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Castor Oil Induction

One of the oldest methods of stimulating labor is with a castor oil induction. Risks, benefits, rates of effectiveness, and alternatives to castor oil are presented.

Use of Laxatives to Induce Labor

Laxatives stimulate the bowel. The increased bowel activity results in uterine contractions. These contractions may be temporary, or they may initiate labor and the birth of the baby. Two most common forms of laxatives for inducing labor are castor oil and mineral oil.

Castor Oil Induction of Labor

Castor oil is a widely available and inexpensive laxative. It was used by physicians in the first half of the twentieth century to induce labor; but was eventually replaced with pitocin in the hospital setting.

In spite of the fact that castor oil fell out of vogue with physicians, it continues to be used by women to self-induce labor. It is also recommended frequently by some midwives.

Effectiveness of Castor Oil

A 1984 study found that 75% of women with premature rupture of the membranes went into labor within 24 hours when castor oil was used, while only 58% started labor without. There were also less cesareans in the group that used the castor oil.

For pregnancy that continued past the due date, a study in 2000 found that 60% went into labor within 24 hours after ingestion of castor oil, compared to 4% in the control group.

Side Effects of Castor Oil

Possible side effects from castor oil include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Gas
  • Precipitous labor (less than 3 hours)
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Possible increase in meconium stained fluid
Diarrhea is an almost universal effect of castor oil, and appears to be part of the mechanism that causes the uterine contractions.

Risks of Castor Oil Induction

As with any induction of labor, there are potential risks. These include:
  • Preterm delivery
  • Pain and discomfort from severe diarrhea
  • Possible increase in meconium in the fluid (anecdotal evidence only)

    Advantages of Castor Oil to Induce Labor

    There has to be some advantage to this or noone would be doing it!

    Many women who are facing a medical induction prefer to avoid the intense contractions and the medical control that is inherent with pitocin induction.

    Some women become impatient when there is no medical reason to induce but do so because they desire the end of the pregnancy. Verifying with the caregiver that the baby will not be premature is essential to prevent complications to the baby from prematurity.

    How Castor Oil is Taken

    Two ounces of castor oil can be taken orally and repeated every two hours as necessary. Women sometimes blend the castor oil with one cup of orange juice and crushed ice to make it more palatable.

    Mineral Oil Induction

    Mineral oil is another laxative with a more mild effect than castor oil. No research was found demonstrating its use to induce labor.

    Nonetheless, some women use mineral oil rather than castor oil to self-induce since it does not have as bad of a taste or cause the same level of intestinal irritability. It appears to work in some cases to induce labor at or past full term.

    Women are often more comfortable with the mineral oil, knowing they can try castor oil later if the mineral oil proves ineffective. The risks of mineral oil would include general risks of induction and risks of laxatives. General Risks of Induction
    Premature delivery
    Possible fetal distress if contractions are too strong

    Risks of laxative inductions
    Possible stimulating baby to pass meconium in utero

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  • By Karen Newell Copyright 2003 - 2012 Better Childbirth Outcomes - All Rights Reserved
    Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, USA