I’m sure we’ve all heard the story from our moms. About how, back when she was pregnant, she went well past her due date and stark crazy with the waiting. And how dad was so edgy he’d taken to grabbing car keys and a towel each time mom got up to make a cuppa. Apparently, the wait for labor got so unbearable that mom decided to speed things up and swigged back some castor oil for breakfast. Did you also hear that, after a few short minutes, her contractions had started, and she’d popped you out by tea-time? All hail the castor oil!
Sounds a little too easy? And yet, your mom — and many, many moms before her — say that castor oil is the ticket for speeding into active labor. So how does it work? Well, it’s actually a laxative, which stimulates the bowels and irritates the uterus. The theory goes that if you’re full-term and your cervix is ready for action, the stimulation and spasms caused by castor oil can go on to cause contractions.
But is it safe? Well, if your mom did it, and your grand mom did it, then why shouldn’t you do it, right? In fact, women have been doing it for centuries and there’s never been any proof its harmful. Even a recent study found that there were no harmful effects to the mother or to the fetus from using castor oil during pregnancy.
However, before making a decision involving you and your unborn child, it might be best to get the full picture. Interestingly, this same study also found that castor oil had “no effect on time to birth,” which begs the question, who then should we trust? Your mom, your doctor? Your neighbour down the road? By doing your own research, you can make an informed decision for yourself. Just because others do it, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Read on to find out the many potential dangers of using castor oil, and you might soon be telling your own story. About how you chose to wait...
14 It's A Laxative
I know this might sound obvious, but the very reason that castor oil works to induce labor is also the reason you don’t want to take it. Diarrhea is unpleasant at the best of times, but when you’re pregnant it really sucks. I mean, you can’t even reach around to grab the toilet paper. So imagine spending your whole evening on the toilet, tender tummy and painful bowel cramps, when instead you could be sleeping or spending the last few precious moments with your husband before you're a mom.
A prolonged bout of diarrhea can also lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous for both you and the baby. In severe cases, it can cause “neural tube defects, low amniotic fluid, inadequate breast milk production, and even... birth defects.” If you do have the runs during pregnancy, it’s important to drink plenty of fluid, avoid caffeine and a hot environment.
Let me leave you with one more thought. One lady in an Australian forum states, “boy, (castor oil) sure did bring on labour, but only due to the fact I threw up and pooped my insides out for six long painful hours beforehand... the only thing left to come out was the baby.” Ouch!
13 Risk Of Exposing Baby To Meconium
Meconium is baby’s first poo and usually comes out after baby is born. However, if it’s passed while baby is still inside you, there’s a chance he can breathe it in. Complications for baby that can arise from this medical condition — known as Meconium Aspiration Syndrome — include breathing problems, inflammation of the lungs, and infections like pneumonia.
A correlation has been found between the use of castor oil to induce labor and the levels of meconium found in the amniotic fluid around the baby at the time of birth. A study conducted in 2009 found that 18% of women in the group that took castor oil, compared to 6% of women in the group that didn’t, had meconium stained water. This is a significant difference. Although many other studies insist there is no proof castor oil can pass to baby and cause the passing of meconium, is it really worth the risk? If the jury is still out, then surely it’s best to wait until they’re back from lunch!
12 Labor Is Already A Marathon
The first picture of mom and baby after birth is special. A tiny bundle of angel lies snuggled in mom’s arms; the new dad looks on proudly, arm protectively around his family, and mom? She’s got such a blissful look on her face, it’s hard to believe she’s just been through the crazy pain of labor. But if you look real close, you can see the shadows beneath her eyes. And the way she holds herself barely upright? It reveals the sheer exhaustion she feels inside. And that’s only the beginning of our journey into motherhood. Sleepless nights await us. There’s never time to rest.
Now imagine for a second that Mom is already exhausted before labor even starts. It would be a bit crap, wouldn’t it? Having to go through contractions, pushing, pain, tearing... (you get the picture!) when you’ve only just run a marathon. Of course, the marathon I’m referring to is a run-in with diarrhea, sprints to and from the toilet, cramping of the bowels, sweating, nausea, thirst, bloating, and hours of irregular contractions. All of which are the many effects of taking castor oil to induce labor. You might want to put that bottle down or you're going to be exceptionally tired.
11 Baby's Just Not Ready
It’s becoming more and more difficult for pregnant women today to experience the spontaneous onset of labor. Over the last 20 years, the number of labor inductions has been steadily increasing, and I'm afraid this isn’t good news for mom or baby. Labor induction can increase the likelihood of a c-section delivery, especially if you’re a first time mom. Contractions will feel more painful, and there’s also a higher rate of infection, cord problems, and bleeding after delivery. No-one can seem to agree on why there are more inductions in today’s society, however, a higher number of older moms could have a part to play.
