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How Castor Oil Induce Labor and How and When to Try It

Updated on August 12, 2016
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Sree trained in dentistry and is currently pursuing lab sciences. She loves researching and sharing information on various health topics.

How Castor Oil Induce Labor and How and When to Try It
How Castor Oil Induce Labor and How and When to Try It | Source

When you reach your 40th week of pregnancy, you may be feeling excruciating back aches and a heaviness in your belly. As much as you love your little one, at this point, you might begin to contemplate on doing just about anything to rush the delivery of your baby. As an anxious mom-to-be, you've probably done your reading and have come across the theory about how castor oil induce labor in some pregnant women. True enough, castor oil has been used for centuries by folk healers for curing dozens of ailments and yes, for hastening delivery as well. First, let's talk about what castor oil is and why it works.

Castor oil is essentially a vegetable oil. It is produced by pressing Ricinus communis (castor oil plant) seeds. It appears as a clear to light yellow liquid which bears a distinct taste and smell when taken for the first time. It has a boiling point of 595 Fahrenheit. You probably know castor oil as an ingredient for making soaps, lubes, paints, perfumes, wax, plastic products, and even brake fluids. So why on earth would you want to ingest it? Well, first of all, castor oil is also used in manufacturing oral pharmaceuticals and for preserving food. You can rest assured that it's perfectly edible.

How Castor Oil Induce Labor in Pregnant Women
One of the most common uses of castor oil is for treating constipation. As a matter of fact, it's easy to purchase castor oil in most health food stores and chemist shops. You won't even need a prescription for it. Castor oil has a stimulant effect on the bowels. It functions in pretty much the same way as an enema procedure. Scientific studies show that the active element in castor oil binds to the molecules that cause the intestinal and uterine muscles to contract. The oil prompts intestinal cramping which in turn, stimulates the uterus. This stimulation results to the production of the chemicals called prostaglandins which then bring about contractions in the uterus. The resulting uterine contractions are not dissimilar to those experienced while in labor.

Even so, many women and healthcare workers are against the use of castor oil to induce labor in pregnant mothers. That's because castor oil induce labor by powerfully clearing one's bowels. This places the mother at risk for suffering from diarrhea. Passing of fecal matter during delivery adds to the risk of infection in both the mother and the newborn. Not to mention the fact that it can be downright embarrassing. All in all, castor oil is more popular as a laxative than an agent for inducing labor. Nevertheless, a great number of folk healers still recommend “the midwife cocktail” especially if labor pains are too much to bear. You'll be interested to know that in a research involving 100 pregnant women as subjects, more than 50% of those who took a sip of the midwife cocktail went in to labor with no major problems in a matter of 24 hours or less.

So why didn't the other women who took castor oil go in to labor? The answer is plain and simple. As with most herbal remedies, the same substances don't always work the same way on everyone.

How will you know if castor oil will work on you?
Castor oil is most likely to work on you if you are already on your 40th week or so and if you are presently showing normal signs of labor. It is most likely to be effective if your cervix is already soft and it has begun to thin. Chances for success become greater if you've already started to dilate. In other words, you should only try castor oil induction if you have already reached your due date. Remember that castor oil induce labor by causing diarrhea-like symptoms. If your pregnancy has been categorized by your OB as high risk, it's best not to attempt castor oil labor induction at all.

What should you expect when taking castor oil?
Expect an unpleasant taste. You may experience some nausea and possibly even vomiting. That said, some women claim that the oil is practically flavorless although they do hate the smell of it. Some would compare the taste and aroma to plain bath soap. The consistency of castor oil is thick and oily and not too different from cooking oil.

Labor induction by using castor oil is naturally accompanied by abdominal cramps. Again, if you're not brave enough to face any of these symptoms, it's better to just wait it out. It usually takes only two hours after taking castor oil before you experience contractions. For some women though, it might take up to six hours. Still, there are those who feel a stirring in the gut as early as sixty minutes after a single dose. In fact, there are even reports of women having their babies during the first hour after drinking the midwife cocktail. In some rare cases, the castor oil does not begin to take effect until after a few days. Even if labor does not come immediately, midwives say that castor oil helps a lot with the cervical ripening.

Most mothers-to-be who take castor oil to jumpstart their labor end up spending a great deal of time in the bathroom before even noticing that they're having uterine contractions and other positive signs of labor. View the table below to become more acquainted with the stages of labor so that you'll know where you are when the symptoms kick in.

First Stage of Labor
Second Stage of Labor
Third Stage of Labor
Starts with the beginning of "true" labor contractions (radiating through the lower back and abdominal area)
Starts when the cervix is completely dilated and ends with childbirth
Characterized by the delivery of the placenta just after the birth of the child
Ends when your cervix is fully dilated at 10 cm
Lasts from sixty minutes to an hour and a half in first-time mothers
The shortest phase, lasting no more than 30 minutes
This is when cervical effacement (thinning) and dilation occurs
Usually lasts only 30-45 minutes in women who have had children before
 
Is made up of the latent phase (less intense with 3 cm dilation) and the active phase (stronger and longer and lasts up to 40-60 seconds)
 
 
The longest period lasting from hours to weeks
 
 
Any deviation from the process described above suggests that something has gone wrong.

