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Can Using Castor Oil To Induce Labor Put Me Into Labor Tonight?

The days are counting down. Your due date is approaching, or has come and gone. You are eager to hold your baby in your arms, and begin the path of recovery on the side of birth. More and more, I get questions from moms wondering, can castor oil put me into labor tonight?

Once considered a traditional remedy, with a history dating back centuries, using castor oil to induce labor is becoming a modern trend. But is it a good thing? Is it always safe? Does it work? Could it end badly?

These are all reasonable questions to explore when considering a ‘natural’ method to induce labor.

Join us in this blog post as we take a comprehensive look at the use of castor oil to kickstart labor – it’s origins, the biological mechanisms at play, and the experiences of those who have attempted this method + the recipes I’ve seen successfully used.

Of course, it is ALWAYS best to discuss your interest in using castor oil or any induction method with your doctor or midwife before taking the jump.

And keep in mind, the research discussed here was all done on low risk mamas. There has never been any research on castor oil for induction for moms that are high risk or previous cesarean moms. So please, speak with a medical professional before moving forward with this option, especially if you are monitoring health concerns along with your pregnancy.

My First Two Experiences With Castor Oil

Surprise! It Worked Like A Charm

When I was a new doula, I would often set up for out of hospital births. One of my responsibilities was to set up birth tubs for moms who wanted to have a water birth. I had recently completed my doula training and was setting up one of these tubs at a home. To my surprsie, when the mom came out of her room with tears in her eyes.

It was strangeto see someone so sad at the onset of labor. I asked her if she was okay and if there way anything I could do for her. She said she just learned that her doula was hours away and wouldn’t make it for her birth.

Of course, as a new doula eager for experience, I offered to stay. And to my happiness, she accepted. She labored through the night. At some point the midwife joined us and she gave birth as the sun rose.

It wasn’t until later that I learned she had started her labor with castor oil! 2 years later, she used castor oil again to jumpstart her second labor and her experience was even faster. So quick in fact, that I almost missed it!

But… It Doesn’t Always Work That Way

A few weeks later, I was out with a few girlfriends and shared what happened. One of the moms shared her own story of using castor oil with us. We weren’t close and didn’t know each other well. But – about a week before her due date, she used Dr. Google and decided to use castor oil to jumpstart her labor.

A castor oil shake did work for her – but not fully. She went into labor after using castor oil as well. But, unfortunately, she ended up delivering by surgery.

I wish I knew more of her story. But I share what I know here because it is easy to think that it is okay to try something ‘natural’ and that it is better than something that seems like a more intense intervention.

And, while I’ve seen castor oil work many times at this point in my career, I also want to make sure that you know, as with all things in pregnancy, that sometimes it depends. Your doctor or midwife are the best people to help you evaluate if this is an appropriate strategy for you specifically.

How Long After Taking Castor Oil Does Labor Start?

The goal with taking castor oil is to be in labor and having steady contractions, within 24 hours. When it comes to inducing with castor oil, it is important to remember that every mother is different. However, if you are past your due date and looking for an average of what a castor oil birth looks like, this is advice I received from one midwife.

She stated that she would have mothers take 2 ounces of castor oil, mixed with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, blended with chocolate ice cream and just enough milk to hold everything together.

On average, she would have moms take this at about 2 PM, head home for a lovely bath and a little self care, followed by a nap. Usually by the evening, contractions started. In most cases, moms had their baby by the morning. This lines up perfectly with my first experience !

She also stated that she might combine this with the use of other herbs, or repeat a dose of castor oil several hours later if there were no initial contractions.

Of course, this is just one midwife’s experience.

Is There Any Research To Back This Up?

Unfortunately, castor oil is not well researched. In fact, even though surveys of midwives found that Castor oil was the most commonly used herbal preparation used by nurse-midwives in clinical practice. Sixty-nine percent of CNMs who used herbal preparations to stimulate labor learned about using them from other CNMs, 4% from formal research publications, and none from their formal education programs.

Castor oil to induce labor is definitely a tradition passed down from one person to another. I wish it was researched better.

However, one birth center has published results of the births for which they used castor oil. Of the 293 women who used castor oil for induction while in their care, over 90% of the women gave birth vaginally at the birth center or hospital.

Clearly this midwifery group has quite a bit of success with castor oil cocktails.

