Castor oil is a vegetable oil derived from the castor bean. It has been used for a very long time to help ease constipation or even to induce vomiting when needed, much like we think of syrup of ipecac today. The theory of labor induction with castor oil is that the castor oil acts as a stimulant to the bowels, which irritates the uterus and causes contractions.
The side effects from castor oil can include:
- contractions of the uterus (may or may not be labor)
Some women and practitioners, doctors and midwives alike, swear by castor oil as a way to induce labor. Other mothers have tried castor oil and have experienced the side effects but remained pregnant. There are practitioners who do not recommend castor oil because of potential side effects like dehydration (from loose stools and/or vomiting), fetal distress and meconium in the baby. Though castor oil inductions take place without the knowledge of the practitioner in some cases, it is always wise to talk to your midwife or doctor about how to use castor oil before doing so.
Induction before your due date is never a good idea in the absence of a medical reason. Even then, a castor oil induction, may not be your best option. Or it may not work. Besides medical induction techniques, there are also alternative non-medical induction techniques.
Many women have given recipes for castor oil to make it more pleasant to be ingested. These recipes vary and can be altered any way you would like. You practitioner should give you an idea of how much castor oil and how often to use it. Generally speaking, the dose is about an ounce repeated at various intervals.
Smoothies are a frequent source of induction recipes. You can blend the castor oil with various fruit juices and ice. Though the higher volume of drink, the more you have to drink. The cold can help disguise the oil. Some women prefer just to do shots of castor oil and wash it down with juice or another drink. Some suggest that you use a warmer drink to remove the oily film from your mouth. This might be a hot tea or you can use a wash cloth in your mouth.
A few years ago a mother told me that she made an omelet with eggs, salsa and her castor oil and that it was very good. It also did not feel like it had oil in it and the taste was masked by the salsa.
When does it work?
While some mothers report feeling the stirring of their intestines within an hour or two, others are not effected by a single dose. There are reports of having the baby within hours of a castor oil induction or the induction taking days, if it does work. Limited medical studies indicate that there is data to suggest that labor may be more likely in the first 24 hours after ingesting castor oil but call into question the safety asking for more studies.
Typically mothers spend a lot of time in the bathroom with diarrhea before noticing contractions. Then contractions kick in, if they are going to do so. Though these contractions do not always progress to full blown labor. This can be seen as a type of cervical ripening agent to some practitioners, even if labor does not immediately follow.
In the end the medical literature is very scant, particularly in terms of great research, so most of what you hear about castor oil is anecdotal. What they Cochrane Review notes is that there aren't increased complications noted, this isn't saying they aren't there, just not noted in the small studies, but that all women felt nauseated. The discomfort of pregnancy certainly weighs into this mental calculation done by expectant mom who are considering castor oil for labor induction.
The bottom line is, talk to your provide, ensure you and your baby can safely use this method before even considering it. Examples would be at your due date, baby is not already stressed for a separate reason, etc. Sources:
Kelly AJ, Kavanagh J, Thomas J. Castor oil, bath and/or enema for cervical priming and induction of labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD003099. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003099.pub2
Evaluation of the effect of castor oil on initiating labor in term pregnancy. Azhari S, Pirdadeh S, Lotfalizadeh M, Shakeri MT. Saudi Med J. 2006 Jul;27(7):1011-4.
Methods for cervical ripening and induction of labor. Tenore JL. Am Fam Physician. 2003 May 15;67(10):2123-8. Review.