Castor Oil inductions

Inducing with castor oil isn’t safe. Once swallowed the castor oil is hydrolized by intestinal lipases to recinoleic acid which stimulates intestinal secretion, decreases glucose absorption and increases intestinal motility. Castor oil is used in lipsticks, too. Many women who can tolerate the oil quite well on their lips get a reaction on their mouths if the oil converts to recinoleic acid. My question to a midwife who says castor oil is not absorbed is ‘Would you please provide me with references for that statement’.

It’s not so long ago that birthing women were given soap suds enemas (high, hot and a helluva lot) because someone started a rumor that soap was not absorbed through the colon. We know this is not true and that this black page in Obstetric history is best forgotten. Too many women have turned from saying ‘My doctor says’ to saying ‘My midwife says’. Take responsibility for your and your family’s health. It is fine to respect professionals but ask for references on everything you’re not l00 % sure of and use your internet to scope things out. There is so much crap that passes for science without anyone questioning it.

On the subject of all the women in a hurry to get their babies born: I was 3 weeks ‘overdue’ with my oldest daughter. What really helped me was that I had lunch with a friend at about 8 months pregnancy. Her son had been born 6 months before. When she saw me walk in the restaurant all hugely pregnant she said ‘Oh, Gloria, when I see you I miss my pregnancy so much’. I knew that one day I’d be saying that, too, so I made up my mind to enjoy it as long as possible and I’m so glad I did. Six months from now you’ll be wondering what the rush was. I worry about women taking castor oil because you also give your baby castor oil when you take it through the gut. This means the baby will get diarrhea and pass meconium, too. Then you’re into all the transports for meconium.

— Gloria Lemay

Feedback to Midwifery Today Magazine:

Thank you for including Gloria Lemay’s comments about castor oil [Issue 4:26]. We all want to see women empowered to make truly informed choices about their care. Unfortunately, most birthing women tend to simply trust that their birth attendant will know what is best for them. The danger of this occurring in a homebirth environment is no less than in a hospital setting and may in fact be more insidious, because while so many of us distrust the obstetrician’s medicalized approach, the homebirth midwife is regarded as especially wise in the ways of birth, as well as unintrusive and noninterventive. The definitions of these last two terms are of course relative, and midwifery, just like obstetrics, is based in traditions that are not always safe or beneficial.

I came to understand this first from experience. My labor was not difficult, but it was longer than average. My midwife encouraged me to drink castor oil to speed up the process. Eager to escape the tedium of labor and to see my baby, I agreed. It was a huge mistake. The stomach cramping was severe and compounded the pain from my contractions, which were now coming fast and furious. Back labor was very painful [in subsequent births], yes, but do-able; my castor oil labor was a tortured hell. Now I know that I was putting my baby at risk as well. I would have much preferred the tedium of a long labor.

Linda Hessel
Peoria, OR

26 thoughts on “Castor Oil inductions

  1. Pingback: An Expert Agrees « Fearless Birth

  2. Fabulous Gloria! I wrote an article on the “effectiveness” of castor oil that was met with quite a bit of flack from practicing midwives here in the US. It seems that “if it works don’t fix it” is the mantra of many. ugh. Thank you for your post on the subject.

    • Hello Kelly, would be interested to read the article you wrote some time back, about the ‘effectiveness’ of castor oil.
      I’m a self employed independent midwife in the UK

  3. I did try castor oil with my first (so far only) pregnancy. I’d been contracting for months (irritable uterus), baby was low low low, losing mucus plug you name it. I tried it at 41w3d, my hospital induction was scheduled for 41w5d. It did a whole lot of nothing for contractions, I was just miserably pooping all day. My poor bum burned so bad I took to using the baby wipes we had ready for my son! And no, no labor.

    I tried everything I could that late, walking, sex, nipple stim, castor oil, (I really did NOT want an induction and rightly so…) then cytotec, foley bulb, pit pit pit pit pit (two days of it with no progress), breaking water, and at length a c-section after four hours pushing.

    Aside from the unpleasantness of castor oil (and thankfully it didn’t bother my baby, or at least there was no meconium) I will not be trying it again. I’m now a firm firm believer in babies coming when THEY want to, no matter what you do at home to help! Next time I think I’ll relax and just wait. 🙂

  4. I’m so sorry that happened to you, Stassja.

    Some years ago, I had a client who was 12 days past her due date with her first baby. She had a spontaneous release of the membranes so we expected her to have the baby but, no, the birth sensations did not start for 5 more days.

