 11:30 p.m., 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 four hours later, a healthy 8 pounds, 4 oz, 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 choose it instead of Pitocin in the event I needed it.

How much castor oil should I use?

You might have a powerful reaction, so it's smart to start small. Take a tablespoon or two and wait to see how your body responds. If nothing happens within 6 hours, you might consider taking a little more.

How fast does it work?

It usually takes at least two hours, but 7 at most, for the oil to work, if it's going to. It works for 57% of the women who use it after 40 weeks of gestation.

Is it safe to make yourself go into labor?

Women have been using various methods to prompt contractions since the beginning of time. Pitocin, a synthetic form of your body's oxytocin, is used in hospitals throughout the world to induce labor. It is always recommended that you wait until your baby is due before you try to give birth. Get an ultrasound to verify your due date.

Can I use castor oil if I'm 38 weeks pregnant?

It's important to let your baby grow at its own pace and let your body's natural cycles work. It is not recommended that you try to induce labor before 40 weeks. If you're hoping to use it as a laxative, not as a means of inducing labor, you should consider a different method. Talk to your doctor.

Can I use castor oil if I'm 39 weeks pregnant?

The last days of pregnancy can be very difficult and uncomfortable, and it's very hard to wait, but still, inducing labor before 40 weeks is not recommended.

What does castor oil do to the baby?

Although no reliable studies have been done, some believe that the oil might have the same laxative effect on the baby as it does on mom. If the baby passes meconium (their first stool) during labor, and if it’s inhaled into the baby's lungs, there can be complications. See "The Meconium Debate" above.

Does castor oil help dilation or effacement?

Although castor oil might promote the release of prostaglandin receptors and help trigger the cervix to dilate, there is no reliable evidence to support this fact. However, it often sets off contractions which, in turn, lead to dilation and effacement of the cervix.

Will using castor oil affect the mode of delivery? Does it influence whether the birth will be vaginal or via C-section?

There is a big and ongoing debate about whether inducing labor increases the risk of having a C-section. However, according to a recent metaanalysis conducted at Thomas Jefferson University and published in American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, induction at full term does not increase the risk of cesarean section. In studies of castor oil cited above, the rates of cesarean section vs. vaginal birth was not considered statistically different between the groups of women who induced with castor oil and those who did not. In addition, "The incidence of meconium-stained amniotic fluid, Apgar scores, and birth weights was similar in both groups."

  • Castor Oil for Labor: Does It Work?
    After 40 weeks of pregnancy, you might be willing to do just about anything to jump-start labor. Can castor oil help you jump-start labor? Here’s what you need to know before taking castor oil to induce labor.
  • Using Castor Oil to Induce Labor
    Castor oil is often used to induce labor, but it may not work and has significant side effects. Never use castor oil in pregnancy without talking to your doctor or midwife.
  • Castor oil to induce labor: Risks and dangers
    Using castor oil to induce labor is growing in popularity. In this article, learn about the risks, the research, and whether or not it actually works.

What Was Your Experience Like?

If you're going to try inducing with castor oil or have already, I'd love to receive a comment below with your experience.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: I am 37 weeks pregnant, and I have consumed castor oil to induce labor. However, I feel completely normal, should I take some more?

Answer: As outlined in the article, it can take up to 6 hours to start seeing side effects of an average castor oil dosage. It's also best to limit the amount of castor oil taken during a 24 hour period, to avoid severe delayed side effects due to taking too large a dose.

Question: I am thirty-four-weeks pregnant. Should I take caster oil?

Answer: Absolutely not. Castor oil has a powerful impact on your bowels and entire body, so it's not an option to be used without proper knowledge or need. It should only be used when past forty weeks, and when other less invasive options have not worked. At thirty-four weeks, a baby's lungs and brain have not finished development, and your baby hasn't gained all the weight and functions that develop in the last four weeks of pregnancy. A baby born at thirty-four weeks will end up in special care, and likely have difficulty with feeding, temperature control and be at higher risk of health issues. If you feel that the pregnancy is too painful or uncomfortable, find a medical practitioner or qualified natural health practitioner who can assess the problems and offer ways of dealing with them, without giving birth this early.

Comments

Estrellita ortega on August 02, 2020:

Iam 38 weeks and four days i drank castro oil but it didnt work

Allison on July 17, 2020:

I’m 38 weeks and 3 days pregnant. I have an induction on the day that I’ll be 39 weeks. As much as I’d like to wait for my induction, I’ll have to have the Covid test done before hand. Whereas if I go into labor on my own, I won’t need the test.. I’m already 90% effaced and 3 cm dilated, so would I be okay to use castor oil?

sange on July 02, 2020:

on yesterday at 7pm i drink full bottle of castor oil but i did not notice any sign of labor im 33weeks pregnant

what must i do???

Sylvia on June 13, 2020:

I take 100ml of caster oil but nothing has happened yet, it's now two days.