The Castor Oil Recipes

Looking at studies, experiences of my clients and conversations with midwives, I’ve seen several different recipes. In fact, in many studies, the castor oil is downed with water alone. I will be honest, castor oil does not taste good. So this doesn’t sound that great – but the recipes I’ve seen my clients use all included several other important ingredients.

How Much Castor Oil To Induce Labor?

Most studies were done with 60 mL of castor oil or about 4 Tablespoons. But the recipes I was given directly from midwives typically started with much less.

Classic Castor Oil Recipe

  • 1-2 Tablespoons Castor Oil – this is the active ingredient that causes the uterus to contract. (Please note if you have high or borderline high blood pressure, please avoid this method. Castor oil can cause an increase in the contractility of smooth muscle. This can extend to all smooth muscle, including the circular muscle fibers in the intimal sheet of arteries and arterioles)
  • 1/2 Glass Apricot or Orange Juice – because castor oil is a strong laxative, it can cause both dehydration and a loss of electrolytes, especially potassium, which is an important electrolyte for muscle contraction. Apricot juice is high in electrolytes – especially potassium. In fact, apricot juice is about 3 times higher in potassium than orange juice. Either can help mask the taste of the castor oil.
  • 1/2 Glass Champaign – yes you read that right. Many of the traditional castor oil recipes contain champaign. This is included because the alcohol helps emulsify the castor oil so it can blend with the rest of the drink better. The alcohol also causes local vasodilation in the gut allowing more fluids to be absorbed. It also slows GI motility, or how fast the food in your gut will be processed.
  • 100 grams of Almond Powder or Several Tablespoons Almond Butter – castor oil does not mix well with juice. It also can cause quite a bit of nausea or diarrhea. Neither of which are helpful. The fat in the almond butter helps emulsify the castor oil. This helps slow the rate at which the castor oil moves through your body, hopefully preventing diarrhea.

*note this recipe was copied and given to me from a midwife. Most research on castor oil inductions use 60mL or 4 Tablespoons of castor oil. This one only has 1-2 T. It is also the only recipe that explained why each ingredient was used, which is why I am listing it first.

Creamsicle Castor Oil Recipe

  • 2-4 Tablespoons Castor Oil
  • 4-6 Ounces Orange Juice
  • A Big Scoop Vanilla Ice Cream

Blend together. Serve cold with a straw so that it goes straight to the back of your throat.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Castor Oil Recipe

  • 2 Ounces Castor Oil
  • 2 T Peanut Butter
  • A Big Scoop Chocolate Ice Cream
  • Milk to hold everything together

Blend together. Serve cold with a straw. If starting with 2 ounces, repeat after four hours if no contractions.

You can even have all these shake ingredients delivered to your house via Instacart in a matter of hours. Check here for prices and sales.

How Effective Is Castor Oil Induction Based On How Far Along You Are In Pregnancy

Can I Use Castor Oil To Induce Labor At 37 Weeks?

37 weeks pregnant is considered pre-term. You aren’t all the way at term ( full term babies have the best chance of being healthy, compared with babies born earlier or later) until 38 weeks pregnant. So technically speaking, if possible it is best for your baby to stay put another week at least.

The American College Of Obstetrics And Gynecology discourages inductions this early. In fact, it’s not recommended to start a elective medical induction until at least 39 weeks because baby is still developing until then. Many people believe that baby is still developing after that as well.

However, if pregnancy itself is becoming dangerous for a mother or a baby, sometimes the risk and reward balance can change at 37 weeks.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these reasons could include:

There can be other medical causes, but these are the most common. It’s not recommended to induce labor at 37 weeks without a medical cause. Further there is no research on the safety or efficiency of using castor oil to start labor at 37 weeks.

If I Need And Induction For Medical Reasons, How Long Does It Take For Castor Oil To Induce Labor At 37 Weeks?

Unfortunately, there is no research on using castor oil to induce labor this early. However, because all the reasons to induce at this time are because of risk, castor oil most likely is not the right option. There is no way to predict if castor oil would work or be safe at this time.

Castor oil is different than other induction techniques that are sometimes started at 37 weeks. For example, some moms will start expressing colostrum at 37 weeks, knowing that this can also help their cervix prepare for labor. But expressing milk will not typically cause labor to start on its own.

Other moms may start membrane sweeps starting at 37 weeks with the hopes that this could help the body go into labor sooner, but not likely today.

