Old wives’ remedies include numerous do-it-yourself approaches to inducing labor, such as hot baths, enemas, herbs, sexual intercourse and castor oil. Castor oil, traditionally used as a laxative, has been the subject of study in some clinical trials. However, according to an article published in the May 2003 issue of “American Family Physician,” there’s no conclusive evidence that suggests castor oil is helpful.
About Castor Oil
Castor oil is a pale yellow, fixed oil derived from the castor bean plant. When used as a laxative, castor oil irritates the intestines and causes bowel movements. Castor oil is also used as a topical emollient for skin diseases like seborrheic dermatitis. Castor oil enjoys a reputation for having an unpleasant taste and greasy texture. Side effects associated with ingesting castor oil include nausea, cramping and dizziness.
What Old Wives Say
According to a Cochrane review, the practice of using castor oil to induce labor dates back to the time of ancient Egyptians. Some midwives continue to use castor oil in their practice. Purportedly, castor oil causes cramping in the intestines, which causes uterine contractions.
One small study published by researchers at the Nursing and Midwifery School in Khoramabad, Iran in the July 2006 issue of “Saudi Medical Journal” examined the effects of castor oil in a study group of 47 pregnant women. Researchers indicate a “significant increase in labor initiation” in the women who received castor oil, compared to those in the control group.
However, a review published in the October 2009 issue of the “Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology” suggests that castor oil has no effect on labor. Researchers at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit in Thailand examined the medical records of 612 women who were pregnant at 40 weeks, 205 of whom took castor oil. There was no difference noted in the time to birth between women who used castor oil and those who did not. Castor oil did not harm the mothers or their babies.
In reviewing the results of existing studies on castor oil, there was no evidence to suggest that castor oil induces labor, according to Josie L. Tenore, M.D., S.M., of Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, as stated in an article for “Family Physician.” However, women who did use castor oil did report nausea as an unpleasant side effect.
Other natural methods to induce labor have nominal studies behind them. According to Dr. Tenore, the effectiveness of hot baths, enemas, herbal supplements, sexual intercourse, breast stimulation and accupuncture to start labor is questionable, with research yielding inconclusive evidence and many studies in support of these methods being of poor quality or design. Dr. Tenore concludes that the most effective way to get labor underway is through use of surgical and mechanical techniques, as well as use of labor-inducing drugs — treatments that only your health care provider can give.