Faithchinaza on May 02, 2020:

I took one full bottle of castor oil once at my 40 weeks ,i had diarrhea and mild pain under my belly that comes and goes for like three times and stoped but waited for contraction for 6days now but it didnt happen ,now i dont know if i should take castor oil again , please i need your advice cuz am 40 weeks and 6days today thanks

Sarah on April 07, 2020:

I took castor oil in a peanut butter smoothie at 39+6 with my first, contractions started about 2 hours later and baby was born within 5 hours with no complications and I thought castor oil was a miracle.

The next 2 pregnancies I tried same mixture at 38 weeks because I hate being pregnant, it starts labour strong and hard so we ran to the hospital only to have the contractions die off each time after about 5 hours. I will say though all babies came out fine with no merconium problems and mixing with peanut butter seems to stave off diarrhea and vomiting.

Currently in 4th pregnancy, 38wk and just tried it again, same problem. Intense labour, thought “this is more like my first and this my 4th, this is the real deal” ran to the hospital and currently laying in bed with no baby and no contractions. Your body really does need to be ready. So chances are I will just have to uncomfortably wait 2 more weeks

Nelly on March 20, 2020:

Hi I am 39 week should I take castor oil

Mimiemhari on March 05, 2020:

I had castor oil at 6:30am l started having diarrhea at 10am until 5:30pm is it normal l have 40 weeks there is no sing of labour does that mean it didn't work for me

Jlp on December 06, 2019:

I might have messed up. Im only 29 weeks but i couldnt poop so my friend told me to take it. Im 20 and this is my 1st baby.. What do i do. I took some already then got sick and now have the runs. Is my baby going to be ok if i give birth after this!!--

Annette on November 23, 2019:

Hi there, I am 38 weeks pregnant and I tried using castor oil to jump start labor. However, the only thing I came across with my experience was the normal side effects of the laxative. I did have a few contractions but nothing to get labor going.

With my experience and listening to others, i do belive this only works if you have begun effacing or if your body is going to begin labor soon as it is.

I am glad it has work for other woman. Too bad I couldnt get the show on the road lol

Jessica on September 29, 2019:

I am 37 weeks, 3rd baby. I drank CO at 1045pm started having contractions and a lot of painful tightening. My son woke up so I had to put him back down. While doing so they stopped. At 2am I drank 2tbsp more with orange juice. And the tightening and contractions are back and constant. Its hard to even time it. Last week i was checked and was 3cm and 50%. What should I do? I dont want to go thru triage to just be sent home. I havent lost mucus plug and water hasnt broke.

Shane lean on August 18, 2019:

Im 39 weeks and 1 day should i take castor oil?

Patience on May 26, 2019:

As 37weeks 3days and my baby is breech and I was advised to take Castro oil,hope it wont affect my baby and if it induce labor will my baby be considered as a full term baby or not

Lucia on May 01, 2019:

Can i take castor oil on 38 weeks of pregnancy

Dacia on November 08, 2018:

With my first baby I was only 1 cm and 70% effaced. I mixed the castor oil with orange juice and drank it fairly quickly since taste and texture never bothered me. The next day I started having a few contractions but at 1 am in the morning they hit hard. I waited until 5 am to go to the hospital and I was still only 1 cm but 100%effaced. I walked around for about 45 minutes before they checked again and I was at 3cm. I had my beautiful girl at 3:09 pm. With my second baby I took it at exactly 38 weeks around 2am. At 4:25 am I started full on contractions but waited until around noon that day before I went in. She was born that day at 7:49 pm healthy as could be. I'm currently 37 weeks with my boy and he is breech plus I have low fluid. My doctor says it's ok to try becI have been 3 cm and 80%effaced for nearly a month now. If I try it and nothing happens we are scheduled to have him next week at 38 weeks. It has worked great for me and never had diarrhea or anything. I still say listen to your body. If you have doubts then please don't do it especially before 36 or 37 weeks. Wish you ladies luck.

Mary on August 14, 2018:

So this is slightly off topic but I managed to ease constipation with the use of just three drops of this stuff, and without inducing labor. I would honestly say it was gentler than exlax and cheaper too. If I wanted to induce then it would likely not take much, but I would do so more gently than tablespoons. Over a longer time but lessened dose.

Neelam Rajput on August 13, 2018:

Hi, I am 39weeks and 4 days pregnant today, and my Dr. Recommended using castor oil for inducing labor because I told her that it's getting difficult for me these days. She recommended a spoon of oil with one glass of juice in the night and if nothing happens then tomorrow night repeat. My question is how much time it will take? I read the whole article and your experience about 7 hrs is what it takes, as I am early than 40 weeks so will it take more time or less? I want my child's birth to on 15th August. So shall have it tonight or tomorrow? If two doses then how much gap should be there in between.