Tip!

False labor contractions are called Braxton Hicks Contractions. You can differentiate them from true labor contractions by the fact that they’re painless, they occur at irregular intervals, the contractions don’t succeed each other closely, and they don’t increase in duration or intensity. To know whether castor oil induction has worked, try changing your position or activity. If the contractions don’t stop, then chances are you’re really having your baby soon!

Side Effects of Using Castor Oil Induce Labor

While many women will confirm that castor oil induce labor successfully, they won't deny the absence of side effects. Such symptoms may range from mild to life-threatening. Castor oil in itself is not an irritating substance. However, in order to perform its functions, it has to be metabolized to ricinoleic acid which is considered as a strong irritant to the intestines. This acid is absorbed by the gut and ends up stimulating the uterine smooth muscle.

Among the most common side effects of using castor oil to speed up labor include diarrhea and the symptoms associated with diarrhea such as dehydration, fatigue, abdominal pain, and fever. Fever during childbirth is a cause for concern because they may be due to infection.

Your OB should always know if you've taken anything prior to delivery. Disclose that you've taken castor oil to induce labor so that it can be considered as a possible cause of your high temperature. Dehydration during delivery also places the mother at further risk. Moreover, dehydration during labor can lessen your milk production. When taking castor oil to induce labor, make sure that you hydrate by drinking plenty of water or by sucking on ice chips.

How Castor Oil Induce Labor in Pregnant Women
How Castor Oil Induce Labor in Pregnant Women | Source

Things to Consider Before Using Castor Oil to Kickstart your Pregnancy

  • Always include your physician in any decision to induce labor. That includes asking him/her whether or not it's alright for you to take castor oil. Not all pregnancies are the same. While castor oil induce labor safely in some women, your pregnancy or the general state of your health might place you at higher risk for experiencing severe side effects.
  • Castor oil should never be used to induce labor if you are somewhere before the 37th week of gestation.
  • Refrain from ingesting more than a couple of tablespoons of castor oil within the day.
  • Remember that castor oil is a laxative and thus, you need to constantly rehydrate. Keep some water by the nightstand. You might also want to be near the toilet.
  • Castor oil is best taken in the morning because as mentioned, it might take up to six hours to work. Also, taking castor oil at night might cause you to lose sleep as you find yourself running back and forth to the toilet.
  • Make sure that you drink the midwife cocktail after having a good night's sleep. Otherwise, you'll be too fatigued to survive the stress of the actual labor.
  • Know that if your body is not ready for labor, no amount of castor oil will cause it to do so.
  • If you think you can get away from pain by speeding up your labor with castor oil, then you're so wrong. On top of the pain associated with normal uterine contractions, you'll also have to put up with the less-than-pleasant intestinal contractions caused by the castor oil. To be safe, just use castor oil to induce labor instead of using it to shorten the duration of labor.
  • Don't attempt to drink castor oil when you know your labor is about to start anyway.
  • Take castor oil only in the comfort of your own home or in a secure hospital setting. Keep in mind that castor oil induce labor by bringing about powerful intestinal and uterine spasms so you'll need to be in bed for this. Likewise, it's best to avoid circumstances which may lead to embarrassment. The last thing you want is to suffer from a bout of loose watery stools in the supermarket.
  • If you've taken castor oil to push-start your labor, then make sure that you've already packed your bags with all the stuff you'll be needing at the hospital. Ensure that you have easy access to transportation. Better yet, make certain that someone is with you.
  • When using castor oil for labor induction, it's best that you take several light meals instead of a few heavy ones. This is to prevent worsening your symptoms of nausea.
  • The side effects of castor oil induction can take as long as the labor itself.
  • When you take castor oil, you do it at your own risk. When in doubt, always consult your healthcare provider. Remember that any kind of decision that you make during pregnancy and labor affects not only you but also the baby inside you.

Castor Oil and the Safety of Your Baby

Women who have used it say that castor oil induce labor without any untoward effects on the fetus. Even so, you'll find that there's so much confusion as to whether or not the use of castor oil to encourage labor causes fetal distress. Fetal distress is diagnosed when the pregnant mother exhibits warning signs and symptoms prior to or while giving birth to the child. These include reduced fetal movement felt by the pregnant woman, the presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid, and an elevated or diminished fetal heart rate during and following a contraction. These and other signs are indicative of fetal compromise.

The controversy behind the use of castor oil in prompting labor lies in the number of reported cases where the infants of women who drank the midwife cocktail show meconium stains in the amniotic fluid. Meconium refers to your baby's very first stool. Unlike feces, it is made up mostly of substances which the fetus has ingested in utero. These include epithelial cells from the intestine, bile, amniotic fluid, mucus, water, and lanugo which is your baby's first hair. It has a viscous tar-like consistency and a dusky olive green hue. It doesn't smell particularly bad. In fact, it rarely possesses an odor. When present in the amniotic fluid, it is diluted and therefore its color may range from being brownish to greenish to yellowish. Prior to the birth of the child, the meconium should remain in the infant's bowels. But sometimes, it is released before or during delivery. It is then called meconium stained liquor and is considered as a sign of fetal distress.

