Evening primrose oil? Check. Twice daily sex? Check. Walking in circles around the park despite my aching hip bones? Yep, I tried that, too. Before I had to be medically induced, I did everything I could to start my labor naturally. The one thing I didn't do? Guzzle castor oil. Before you try it, you have to ask: is drinking castor oil bad for the baby?
Today, castor oil is one of the most commonly used herbal inductions methods, and its medicinal roots stretch all the way back to ancient Egypt. In fact, this oil — derived from a humble bean — is one of the oldest drugs in existence, full stop, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Friends, castor oil is a laxative. As such, it causes contractions — in your bowels. Because I didn't particularly fancy having diarrhea in early labor, I personally chose to leave this venerable herb alone.
Liza Maltz, of Birth Your Own Way, never recommends castor oil to clients. She also encourages moms not to spend too much time online researching induction methods. "The end of pregnancy can be really hard," she writes in an email to Romper. "You're uncomfortable and anxious to meet your little one! Who can blame you?" Nevertheless, she maintains that the safest ways to pass the time — for both you and your baby — are with walking, sex, rest, and proper nourishment.
Megan Davidson, PhD, of Brooklyn Doula, reminds moms that castor oil induction is still an intervention, however natural, and has this to say:
"I have worked with a number of pregnant people who choose castor oil induction . . . for some it has been very effective and helped them avoid other interventions (such as hospital induction with Pitocin) but for others, it has not prompted labor to begin and has had more negative effects, such as diarrhea and vomiting, which can lead to weakness, exhaustion, and dehydration."
So you might want to try other methods — perhaps every other method — before taking castor oil off the shelf. Davidson also notes that castor oil might affect the baby's bowels, increasing the chance that the infant will pass meconium before birth — a potentially dangerous situation.
According to Davidson, however, there's some confusion about cause and effect here. Post-term babies are more likely to pass meconium; at the same time, post-term mothers are more likely to drink castor oil. So it's hard to say what causes the increased risk. Just don't be surprised if your healthcare provider cites meconium as a reason to avoid the ancient remedy.
Whether or not the oil poses a risk to your baby in terms of meconium, castor oil is extremely dangerous in early pregnancy, according to Evidence Based Birth, and may cause birth defects. Remember, as anxious as you may be to hold your baby in your arms, you should never attempt a home induction without speaking with your healthcare advisor.