Castor oil is a pale yellow oil that comes from castor beans which has many uses around the home. Because it’s also a laxative, many women have found success drinking castor oil to induce labor towards the end of pregnancy. But is castor oil a reasonable and safe choice? In this blog post we discuss the ins and outs (mostly outs… ha!) of using castor oil to induce labor. Let’s get started!
Castor Oil to Induce Labor
WARNING: Castor oil to induce labor should never be used independently of a care provider. Only when you have the guidance and approval of a trusted care provider, should castor oil be considered and administered.
How Does Castor Oil Work?
Castor oil is a laxative, meaning that it makes the body poop (a lot!) and clears out the bowels. Bowel stimulation also stimulates the uterus, leading to contractions, which can sometimes jumpstart labor or make labor stronger.
Unfortunately, rubbing castor oil on the belly does not induce labor.
Does Castor Oil to Induce Labor Work?
According to research studies, 57% of women are more likely to go into labor within 24 hours of a dose of castor oil. It’s important to note that pre-castor oil, the women in these studies 1) were not having regular contractions and 2) were between 40 and 42 weeks pregnant (full-term). Also, 3) castor oil increased their Bishop Score, which basically means their body became more favorable for labor and a vaginal delivery. (SOURCE, SOURCE)
According to a different research study, taking castor oil to induce labor was effective with women experiencing premature rupture of membranes (PROM) and was therefore a better option to induce labor than pitocin. (SOURCE)
Oddly enough, another research study says it does no harm, but also has no benefit. (SOURCE)
When To Take Castor Oil?
Many women wonder when is the right time to take castor oil. How soon is too soon? Can I take castor oil at 40 weeks? Can I take castor oil at 39 weeks? Can I take castor oil at 38 weeks? How about 37 weeks? And on and on…
I am passionate about helping women have a healthy pregnancy, natural childbirth and a happy postpartum. Therefore, I don’t recommend starting or even encouraging labor before mom and baby are completely ready, even if all that is used are natural ways to induce labor.
According to the March of Dimes, babies need to stay in until at least 39 weeks. Babies born too early may have more health problems at birth and later in life than babies born later. Being pregnant 39 weeks gives your baby’s body all the time it needs to grow.
Here’s why your baby needs 39 weeks (from the March of Dimes):
- Important organs, like his brain, lungs and liver, get the time they need to develop.
- He is less likely to have vision and hearing problems after birth.
- He has time to gain more weight in the womb. Babies born at a healthy weight have an easier time staying warm than babies born too small.
- He can suck and swallow and stay awake long enough to eat after he’s born. Babies born early sometimes can’t do these things.
I am a huge advocate for natural, hands off birth and letting the body do its thing. It’s a big deal to induce labor, even when using natural ways to induce labor. However, sometimes special circumstances (MEDICALLY NECESSARY) arise that call for getting things started.
In these special circumstances, it may be wise to use natural methods to induce labor before using medications like cervadil or pitocin. Natural methods of induction are typically more mild and safe for mom and baby.
If for whatever reason baby needs to be born, use castor oil to induce labor at 39 weeks at the earliest, preferably 40-42. However, in my opinion castor oil should only be used as a last resort before moving towards more pharmacological methods of induction.
NOTE: In a study on castor oil and induction, women were given castor oil to induce labor between 40 and 42 weeks. There’s likely a reason they didn’t give castor oil to women prior to 40 weeks. The perceived benefits didn’t outweigh the potential risks! (SOURCE)
How Much Castor Oil Does it Take to Induce Labor?
When I took castor oil during my third birth, I drank three ounces of castor oil under the guidance of my midwife. In research studies, women were given 60 ml of castor oil, which is a tiny bit more than two ounces. (SOURCE)
My midwife always said, if you were going to take castor oil to induce labor, go all in. Don’t waste your time with tiny amounts. Go big or go home. 😉
Castor Oil Induction Instructions
To use castor oil to induce labor use the following instructions.
- Order castor oil online and wait 2-3 days for shipping. Perhaps you’ll change your mind by then. 😉
- Eat a good dinner.
- Get a good night’s rest.
- Wake up rested and eat a good breakfast.
- Arrange childcare for your already-born children.
- Pack your hospital bags and be ready to go to the hospital at a moment’s notice.
- Plan to drink 2-3 ounces of castor oil all at once.