    When she did start having sensations, the birth went very smoothly and out came a baby that was covered with thick vernix, had lots of lanugo and the inner labia were slightly exposed (these are all signs of being early).

    I think about what would have happened to that woman had she been in the standard obstetrical path. She probably would have had the exact same experience that you did.

    There’s a midwife in Portland Ore., Gail Hart, who says that birthing women are like a combination lock–if you don’t have all the numbers lined up just right, you can’t get it to open. There are so many things that are a mystery about what makes the baby come out so we’ll probably never have an effective/safe combination of interventions.

    • gloria, i assume the laws in BC are different than FL, USA. i had a SROM at 41 weeks with no sensations 12 hours later. if i was not in active labor at 24 hours post-rupture, by law i could no longer continue in the care of my midwife. i took labor enhancing herbs, received acupuncture, did nipple stimulation, etc. but eventually decided on the castor oil induction. i don’t feel like it adversely effected my labor.

      my question is, what do you suggest to women who feel “on the clock” once waters rupture? waiting for the baby to come on her own could mean waiting for the baby to come without a midwife, unassisted.

      • This is a list of instructions that can be followed when membranes release spontaneously
        Sometimes, clients get the impression that practices are “law” when they are actually “professional guidelines/protocols” or “standard practice in the community”. Obstetrics tends to be an aggressive field. . . practitioners would rather be accused of doing too much rather than too little. This does leave the client in the position of having to keep quiet about her membranes releasing or going it alone if she speaks up and gets fired as a “noncompliant patient”. The fact that all inductions carry dangers seems to be of little concern to most practitioners when the induction ball gets rolling.

  5. I don’t like castor oil either. It seems like if you are considering induction for a problem you wouldn’t want to be taking in a toxic substance. Probably the best remedy is Essence of Patience.
    Thank you, Gloria, for speaking up on all these topics. We need to hold on to the truth that Nature knows best. Our job is to discover how best to work with her.

  6. Pingback: Is there really any such thing as a “natural” induction « Woman to Woman Childbirth Education

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  8. i have just bought castor oil and now I’m not finding any strength to take it …so i decided to leave it to Nature, as well. My mother inlaw suggested taking castor oil 1 tsp with a glass of warm milk just after it ….. for this delivery, I’m going to be relaxed and calm and have patience. Plz pray

    • You can mix the castor oil with another oil and it’s great for your hair. You can also use it to wash your face with. Just don’t try to use it for induction.

  9. I just delivered my second child, hbac, at 15 days overdue. The gyno that I had seen at the very beginning of my pregnancy was firm on a 39 week induction, and I wanted labor to start on its own, so I switched to an unlicensed midwife (due to having pre-gest diabetes, regardless that it was very, very well controlled, no licensed midwife could attend me). At 15 days past, my midwife said, “Well, your bp is elevated, there is trace protein in your urine, and you’re overdue. Baby comes by tomorrow night, or it’s off to the hospital for you.” Which, of course, meant another unnecessary c-section. So I broke down and took about an ounce of castor oil. (I had been trying homeopathic versions of blue/black cohosh, sex, walking, EPO, etc., etc.,and nothing was working.)
    I would never recommend castor oil to someone just because they want to have their baby, nor would I take it again, unless faced with the same situation, but I can’t say I regret taking it in my situation. Sometimes you have to weigh the risks.

  10. Begging your pardon! My own comment just smacked me in the face I was browsing your archives. Apparently, I had followed a link to this article as I was researching something else birth-related. Anyway, I wasn’t trying to be cheeky in my above comment. I was freshly jubilant over having pushed a baby out of my vagina–something that I wasn’t supposed to be able to do, and I’m afraid my zeal got the best of me. You are quite right about castor oil, of course. It’s not healthy (nor is induction, in general), and it shouldn’t be used. Patience is a virtue in all things, labor not excluded. Thank you for your very gracious response, and I do offer my most humble apologies.

    • Kari, when you’ve had a HBAC, you get a lot of good grace around here even if you are a bit cheeky. You keep on being jubilant! You never know who is reading your comment and finding the strength to do her own HBAC out of what you wrote. Thanks.

  11. Hi Gloria! I am a student midwife, and in my state, women must be transferred to an OB if they have not given birth by 42 weeks. The local midwives (my preceptors) use castor oil as a last resort induction method. They don’t like doing it, from what they tell me, but they feel that, if after nothing else works (walking, sex, black and blue cohosh), it would be better to try castor oil and breaking the woman’s water, than to have a perfectly healthy woman transferred to the hospital.

