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Is It Safe to Induce Labor With Castor Oil?

In the three studies mentioned previously, no obvious problems were seen in the women given castor oil or their babies. A study from the 1980s showed an increase in meconium-stained amniotic fluid when mothers were given castor oil, but this potential side effect was not seen in other studies.
Medical journals contain a few cases of severe (but, thankfully, rare) problems in women who were given castor oil for induction. In one case, an amniotic fluid embolism occurred shortly after the castor oil was given, causing the death of the baby and severe problems in the mother (who, at the time the medical journal was published, was still in a vegetative state). Another case involved a woman who experienced a uterine rupture shortly after castor oil was given (the baby was safely delivered via C-section). It's hard to say if these cases were at all related to the castor oil, or if it was just a coincidence.
When given orally (by mouth), castor oil almost always causes nausea and diarrhea. In severe cases, it can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, although such problems would be extremely rare from a one-time dose.

Why Would Castor Oil Work for Induction?

There are two common theories for why castor oil might be effective for getting labor going. The first is just that the laxative effect seems to start labor for some women. The other is that castor oil contains chemicals that cause the uterus to contract. Studies in lab animals seem to support the latter. 

How to Induce Labor With Castor Oil

There are a variety of regimens for inducing labor with castor oil. Most of the time (including in most studies), it is given orally. Taking it orally is associated with quite a bit of nausea (it tastes really bad) and often diarrhea and cramping. A few regimens involve other routes of administration, such as baths, packs applied to the skin, or even vaginal administration.
We're not going to give you step-by-step, specific recommendations for an at-home castor oil induction. Why? Two reasons. First, there isn't one clear way that everyone agrees upon. If you have a midwife, they probably have their own preferred method. Second, we believe that a woman should try castor oil under the supervision of her healthcare provider, whether that is an OB or a midwife.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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