The Midwifery Institute at Philadelphia University explains that the “likelihood of a successful labor induction is dependent on the condition of the cervix before induction begins.” If your cervix isn’t ready for labor, then complications can occur. This is important to be aware of when taking castor oil, because you may be inducing your labor before your body is actually ready. Many say it will not work unless your cervix is effaced, but what if it does work? Not ready, Freddy!
10 More Pain, Less Gain
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Labor really hurts. Like, way more than I thought it would. My labor was induced, and when labor is induced, intense contractions start immediately. There’s no time to pace the halls with your husband’s hand upon your back. There’s no nice warm bath to prepare you for the night ahead, no chance to get the calming oils burning. You’re just thrust right on in there. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to prepare for the onslaught of contractions.
Many people say that castor oil has the same effect as an artificial induction. After all, you are still inducing labor. Anecdotal feedback from moms who have used castor oil include, “It was the worst pain of my life,” to “Omg these contractions are so f-ing painful.” Not trying to scare anyone, but seriously? Why would you do that to yourself? It's already painful enough. I know what I’d have chosen if I’d had the privilege of choice — a warm bath and a cuddle to lead the way, not a kick into the torture chamber.
9 It Can Compromise Milk Production
Because of its purgative properties, women who take castor oil to induce labor can experience severe bouts of diarrhea. This can in turn cause dehydration. Although research has shown that mothers produce the same volume of milk, regardless of hydration status, mom’s milk production can be effected by very severe cases.
Also, breast milk contains almost 90% water, and according to the European Food Safety Authority, a breastfeeding mom should increase her water intake by an additional 700 milliliters of water per day. If you’re starting the journey thirsty, then it’s going to take some time to catch up. And this could potentially effect your chance of going on to successfully breastfeed.
Interestingly, a Castor Oil Pack used externally can stimulate milk production in lactating mothers and help relieve some of the symptoms of plugged ducts or mastitis. Apply it in a poultice to the breast, but be sure to rinse it off before latching on the baby.
8 It Can Cause An Early Delivery
Dear Mom-to-be, no matter how impatient you’re feeling, no matter how uncomfortable your bump, you must never take castor oil prior to 40 weeks’ gestation. If taken too early, there’s the chance you’ll go into labor, and your baby will be born pre-term. A baby born at 36 weeks may only have minor issues feeding; however, a baby born earlier than this can develop more serious problems, including breathing difficulties, infection, or even brain damage. In the long term, the child may also experience sight or hearing difficulties, and behavioural issues.
In some countries, castor oil is used as a method of abortion in early pregnancy. There are also stories from women back in the 1960s, when abortion was still illegal, who overdosed on castor oil out of desperation not to be found with child. Whether or not it works to abort a baby or not is not officially known, however, still the risk is there. So if you’re thinking of taking castor oil as a laxative in early pregnancy, you must think twice.
7 It Creates Unnecessary Side Effects
For many thousands of years, castor oil has been used for various medicinal purposes. One of the ailments that people claim can be cured with castor oil include stomach aches and bloating. Rubbing castor oil between your palms and applying it to the tummy region relieves stomach pain and expels trapped gas. When taken internally, this effect is magnified. So if you ingest just one teaspoon of castor oil, you’ll be popping and banging all the way to the toilet.
Although not exactly life threatening, the gas caused by castor oil could, for some women, be embarrassing in certain circumstances. Let’s think about this for one second, shall we? You take castor oil and go into labor, but you can’t stop farting and then it’s time to push. Ewww. You might not really care by this point, but I’m pretty sure that others in the room might not appreciate it. One mother in an online forum reported that, after taking castor oil, her daughter went into labor and “was going #2 the whole time, passing gas, and the room stunk to high heaven!” Phewy!
6 It Causes Haemor-Rhoid Rage
Whilst we’re on the subject of disorderly bottoms, haemorrhoids are nasty buggers, aren’t they? So, growing up, I thought piles were something you got when you sat on a cold floor. I had no idea they were associated with constipation and straining on the toilet, and I was even more shocked when I found out you’re more likely to get them during pregnancy. Without revealing too much about my own toilet adventures, let me just say this. Swollen veins around your anus are not cool.
Quite weirdly, castor oil applied externally with a cotton ball is said to shrink the little rascals. But taken internally to induce labor, when you have a ring of them around your... yeah... probably not a good idea. Loose watery stools caused by taking this known laxative can exacerbate your haemorrhoids or even cause them. Similarly if you suffer from cramps, irritable bowel, ulcers, diverticulitis, colitis, prolapses, or have recently undergone surgery, you should also avoid castor oil at all costs. Ouchy!
