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Castor Oil In Labor: Friend or Ferociously Unpleasant Hell Ride? (Or Both?)

Is it worth it?

Here’s a story I heard last night: Mom is 41 weeks and 5 days but has not gone into labor. This is not that uncommon and is often perfectly safe and healthy — but mom wants to birth in a Birthing Center that has a cut-off date of 41 weeks.

When mom’s water breaks the next morning but contractions don’t start even after eight hours, her midwife recommends the option of castor oil to speed things up.

Mom drinks it — mixed with seltzer and cranberry to cut the oil — and waits.

A few hours later: massive “violent diarrhea” and vomiting. “Montezuma’s Revenge” for four hours — couch to bathroom, couch to bathroom, couch to bathroom.

Not fun, in a daze, some sleep achieved, which is good, but … Wow, she tells me, that stuff is hardcore.

Finally the diarrhea stops. There’s a moment where nothing is happening at all and then … labor starts. Before she knows it, mom’s in active labor with contractions five minutes apart.

She gets to the birthing center and they don’t slow down … in fact, she”s moving along really nicely and gives birth with no medication within 8 hours of labor starting. Mom is thrilled, baby is healthy.

Did she love the Castor oil? No! Was she relieved to be at the birthing center as she had hoped to be? Yes.

I was interested to hear this story, as it matches up pretty nicely with the advice I’ve always heard and I teach about Castor oil.

Here’s the basic deal:

1. It really does work.

Not always, but often enough to take it seriously. The idea is that the purging of the intestines gets prostaglandins, the hormone that starts labor, going.

Some recommend spicy foods or an enema for this same effect. Castor oil is by far the most effective of these bowel-flushing maneuvers.

2. Sure it’s “natural” but it can be powerful, too.

It’s basically a medicine (or in birth lingo, “an intervention”) so don’t take this without talking to your care-provider about benefits, risks and alternatives.

3. It’s nasty.

Castor oil should be a last resort for getting a sluggish or post-date labor started because it does cause heavy diarrhea and some vomiting. (Rehydrate if you use it!) Castor oil is a laxative and when you use it to trigger labor you take a strong dose, stronger than you would for a subtle laxative effect. (Here are some other less drastic but maybe not as effective, ‘natural’ ways to get labor going.)

Have you ever heard of castor oil being used in labor? Would you consider it?

If you’ve used castor oil in labor, tell us your story!

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