The theory behind using castor oil to induce labor is that it causes intestinal cramping and diarrhea, which stimulate the uterus, thus producing prostaglandins, which then cause contractions. Another example of this type of irritation is seen in the connection between urinary tract infections and preterm labor. As with the other methods, this will not be effective if the mother's body is not already close to labor.
There has been much debate over whether castor oil will cause the baby to pass meconium, or its first bowel movement, within the womb. If meconium is aspirated, or inhaled into the lungs, it can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which can be fatal or cause serious developmental delays.
Thick meconium staining in the amniotic fluid is deemed a signal of fetal distress. However, research has been conducted that has found no increased occurrence of meconium staining with castor oil induction. The mother, however, can be at risk of dehydration due to the resulting diarrhea. This tires the mother, making her less able to sustain physical activity. It can also potentially endanger her milk supply.
If pursuing a castor oil labor induction, it may be advisable to attempt it in the morning after a full night's sleep. If taken at night, the resulting diarrhea may make sleep impossible and leave the mother too fatigued to labor effectively.
The usual dose is 2 tablespoons. However, as it is a viscous liquid with a very unpleasant taste, it is typically taken after being mixed with another food to make it more palatable. Wiping out the mouth after ingesting it can also limit the aftertaste and cut the oily feeling it leaves in the mouth. Usual combinations include:
As an alternative to using castor oil to induce labor, evening primrose oil can be used to naturally ripen the cervix as it is an excellent natural source of prostaglandins. It comes in a softgel that can be taken orally or inserted vaginally before bed. Oral use can start as early as 34 weeks and cervical application at full term.
The typical dose is two 500mg capsules per day. At full term, two capsules can be added vaginally before bed, at which time the entire capsules will dissolve.
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Page Last Modified by Catherine Beier, MS, CBE
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