True or false: Can drinking castor oil bring on labour and is it safe?

Some expecting mothers will do anything to try and induce labour naturally once they reach full term, such as the old wives’ tale of drinking castor oil. Does it work though and is it even safe? Here’s what you need to know.

What is castor oil?

A vegetable oil made from pressing the seeds of the castor plant, it’s a pale yellow liquid oil that’s used as a preservative and in the production of many items such as soaps, pharmaceutical products, brake fluid, paints, perfumes and more. It’s also been used in the past quite widely medicinally as a laxative and to bring on labour in late pregnancy, when the castor oil is drunk directly by itself (it is said to taste terrible). An unusual composition, it’s made of 90 percent fatty acids, which is what is thought to give the oil its healing properties and many still use it today.

Castor oil is still used around the world today to treat many ailments

The old wives’ tale

The practice of drinking castor oil to induce labour is thought to date back as far as the ancient Egyptians. The logic behind it is that the castor oil causes intestinal cramping and diarrhoea which then kick-starts the uterus into having contractions. Some people swear by it, while others are dead set against it – but the fact is, it’s just a myth. Clinical studies have proved there is absolutely zero evidence that it works, but for some reason the old wives’ tale refuses to go away.

Can it hurt to try?

Babyology received a flurry of comments on a post recently from readers voicing the dangers of using castor oil in pregnancy, something we’ve taken quite seriously (hence this myth busting article). Looking to the experts however, studies have actually found the practice neither helpful or harmful. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the negative symptoms reported by other pregnant women though, so if you’re thinking of drinking castor oil it’s best to consider the risks and side effects experienced by others.

Diarrhoea is terrible at the best of times, let alone heavily pregnant and facing labour

The possible negatives

The most common issue women have reported when drinking castor oil to bring on labour is the terrible cramping, vomiting and unpleasant diarrhoea they experienced which didn’t start contractions, but instead weakened them in the lead up to and during the birth (which is exhausting in itself). The practice is also thought to increase the chances of the baby doing their first poo (meconium) while still in utero instead of post-birth, which can cause lung problems and infections if they breathe it in – also called Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. Other more minor reported issues are poor milk production due to dehydration from the laxative effects of the oil, prolonged nausea and aggravated haemorrhoids.

Why the rush?

If you’re overdue and feeling like you’re busting at the seams, it’s natural to want the baby out as fast as possible. But sometimes racing to the finish line is not the best answer. There’s probably a good reason why your baby isn’t ready to come out yet, and trying to induce yourself naturally could become a more stressful and potentially dangerous situation than what you’re currently going through. If you’re incredibly overdue though, your doctor will induce you medically at the hospital, which although may seem a bit scary is quite a safe and common practice now. So don’t worry, one way or another your baby will come out!

The bottom line

Sure some labour inducing things are quite harmless like eating certain foods or having sex (despite no real proof they work), but to be on the safe side our verdict is to best beware of anything like hooning over speed bumps in the car or in this case, drinking castor oil. Finally, remember to always follow your doctor’s advice.

Did you try taking castor oil when you were pregnant?



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