5 It Forces Mom To Move Too Quickly
I know you can’t wait to meet your little one, but really, there’s no rush. Unless you have a high risk pregnancy, what’s the harm in letting the little fella have a few more days’ sleep inside your tummy? Ever heard the term, ‘perfectly cooked’? Personally, I would have much preferred for my girls to have chosen when they made their entrance into the world. At least that way, I’d have known they were ready as nature intended. Unfortunately, this choice was taken away from us. But if you do have a choice, then you should seriously consider starting as you mean to go on. Rushing into labor translates to rushing right on through the early years, and believe me when I say that every second is so very precious.
Using castor oil to speed up the process of going into labor has also been associated with a speedy delivery. Precipitous labor is when the whole process takes less than three hours. This might sound appealing, but as well as emotional turmoil; however, rapid birth can increase the risk of tearing, haemorrhaging, and delivering your baby in the car!
4 It Prolongs The Feeling Of Nausea Throughout Labor
A quick search online to find out what castor oil tastes like brings up all sorts of descriptive words, including “soapy”, “oily,” “bitter and unappealing”, “really nasty,” and “like drinking Vaseline”. Yuck. Some people swear that mixing it with orange juice masks the awful taste, but even if it does, it seems the nausea remains. A 2001 study by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London, found that every single woman in their review who ingested castor oil reported feeling nauseous. Every... single... woman. So, unless you want to spend your first few hours of labor feeling like you’re about to puke your guts up, I suggest you stay well clear.
According to a 2010 study by the Hamadan University of Medical Sciences in Iran, castor oil can also cause vomiting, which in turn can cause dehydration. Although dehydration is one of the less common side effects of castor oil, it is very dangerous for mom-to-be and baby if it does happen. Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue, headache, and dizziness. Certainly not what you want to be dealing with during labor.
3 Just Because It's Natural Doesn't Mean It's Safe
Castor oil is produced from the pressed beans of the castor plant. This might sound harmless and natural enough, but castor beans actually contain a potent toxin known as ricin. Ricin poisoning can be fatal, and symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, seizures, severe dehydration and low blood pressure. But don’t panic. The International Journal of Toxicology reports that commercially available castor oil is considered a safe product. The ricin protein from the castor beans is removed when the oil is made, and the heating process further deactivates the protein.
There is a 'but'. It's important to note that The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. Therefore, you do not always know what you are getting when you purchase a bottle of castor oil, and there are no guarantees on its safety. Just one milligram of ricin is fatal if inhaled or ingested, so be responsible and smart about it. Stay away from homemade remedies and suppliers, and for goodness sake, stick to the recommended dose!
2 It Can Cause Skin To Break Out In Hives
Want to look younger, blemish-free, smooth, supple and revitalised? Don’t we all. Well, castor oil applied externally can actually help us do just that. Many sources recommend the amazing benefits of applying castor oil to the skin, but be careful. Although it’s uncommon, castor oil can cause a dermatological irritation, an itchy rash, or even hives. It’s always best to perform a patch test first, or you might end up looking quite the opposite of how you intended.
If you’re consuming the oil, an allergy to castor oil can become more serious than just an itch. A severe allergy to castor oil is rare, but if you are allergic, even a small dose can cause swelling of the face, throat or tongue, and difficulty breathing. If this is the case, call emergency immediately, and be sure to tell them what you have taken, how much, and when it was consumed. Again, it’s important to do a patch test on your skin before you consume the oil, as this can provide clues as to how your body will react.
1 Always A Risk When Carrying Around Cup Of Oil
Momma-to-be, you’re big, you’re heavy, and let’s be honest, your sense of balance isn’t exactly honed to precision right now. In fact, the last time you bent down to put your socks on, you ended up rolling around like a turtle on its back... only your tummy was the shell. Oh dear! So when we’re dealing with things like oil, you should probably put some safety precautions in place beforehand. Because even one drop of castor oil on the tiles could result in a skating routine. With a potentially disastrous finale.
My tips? Choose a bottle with a pouring cap and not an open neck. I’ve actually been known to fill up my entire frying pan with cooking oil, because I didn’t think to check the cap was on. Ooops. Also, pop on some rubber gloves before you shake the bottle. Those slippery glass bottles can be quite troublesome, I find. And lastly, make sure you sit down before you open the bottle, yeah? I’m pretty sure, it’s safer that way for everyone.
Alternatively, you could give castor oil a big miss and go and have a lie down instead. Stay safe!
Sources: Healthline.com, NCBI.gov, AmericanPregnancy.org, ResearchGate.net, BellyBelly.com, InstituteOfMidwifery.org, MayoClinic.org, NHS.uk, MilkWorks.org, DrMomma.org, DripDrop.com, Patient.info, GestationalDiabetics.com, AlertNet.org, MedHelp.org, Skinverse.com, TopHealthRemedies.com, Castor-Oil.com, Mercola.com, MedlinePlus.gov, LiveStrong.com