- Mix it with an enticing beverage of your choice such as a milkshake, juice, or a cold coke. Drink it by itself, or try cooking some eggs with it. Whatever you try, just know that it won’t taste good. The mild taste combined with the extremely thick texture is just gross.
- Don’t try to taste it before you swallow it. Just chug it.
- 2-3 hours later, you will likely find yourself on the toilet. Stay hydrated. It’s going to be ok.
- Use baby wipes, and be gentle with your rear. Hemorrhoids are a possibility at this point. It’s going to be ok.
- You may throw up. Stay hydrated. It’s going to be ok.
- Go into labor and have a baby!
My Castor Oil Story
Once upon a time I was 40 weeks pregnant with my third child. Late Saturday evening my water broke, but strong labor never followed. Eventually, after trying a barrage of natural labor induction techniques, my midwife and I decided to use castor oil to induce labor. Here’s my story.
“Later on we ate breakfast, my kids went over to my neighbor’s and then we chatted with my midwife about what our plan of action should be. Nothing had changed for the better, if anything it seemed like my contractions were even wimpier and further apart. We decided that I would do castor oil and castor oil is what I did.
Matt went to a drugstore and came back with a 4 ounce bottle of that nasty stuff. I drank about 3 ounces of it. I wasn’t messing around anymore. This was at 10 am and we immediately took naps knowing that I would soon be pooping a lot, trying to have a baby.
Around noon I woke up and puked. Then pooped. A lot. And pooped some more and then puked again. Then pooped some more. And then again. It was a certain kind of hell… that I was sure about.
At this point I was having contractions about 2-3 minutes apart. I decided to check myself (used a sterile glove to minimize any potential infection) and noticed the baby was lower than previous days, but I couldn’t really tell if there was any progress with the cervix. The glove made things feel even weirder than usual.
I spent that afternoon on the toilet and napping. I ate something at some point, but I can’t remember what. And of course, I stayed very well hydrated.
Here’s a text I sent to my midwife (I was starting to get in a bad mood from all the pooping), “I had a moment on the toilet where my bowels were going nuts and I had to pull back because I wasn’t sure if I was feeling a teensy bit pushy or if my ass was exploding.”
Yeah… that’s castor oil. Use only as a last resort, people!
Later my contractions were coming every 2-5 minutes apart and were definitely stronger than before. Around 2 pm I told my midwife maybe she should come over but not to sue me if everything fizzled out. She, as usual, didn’t care about false alarms and wanted to help me and do her job. I love her.
She got there around 3 pm and things… FIZZLED OUT! I was not crapping myself 24-7 anymore (only periodically at this point) and when that went away, my contractions went back to their previous wimpy pattern. How frustrating! How bizarre!”
For me, castor oil did not immediately bring on labor. Perhaps castor oil did increase my Bishop Score, which is always helpful. I later went on and received Pitocin, which worked quite well, and had a baby early the next morning. (To read the rest of my birth story head on over here.)
SIDE NOTE: I did not poop while pushing out my baby. There was nothing left to poop! Yay castor oil.
For what it’s worth, I personally know a good handful of people that have found success with castor oil.
Castor Oil to Induce Labor Pros and Cons
Pulling the trigger to try castor oil to induce labor should bring you pause – it’s a big decision. Use the following list, along with your care provider, to figure out the best course of action for you and your baby.
- Unlike Pitocin, castor oil is not associated with a risk of postpartum depression
- Less invasive than other methods of induction, like a foley catheter
- Administered quickly
- Can be done at home and does not require a hospital admission
- If the body is favorable, could put a woman in labor
- If not labor, could at minimum increase her Bishop Score which would increase her chances of a vaginal delivery
- May not work
- Castor oil may bring on strong, close together contractions that eventually lead to… nothing
- If not timed correctly, castor oil + a long labor = exhaustion
- May cause hemorrhoids
- May cause dehydration
- I suppose there’s always a risk of castor oil leading to an extremely fast birth. Hey, it happened to a friend of mine!
- The effects of castor oil is not a pleasant experience
Alternatives to Castor Oil to Induce Labor
Of course, castor oil is not the only option for a natural induction. Isn’t it nice to have options? Speak with your care provider to discuss other methods of induction besides castor oil. I bet they have even more ideas and information to share with you!
Castor Oil to Induce Labor: How About You?
Did you use castor oil to induce labor? What was your experience?
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