The goal of a castor oil induction is to be in labor in the next 24 hours, so it is significantly different than these slower methods of induction which are more gentle nudges.

Is It Safe To Take Castor Oil At 38 Weeks Pregnant?

If you are full term and it is considered safe to go into labor at 38 weeks, some moms wonder if it is safe to induce labor at 38 weeks too? Although I understand the last weeks of pregnancy can be hard, due dates can be wrong. Because of that, it is recommended that you wait until a least 39 weeks to induce.

Babies born via induction before 39 weeks are more likely to have breathing problems and be admitted to the NICU. If your due date is off by a week or two and you induce at 38 weeks, you might accidentally start labor for a baby who is still considered premature.

What About Induction At 39 Weeks? Can I? Should I? Will It Lower My Risk For A C-Section? Could It Be Safer For My Baby?

It was once firmly believed that labor should be respected and the best thing for moms and babies was to let labor start on its own. In fact, that is still the first healthy birth practice taught by Lamaze. And there is plenty of evidence to support this belief.

However, waiting for baby to set a due date was challenged in 2018 by the ARRIVE study. In this study researchers found that they could reduce the c-section rate from 22% (the rate in their control group that was not induced) to 19% by inducing at 39 weeks.

Please note this was a medical induction for low risk mothers using medications like misoprostol and pitocin to begin labor.

Because of this – many moms have decided to or felt pressure to induce at 39 weeks. And many providers consider medical induction at 39 weeks the best standard of care. But is it really?

I think there is more to think about.

Other Studies Found Conflicting Results

First, a more recent study tried to confirm the findings in the ARRIVE trial. They found that moms who were induced at 39 weeks were MORE likely to have a surgical birth than their peers. Not to mention that those that had a medical induction were more likely to hemorrhage.

Other reviews show that since the publication of the ARRIVE study induction is more common. The good news is that there has been a very small reduction in surgical births. On the other hand, there has been an increase in blood transfusions, and an increase in the number of mothers admitted into medical intensive care units, and babies born after the ARRIVE trial were more likely to need ventilation after birth.

I say this because it is important to note that induction, medical or ‘natural’, does have risk. The benefits should be weighed carefully with it’s risks. If you are here reading this article because you are feeling pressured into an elective induction, and looking for alternatives, know that it is okay to just say no and wait a bit longer for your baby to set their own due date.

Which Is Better, Induction At 39 Weeks Or 40 Weeks And Beyond?

As a mom, it is up to you to determine what is good, better or best for you and your child.

One thing that always stands out to me about the ARRIVE trial, is that in their very carefully selected group of low risk women, who chose to induce at 39 weeks, the c-section rate was still quite high at 19%. One way to look at this is that it is a better practice than just waiting – in their clinical setting..

However, for the group of moms inducing with castor oil at the birth center the c-section rate was only 10%. This is almost HALF the amount of surgeries. So this could be an even better standard of care.

On average, the moms in the birth center study were at 40+2 weeks of gestation.

Studies of birth center and homebirth births consistently show c-section rates of 8-13%. Which is much lower than the ARRIVE study which had similar ultra low risk women where the c-section rate was 18.6%.

That said, hospitals around the United States are not the same. Some report C-section rates as low as 7% for low risk women, while others have c-section rates of 70% for low risk women. You can learn how to look up YOUR hospitals c-section rate here. See if their results give you the trust that should be earned when it comes to childbirth.

In a direct comparison of the results of these studies of a medical induction at 39 weeks, vs waiting to 40 weeks and choosing a Castor Oil Induction, one seems to have much better results than the other and is much more cost effective as well. Surprisingly to many – thats the castor oil method that came out on top.

Using Castor Oil For Induction At 40 Weeks And On

In the birth center study we initially discussed, moms were on average 40 weeks and a few days pregnant. If it were me choosing an induction, I would most likely wait until I was at least this far along unless it was medically necessary.

One exciting finding was that they didn’t find that gestational age, BMI, or mother’s age affected how likely the castor oil was to work. So, if you are truly just done being pregnant, it seems like a reasonable choice to try it at 40 weeks.

But, they did find castor oil was more likely to work for moms having a second or more child vs first baby. So you might want to take that into consideration as well.

