Is Drinking Castor Oil A Safe Way To Induce Labor?

For pregnant moms who have hit the 40-week mark with no baby arriving, there can be an urge to get things moving by naturally inducing labor. According to a 2011 study published in Birth, half the women surveyed tried a natural method of labor induction. Included among the methods women have tried are exercise, sex, acupuncture, and even eating dates (via Healthline).

One of the oft-talked-about methods of bringing about labor is castor oil. Healthline notes that the use of castor oil as a labor inducer may date back as far as the Egyptians. This unpleasant-tasting oil, which comes from the plant Ricinus communis, has long been suggested to expectant mothers looking to move their labor along (via What to Expect). But while castor oil can bring about contractions to start labor, it can also bring with it some concerning side effects, including diarrhea and dehydration.

Castor oil may or may not induce labor

According to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, castor oil's labor-producing qualities stem from the fact that it's a laxative. Therefore, the subsequent gastrointestinal impact castor oil has will cause contractions and irritation of the uterus. 

As to whether or not castor oil is capable of actually causing labor, the results are mixed. A 2017 study published in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine revealed, among women who were 40 weeks pregnant, castor oil may induce labor within 24 hours. However, a study done in 2009 and published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology determined that castor oil, while not harmful to the mother or the fetus, was not overly helpful in inducing labor either.

Drinking castor oil can cause the intestines to spasm, which causes the bowel and the vagal nerve to react, ultimately causing the uterus to contract (via Healthline). 

A 2013 study published by Cochrane showed that women who drank castor oil felt nauseous afterward, which could lead to vomiting and subsequent dehydration. Additionally, ingesting castor oil can lead to diarrhea and stomach cramps, according to Healthline. According to Intermountain Healthcare, the contractions caused by castor oil ingestion can come very close together, leading to a possible decrease in blood flow to the baby. In more dire scenarios, the placenta can prematurely separate from the uterine wall.

Your doctor should decide when it's time to start labor

Inducing labor at home may or may not work well, as there is no one scientifically-proven method to do it successfully (via Medical News Today). Before you decide to try any method of inducing labor on your own, you should consult with your doctor or midwife and consider inducing labor in a more controlled setting, such as a hospital or clinic.

You should see your doctor about inducing if you have gone two weeks past your due date with no labor; your water has broken, but you have not experienced any contractions; or if you have any conditions that could put you or your baby at risk, such as diabetes or hypertension (via Healthline).

Overall, Medical News Today recommends that expectant mothers not use castor oil as a means of bringing about labor, since the science doesn't support its efficacy. In addition, the stomach issues that it can cause for the mother can prove problematic. It's best to talk with your doctor about your labor concerns and find a solution that works best for you and your baby.