    What is your opinion on this? If you were faced with a similar situation (I should mention that midwifery licensing is strict in Florida, and midwives may lose their license if they do not follow the “rules”), what would you recommend? I do not plan on practicing here in Florida when I graduate from midwifery school, but I’d like to pass along some information to the midwives that I work with.

    Love and blessings,

  12. Pingback: Gloria Lemay » Blog Archive » What’s a Poor Midwife To Do?

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  14. I’d like to know what advice you’d give to a woman who’s care provider insists that she induce.
    I’m due in October, and I have a midwife…but our midwives here in Ontario are forced to transfer your care to an OB if you go over 42 weeks. (In which case, I wouldn’t be able to have my baby at home, as planned.-And really, I don’t want an OB either.I’d rather give birth in a cardboard box under the stairs like a cat. I’m dead serious.)
    I’ve had two completely natural, and very quick births already. My biggest fear though is being induced-I know that an induced labour is entirely different than that of a natural labour, and i’m not sure I could handle it. (and I don’t EVER want an epidural.) My midwife mentioned that if they think the baby is large they’ll often induce before the actual due date. My first two were not HUGE, but larger. (8-9 lbs)But I had NO problems. I don’t see the need to induce even if this one turns out to be a 12 pounder. (which I really don’t think is going to happen.)

    I have friends who have basically been scared into induction by Ob/gyns and midwives-and then have had really invasive births as a result. Epidurals, Vaccums, forceps, episiotomies etc. And in the end, the baby’s birth weight was actually fairly small.
    Is there anything at all that a woman can say to her doctor when she does feel as though she’s being forced into an induction?
    Or to a woman who could lose out on a home birth? If I were a little more confident, and the baby wasn’t breech, I’d go unassisted. That’s how much I *hate* having a baby in a hospital.

  15. Pingback: Castor Oil Inductions By Gloria Lemay | Blessed be the Belly

  16. Hi Gloria,

    I’m glad that women have you as such a great resource. Though my children are long ago born (19 & 17) I still have an interest in natural birthing, especially as most my peers are beginning to have children ( I had mine at a very young age). A friend posted another article of your’s on Facebook and I found my way here.

    With my second, my Son, I was intending on having a home birth after a not very positive experience with my first birth of my daughter. I was overdue again, and the midwife agreed it would be ok for me to take some Castor Oil. First dose and a walk did nothing, so I took some more and went to bed. I woke in the wee hours of the morning in labour and tried to call my midwife who’s phone line had gone dead. She lived in a town 3 hrs away in the Kootenays. Luckily she had provided me with a nearby Doula’s number who wanted to participate so I was able to get support from her.

    I’m glad I came across this article because I know it works and at times share my experience of this, but perhaps will not after reading what you have to say about the topic. My Son was 10 lbs 11 oz and i’m not sure how big he would have ended up if we had waited. I guess that speaks to our fear of not being able to handle the process without interference. Fortunately I did have a good outcome, and likely a preferable one to induction or other interference, but it does seem best to not interfere with our bodies and to trust. I still feel it is the lesser of two evils but should never be a decision made lightly and I will be much more careful about what I say to Mothers to be. I will most certainly suggest your blog to them so that they may be introduced to your gentler approach to the natural process of childbirth.


  17. In my castor oil induced labor in 1985 I went from 2 to 7 in about 20 minutes. It was the most excrutiating agony of my life and my son’s heartbeat dropped to 68. My bloodpressure rose off the top of the scale and I suffered a small uterine rupture. I hemhoraged and then bled for over 5 months afterwards. Don’t use castor oil.

  18. For those of you worried about the pressures of a forced induction, 2 things. 1. The only person getting you to an induction appointment is you. They’re not going to send anyone to fetch you if you don’t show. Show up when you want, like when you’re in labor! 😉 2. The phrase, “I do not consent.” 🙂 I hope that helps! And good luck on all your labors 🙂 Babies are great and deserve every chance to start life as healthy and uncomplicated as possible. 🙂

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  20. There seems to be so much pressure from everyone (family, friends and medical professionals) nowadays to get baby out as close to EDD as possible. It’s sad that so many of us have lost trust in our bodies and our babies to birth at the right time and end up taking unnecessary risks such as trying to induce with castor oil.

    I was “late” with two of mine. The second one was +14 days past 40 weeks. Sadly I gave into pressure from the consultant to induce. I will always regret that.

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