All of the studies I found on castor oil limited participants to mothers between 40-42 weeks of pregnancy. Meaning that taking it any earlier than this goes against tradition, practice and has no science, not even weak science to support it.

Using Castor Oil If Waters Breaks At Term And Contractions Haven’t Started

Another interesting use of castor oil for induction was if waters broke at term and contractions didn’t start yet. About 1 in 10 people will have their water break before contractions begin. Our of these people about 45% of people will naturally start labor on their own within 12 hours. Between 77-95% will be in active labor on their within 24 hours.

 In this study, 75% of moms given castor oil went into labor as compared to 58% of patients who went into labor spontaneously. Castor oil, which is more economical and convenient than oxytocin, can be used safely and effectively to stimulate labor for many moms.

Are There Any Risks Of Castor Oil?

You may have noticed from the recipes above that castor oil clearly has some side effects. These are the side effects that can come with castor oil.

The recipes above take measures to try to reduce this, but of course may not be able to eliminate them completely. In our birth center study we’ve been referencing, the incidence of maternal adverse effects (e.g., nausea, vomiting, extreme diarrhea) was less than 7%, and adverse effects of any kind were reported in less than 15% of births. 

Are There Any Risks To Baby With A Castor OIl Induction?

Good news when it comes to castor oil inductions and baby’s health all seems good! Though all the studies are small, and more research is needed, a cochrane review found no difference in the group of moms who used castor oil and the placebo/no treatment groups for the rate of instrumental delivery, meconium-stained liquor, or Apgar score less than seven at five minutes. 

Som moms worry that using castor oil could lead to more meconium staining (this is when baby’s poop still inside you). Only one study found this result, and it is considered very low quality because it didn’t differentiate between mothers that were postdate and those that were not. Post date moms are more likely to have meconium staining. So it is unclear if this result is due to the length of pregnancy or the castor oil use. This is why the cochrane review did not include this study in it’s results.

How Will I Know If It Worked For Me?

You will know if a castor oil induction worked for you when you start having contractions! Early contractions feel a lot like menstrual cramps. But, as they get stronger, they grow in intensity. If you’re unsure what you’re looking for, check out our articles on what contractions feel like throughout labor, and how to time contractions.

If you aren’t feeling contractions, and you’re looking for a less direct way to nudge your body towards labor, consider nipple stimulation. It is less direct, but can be effective for some moms.

A membrane sweep is another option for moms wanting an induction but preferring to avoid medications.

Also, if you haven’t taken a childbirth class yet, we would love to help you prepare for your birth experience in our childbirth course. This is a great place to learn start to finish what labor will be like, how to handle contractions, what to do when and how to prepare for a great empowering birth.

One Last Castor Oil Story

As a doula, I’ve had many moms successfully use castor oil to induce labor under the care of their midwife. I know to be there early once they start contractions and to make sure I bring several different electrolyte drinks so the mom can find one that tastes good to her.

That said, I want to share one last castor oil story. This mama was getting close to 42 weeks pregnant. She was ready to meet her baby, but her baby was taking his sweet time. She had spoken to her midwife and decided to do a castor oil induction the following day.

The morning came and she went to her midwife for one last non-stress test before taking the shake. Her midwife reported that her blood pressure was okay, but a little bit high and that her baby had a steady heartbeat, but lacked some of the variations of a super strong heartbeat.

Based on this non stress test, she decided with her midwife’s advice to move into the hospital. fora medical induction. Just in case baby needed extra support at any time. She successfully gave birth to her baby with a medical induction 36 hours later.

I share this as a friendly reminder that there is more than one path to a healthy baby and healthy mom. Sometimes a more natural approach to induction is safe and the perfect thing. But other times, skipping to something else may be the right fit. I hope this helps you decide the right fit for you.

Using Castor Oil To Induce Labor Conclusion

In the realm of labor induction, castor oil’s historical significance as a natural remedy is undeniable. Yet, in today’s medical landscape, its use carries both potential benefits and risks – along with a fair amount of uncertainty.

While anecdotal experiences abound, scientific evidence remains limited, and medical guidance is essential for making informed decisions.

Remember, there is more than one path to a healthy baby and healthy mom. You are ultimately the one that knows what’s best for your family.

Check in with your intuition, review what you think is best for you, talk to a midwife who uses castor oil in their clinical practice, and move forward with your induction or waiting a bit longer confidently.