A severe complication related to meconium stained amniotic fluid is MAS (Meconium Aspiration Syndrome). In this condition, the meconium is present in the infant's lungs prior to or throughout delivery. The inhalation of the contaminated fluid can cause respiratory problems in the infant including aspiration pneumonia. The latter is fatal at worst. If the infant survives it, it might cause developmental delays. The only way around this is for the medical staff to aspirate the stool from the infant's oral and nasal cavities as soon as possible after delivery. Thankfully, MAS affects only 2-4% of babies born with meconium stained amniotic fluid.

It might seem ironic that castor oil induce labor through a laxative effect on the mother and that it also causes the baby to pass stool in an untimely manner. However, the association between castor oil induction and meconium stained liquor has not been fully established. One thing you need to consider is that most women who use castor oil are in their 40th week or with deliveries which have been delayed for longer than that. Note also that most post-mature babies are at risk for passing meconium in the uterus because their bowels have grown more matured. The passing of meconium in this case does not always signal fetal distress. Keep in mind too that infants delivered without the aid of castor oil can still end up passing meconium inside the womb. Overall, there has been no well-documented research which reveals a strong link to meconium liquor and castor oil induction.

Castor Oil and Abortion

While lots of women would swear that castor oil induce labor without any complication whatsoever, the substance is generally frowned upon because of its potential to cause miscarriages. First of all, castor oil should only be used to trigger labor when you and your baby are both physically ready for the birth. Otherwise, taking castor oil before your due date may be considered as an act of abortion. In the medical setting, the hormone Pitocin is used to induce labor in women who are way past their expected time of delivery. The goal of this is to prevent complications such as the aforementioned MAS. Castor oil presents you with a more natural alternative for inducing labor and saving your baby. If you've accidentally taken castor oil before you've carried the child to term and you're experiencing any of the symptoms below, seek medical help immediately.

  • Cramps ranging from mild to severe
  • Back aches
  • Pinkish white vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Presence of tissue or clots in your vaginal secretions

What do doctors say about castor oil induction?
It's not surprising that some midwives today still recommend using castor oil for labor induction. After all, it was only a few decades ago since castor oil was widely used in hospitals as a means for encouraging labor. Contrary to what some might think, the use of castor oil for labor induction was not discontinued due to the occurrence of negative side effects. Rather, it was rendered obsolete because doctors discovered more forceful ways to prompt labor in pregnant women. Castor oil is perfect if you're looking for an induction method which is milder than pharmaceuticals.

The Midwife Cocktail

There are many ways in which you can take castor oil to induce labor. One is to drink it straight up. Women who've used it claim that castor oil induce labor effectively after taking just a couple of teaspoons. Some women who can't stand the taste prefer mixing the oil with 2 oz. of fruit juice. Another way to take castor oil is by adding it to your smoothie or your salads or even your cold desserts. Castor oil's effectiveness is increased when it is kept cold.

If you like, you can take castor oil in small drops over a duration of ten minutes. Another thing you can do is to take castor oil in full strength and then follow it up with a sweet beverage. Alternatively, you can chug down plain old water to wash the nasty taste off your mouth. A hot drink like tea can also help remove the taste and the oily sensation in your mouth.

There are those who swear that castor oil induce labor better when you sip one tablespoonful with a bit of juice and then take the same dose again after thirty minutes. Another popular recipe for castor oil cocktail is to mix 3 teaspoons of the stuff with a glass of fruit juice and 1 teaspoonful of baking soda. Some ladies prefer combining two tablespoons of castor oil with cola while nibbling on a couple of pieces of dry crackers. If you've got a sweet tooth, try mixing 2 oz. of the oil with a glass of coke topped with a scoop of your favorite ice cream. There are those who prefer taking castor oil with root beer. If you think you do too, just add one tablespoon in 8 oz. of root beer. Make sure that it's in a container with a tight lid, shake well, and then drink up. The purpose of the foam is to suspend the oily consistency so you won't even feel like you're gulping down castor oil. There are mothers who claim that castor oil induce labor more efficiently when used in cooking. A nice omelet cooked in castor oil will help aid in the speedy onset of your delivery.

Much of the information related to castor oil usage in labor is anecdotal. Ultimately, pregnant women are advised not to try any method of labor induction without consulting their doctor first. Furthermore, castor oil induction may be utilized only as a means of helping you begin the labor. It is not to be used to shorten the process of childbirth or to free yourself from the discomfort associated with bringing your baby to the world. Motherhood is a beautiful thing and most mothers will agree that holding your child for the first time is worth all the sacrifices of labor. So if you're not a safe candidate for castor oil induction, don't place yourself and your baby at risk. Just endure and try giving birth as naturally as possible.

Now that you have all the information you need about castor oil and labor induction, try answering the following question:

When is it safe to use castor oil to encourage labor?

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