Castor Oil to Induce labor

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.

Risks in using castor oil to induce 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.

Dosing Information

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:

  • Mix with 3-4 oz. of root beer, shake vigorously, and then gulp it down in a single swallow.
  • Add it to two scoops of ice cream and some orange juice.
  • Scramble it with 3 eggs.
  • Drink the oil straight followed immediately by hot apple juice to cut the oiliness.

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.


Kelly AJ, Kavanagh J, Thomas J. Castor oil, bath and/or enema for cervical priming and induction of labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2001, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD003099. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003099.

Roberts, Tracy, Peat, 2000 Rates for obstetric intervention among private and public patients in Australia: population based descriptive study Christine L Roberts, Sally Tracy, Brian Peat, "British Medical Journal", v321:140 July 2000

Vernon, David, Having a Great Birth in Australia, Australian College of Midwives, 2005, ISBN 0-9751674-3-X

Harman & Kim. "Current Trends in Cervical Ripening and Labor Induction" American Family Physician 1999; 60:477-84.

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