Is Castor Oil Safe for Inducing Labor? Pros, Cons, and Expert Insights

As you get to the end of your pregnancy, it can feel challenging to sit in the unknown and wait for your baby to come. In general, I believe babies know their birthdays and that due dates are just a number, not something to stress over.

Many OBGYNs are big at pushing for induction between 39-41 weeks. You can always say "no" or simply not show up for the induction, but for some individuals, fighting their provider feels like too much emotional work at the end of pregnancy. As I always say, it is crucial to have a care provider that you can trust, so if yours is not that, then now is the time to change providers. Induction in a hospital is typically done with cervical softeners like misoprostol and mifepristone, which are the most common cervical softeners administered. Other types of medical induction include a Foley catheter and Pitocin. If you are set on going to your induction, trying to get your body ready for labor naturally might be a good thing to do first.

Castor oil is one of the most talked about ways to induce labor, so let's dive into it and learn more.

Why Does Castor Oil Work?

It works because it releases prostaglandins, hormones that stimulate contractions. It sounds simple, right? Drink some castor oil, and boom, you're in labor and get your baby. Unfortunately, this is an oversimplified version of castor oil; only 57% of individuals who take castor oil go into labor within 24 hours. Like any natural induction technique, if your body and baby are not ready, it likely will not work.

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In my practice, sometimes castor oil does the trick. We have used it when someone's waters have broken, but no contractions are coming, and it's been more than 12 hours, or when someone is close to risking out of our care because they are over 42 weeks pregnant. In these scenarios, it seems to be more effective.

Pros and Cons

But hear me out. I have also seen it not do anything other than cause epic amounts of diarrhea and stomach aches with contractions that lead to nothing. I have also seen it work, but exhaust the birthing parent, baby, or both, and lead to more interventions and, in some cases, cesarean sections. Castor oil also increases the chances that the baby will pass meconium before birth. This typically is not a big deal unless it is a LOT. If there is a hefty amount of baby poo in the amniotic fluid, it ups the baby's chance of developing Meconium Aspiration Syndrome and taking a stint in the NICU.

Should You Do It?

To determine if the castor oil route is the one for you, I recommend discussing it with your care provider and weighing the risks and benefits. Like any induction method, castor oil is a tool, and it is not meant for every birth or every baby. Remember that in the history of pregnancy and childbirth, babies seem to know that it is time to come out. If you can afford to have patience and give your baby the time they need to get things going, you will likely have a much smoother and less complicated birth.

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The Castor Oil "Midwife Brew"

If you are going to do the castor oil, I recommend the midwife brew. This brew contains herbs that help with some of the adverse effects of castor oil, specifically the tummy upset. It also has some herbs that help get things going and pair well with the castor oil.

I also recommend waiting to take the drink until you've had a good night's rest. Taking castor oil at night is a great way to exhaust yourself even before you're in heavy active labor. Getting good sleep and then taking the castor oil is going to give you your best chance at having the energy you need to labor and then eventually push a baby out. I also recommend letting your care provider know and having them check in on you and your baby occasionally to ensure the castor oil is not stressing your baby out.

If Castor Oil Doesn't Work

If the castor oil does not do the trick today, it is a good sign that your body needs more time. Get some rest, plan a massage or fun date, and find ways to relax and allow your pregnancy to take the path that it is taking. Your baby will be born castor oil or not.

In some cases, the reason it does not work is because your answer is to wait. As with any intervention, listen to your gut. Don't do it if you do not feel castor oil is best for yourself and your baby. On the other hand, if you know that your baby will do better with castor oil than Pitocin, it might be a great option to get things going. You are the professional of your body and your baby. You get to make the shots.

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