Here's What Every Pregnant Woman *Really* Needs To Know About Castor Oil & Labor

by Emily Westbrooks

I think it's safe to say we've all heard those old wives tales and, perhaps, even focus on them more often than we should when us pregnant women near our due dates. After all, it's more than fair to be willing to try just about anything to get labor going when "the big day" comes and goes without so much as a contraction. From having sex to eating spicy food, there is a slew of things that are purported to get labor started "naturally." But does castor oil induce labor? Let's dive a little deeper into what is, and is not, true, to see if it's worth you giving it a shot (or, more accurately, a chug).

First, what in the world is castor oil, any way? According to Healthline, "Castor oil is derived from the seeds of a plant called Ricinus communis. It’s native to India. The chemical composition of castor oil is unusual because it’s comprised of nearly 90 percent ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid." Sounds delicious, right? Eh, not so fast.

Castor oil has been used for hundreds of years for its various natural healing properties. For example, castor oil has been used to treat gastrointestinal problems like constipation, infections and skin conditions, pain and inflammation, and to stimulate the immune system, all according to Healthline. There is no scientific evidence to prove that castor oil has these healing properties, though, but according to Healthline anecdotal evidence abounds.

Just like there isn't any scientific evidence about castor oil's healing properties, the jury is still out on whether it can actually get labor started. Some studies show that taking castor oil can get labor started within 24 hours, and other studies show it has no practical effect on labor at all.

Castor oil is known best as a laxative and, according to WebMD, is most commonly used to treat constipation. Turns out, there is also a connection between using a laxative and inducing labor. What to Expect explains, saying:

"Scientists have shown in research on mice that the active compound in castor oil attaches to the molecules that makes muscles — in both the intestines and uterus — contract. And if you’re pregnant, forcing the uterine muscles to contract might help jumpstart labor."

You should consult your doctor before ingesting any amount of castor oil, though, because it can cause a few negative effects if it does actually jumpst start your labor. Healthline explains further, reporting:

"When it’s effective at beginning labor, castor oil may cause irregular and painful contractions, which can be stressful to mom and baby alike. This can lead to exhaustion. It may also cause your baby to pass meconium, or their first stool, before delivery.

If your baby passes meconium inside the womb during labor, that could cause meconium aspiration (MAS), which defined by Kid's Health as, "during, or after labor and delivery when a newborn inhales (or aspirates) a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid (the fluid in which the baby floats inside the amniotic sac)." Kid's Health also makes it a point to to tell soon-to-be moms that while MAS can be serious, most are not.

Additionally, you won't want to use castor oil, even just as a laxative, before your due date. There is the risk castor oil will cause you to contract and start active labor before your baby is ready to enter the world.

Looking for other natural ways to jump start labor? Stick with sex, lots of walking, the spiciest food you can find, and maybe a little nipple stimulation. All of the aforementioned options, according to What To Expect, come with relatively lower risks than castor oil, and have just as good a chance of starting labor.

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