Kay on July 31, 2018:

DON'T DO IT. I did it at my mom's advice as she did it when she had me. Turned out I was colic and so was my daughter for 6 months. Not only that, my daughter pooped in the sack and could have died. There were several people having to drain her lungs it was a horrible experience. She had tummy problems for the first year of her life, was under way under the growth chart and projectile vomited... Not worth the risk. I had two other babies before her with no problems and didn't take the castor oil.

Rae on June 21, 2018:

It definitely worked for me, but a word of advice..

TAKE IT WITH WELCH'S GRAPE JUICE.

The texture and flavor are pretty intense when you're pregnant, but I thought it was completely doable with that juice.

Dian on April 13, 2018:

hello and good morning! with my midwives guidance and recommendation I'm trying Castor oil this morning after a good nights sleep and a good breakfast. the reason I'm doing it is I'm at 41.4 days and if I get to 42 weeks I won't be allowed to deliver at The Birth Center. I will keep you posted on the outcome!

5th baby on March 21, 2018:

Hello I am thinking of trying castor oil when I'm 36 weeks. I've spoken to my doctor and she told me it's safe to take, but I am scared.This will be my fifth baby. All my other children were born before 38 weeks. I was induced with my second, third and forth baby. My first baby I went into preterm labour at 31 weeks. My forth baby was weighing at almost 10 pounds. Given my history should I try castor oil since its more natural than being medically induced?

Ty on February 21, 2018:

I tried castor oil and it totally worked for me also. I took it around 10:50pm woke up with diarrhea at 4am. Contractions began at 5am I still had diarrhea so I stayed home until 7:15am. Was to the hospital by 7:20am when I got there I was 8cm dialated & had my adorable son at 9:39am.

Leah on January 03, 2018:

My due date was November 29th but I didn’t go into labor that day. I took castor oil December 1st around 5 p.m went into labor that day around 11p.m had her at 3 in the morning December 2. Yes it worked for me

Nika on December 19, 2017:

I'm 40 weeks tomorrow I took the castor oil last night around 10 p.m. it hasnt did anything for me but make me go to the bathroom constantly. No contractions or anything.

Julie on November 21, 2017:

I’m praying this will

Work for my daughter, only time will see as we start too watch her face for contractions

Nikianf on November 19, 2017:

I'm 36 weeks and 4 days, I was wondering because the baby is breech and only weighing at 5 pounds and doctors wants me to deliver by 38 weeks if I could take castor oil before they schedule my c section. I took it with my first and was 40 weeks but I just want to make sure it won't harm my baby if I take it with her being so small.

Lilias on October 11, 2017:

I used Castor oil to induce labor in 2008 and it worked for me! I drank the mix at 7p and had all the side effects until 9p, lost my mucous plug at 10p, labor started at 11p and my daughter was born at 2:35a (the doctor almost missed the delivery she didn't think it would happen so quickly)

I may induce again with it but Im afraid because it makes your labor so much harder, painful and faster than going into labor on your own....

Anita Mehnaz on October 03, 2017:

It didn’t work for me !

mbally on September 20, 2017:

i am 38 weeks and have used caster oil but i haven't go to the toilet or had any contrations

Ash Belling on August 20, 2017:

8/19/2017

3:36pm took oil

Mild cramping started at 5:56pm (I need to poop. First washroom run lol)

6:26pm major washroom run!!

The most horrifying diarrhea of my entire LIFE!!!!!!! (I'll spare you the gory details)

Used washroom for the third time around 8pm (nothing crazy like the last washroom visit!! Thank all things heavenly!)

I've had some mild contractions or cramps in my lower abdomen, at times the pain would slowly increase staying in one area and other times the pain would move down to my vaginal area while increasing; the pain felt sharp but wasn't anything I couldn't tolerate.

It's 10:49pm still feeling mild pains, I'm having a hard time identifying whether they are Braxton Hicks, diarrhea cramps, or first stage labor contractions... or, are Braxton Hicks and first stage contractions the same thing? I'm not sure. I am also not sure if this method will work for me, I'm beginning to feel like its not going to... guess I still have a few hours to find out. Off to bed now 10:55pm.

BTW: I've been typing this into my phones note pad as its been happening, just in case you were wondering.

11:28pm washroom run.

8/20/2017

1:21pm still pregnant..! bowl movements are back to normal, though i'm happy about that, not so happy about getting medically induced...

Ash Belling on August 19, 2017:

I don't think my comment posted the first time I tried... I still haven't drank the castor oil, I am about to right now though @ 3:30pm.

Today (08-19-2017) is the last day of my 39w. I am scheduled for induction this upcoming week, I've decided to try this castor oil method as a almost natural way to induce labor after trying other methods like eating pineapple, nipple stimulation, spicy foods, and walking; non of which worked or caused any contractions. I am 2 1/2 cm dilated from my last OB visit I'm not sure if I have dilated anymore but, I'm hoping this method works for me as it has for other moms.. I will be taking it today at 3pm. I'll post an update on how our experience goes, hopefully I get to greet my baby very soon!!!