How to Use Castor Oil to Induce Labor {and Not Be Miserable}

Notes from the Newborn Daze at lifeyourway.net

The thing about being a blogger is that the best inspiration usually strikes as you’re going about your day and not when you’re sitting with a blog planner trying to come up with things to write about. That’s exactly what happened in the weeks after Jackson’s birth as I thought of a dozen things I wanted to share with you about the newborn stage. The only problems? One, I was on maternity leave and determined to protect that time as much as possible. And two, it was Christmas time and the blog calendar was already very full with seasonal posts.

So instead I made lists of the things I wanted to share, and I’m excited to introduce a new series: Notes from the Newborn Daze. Because I know not all of our readers are at this stage or interested in reading baby tips, I’ll be sharing those just once a week over the next couple of months, with plenty of tips, stories and encouragement for other  stages in between.

How to Use Castor Oil to Induce Labor {and Not Be Miserable}

As I mentioned in Jackson’s birth story, after 10 days of prodomal labor — and with my doctor’s permission — I used castor oil to naturally induce labor. Despite all the horror stories I’d heard and read, it actually worked pretty perfectly for me, so I thought I’d kick off this series by sharing how I used it and what I learned from the experience:

Please note, however, that I am not a licensed medical professional, and this is just my experience, not medical advice. You should consult with your doctor or midwife before using castor oil (or any other natural induction techniques, for that matter!). It’s also worth noting that the definition of full-term has been moved from 37 weeks to 38 weeks of pregnancy, and you shouldn’t attempt to induce labor before then!

Castor oil is a stimulant laxative that causes contractions in the bowels, which in turn stimulates uterine contractions. Like most natural induction methods, this only leads to labor if your body is ready for labor — full term, cervix soft and dilating, etc. While there is always speculation that castor oil also causes the baby to pass meconium, it’s my understanding that castor oil does not cross the placenta, so the slight increase in meconium with castor oil-induced births may instead be linked to its popularity after 40 weeks of pregnancy.

As I researched castor oil doses and experiences myself, a common theme emerged: women were taking large doses of castor oil out of desperation for it to work and then having terrible reactions to it. Castor oil actually comes in a 4-ounce bottle, and many women reportedly downed the whole bottle at one time. Not only is that gross going down, but it causes major diarrhea and can also cause nausea and vomiting. This can also lead to dehydration and other complications that really don’t make for a smooth labor and delivery.

As desperate as I was to kick things into high gear, my desire to not be throwing up or stuck in the bathroom during labor was stronger, so instead of a large dose, I went with two smaller doses.

But first, I tried my best to get a good night’s sleep ahead of time, and I drank plenty of water to help keep dehydration at bay.

When I woke up at 5am the next morning, I mixed 1 tablespoon of castor oil with 4 ounces of orange juice in a half-pint mason jar. I put the lid on and shook it vigorously and then downed the mixture. (The oil and juice don’t really mix, but shaking vigorously makes it frothy and mixes them together temporarily.) Because taste is actually linked to your sense of smell, I held my breath as I drank it so that I didn’t have to taste it at all.

I needed to use the bathroom almost immediately, but it wasn’t too bad (all things considered). I had to go a few more times, and at 8am I repeated the dose.

Around 11am I started having regular contractions, but eventually they died out (as they had been doing for 10 days).

Feeling somewhat discouraged, I took a nap on the couch after lunch, waking up with a pretty strong contraction, which I honestly didn’t think meant anything. I had to use the bathroom one more time, and then I realized the contractions were still coming and there seemed to be a noticeable difference in their intensity. My mom and I walked laps in the house (just to be sure they weren’t going to stop again), and I was having to stop walking and concentrate through them. After about 45 minutes, with contractions coming every 3-4 minutes, we decided to head to the hospital.

Five hours later, Jackson was born. And the best part was that I didn’t experience any diarrhea, nausea or vomiting during labor itself. I was still slightly dehydrated when we reached the hospital, though. If I had planned better, I would have had an electrolyte drink on hand as well to help prevent dehydration from the diarrhea.

In summary:

  • Take castor oil in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
  • Take several small doses (1-1.5 tablespoons) of castor oil 3-4 hours apart rather than one big dose.
  • Add to orange juice in a mason jar and shake vigorously.
  • Hold your breath or pinch your nose while drinking.
  • Drink plenty of water and an electrolyte drink to keep you hydrated.
  • Eat several small snacks.
  • You might not think you’ll need it, but take the colace the hospital gives you anyway!

Have you ever used castor oil? What other natural induction methods have you tried?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • jessie

    I did the same exact thing, had some steady contractions, but they stopped both times. I’m 40+1 today. Guess she just isn’t ready

  • Jenna Foote

    I did … it worked! I did 2 TBS castor oil in 6 TBS juice and added 2 tsp baking soda to cut the oil. It fizzed up. Tasted terrible but it did its job. I had about 2 hours of diarrhea a few hours after drinking it and then I was in real labor … baby was born a few hours later.

    • Amber

      Hi Jenna. Did you have a natural birth? Or did you end up getting pitocin or epidural? Also, how far along were you in your pregnancy? Thanks

      • Jenna Foote

        I had a natural birth (VBAC). No epidural or pitocin. 40 weeks, 1 day when baby was born (took the castor oil at 40 week 0 days.

        • Amber

          Hi, Jenna. I was inspired by your and the blogger’s success with castor oil, so I tried it. Though I have been feeling bad/guilty about it since. The day I asked you about whether you needed pitocin or epidural I was desperate to go into labor. I was 40 weeks 3 days. So that day I used the same dosage as you, but twice and 3 hours apart. 2:30 the following morning my water bag broke when I was walking out of the bathroom to get back into bed. Contractions started immediately five minutes apart lasting for over one minute. And this went on for two hours. We finally made it to the birth center. Labor slowed down and they told me I was 1.5 centimeter dilated and thick cervix. They don’t accept you unless you’re 5 centimeters. So they told me that I could be admitted in their hospital or go back “home” but not their birth center. Home was not an option as we had driven two hours to get their. We really wanted to deliver at the birth center so we checked into a nearby hotel and tried to progress labor. After 36 hours of a busted water bag and contractions my midwife finally convinced us to come to the hospital to get checked and if no progress has been made, then to take pitocin. We tried nipple stimulation before the pitocin. Not enough progress. I ended up getting pitocin, then eventually in order to get some rest, I asked for epidural. I slept for a bit. They woke me up checked me. I had not made much progress. Baby was showing signs of stress. They had a gentle talk with me about my next option: a cesarean. They didn’t know what else to do. I had to be monitored from the time I walked in since my bag had been ruptured for over 24 hours. They couldn’t do anything to my cervix directly to help it because of the busted water bag. Bottom line: after 47 hours and 20 minutes of labor I got a cesarean. Baby completely healthy. I just wonder if I hadn’t used the castor oil how things may have turned out. The midwife said my baby’s head wasn’t turned in a position that helps the cervix dilate, although it was down far enough. Did I kick my baby out too soon?

          • Jenna Foote

            It’s hard to say if the castor oil caused your C-section or not. If anything, it sounds like it worked to get your labor started (spontaneous rupture of membranes, contractions, etc). My first was an emergency C-section at 40 weeks 6 days and I was devastated. I kept blaming myself for a long time. Her cord was wrapped around her neck and causing decels. She had meconium in her water. I wondered if I had put her at risk or if I could have done something (yoga, Spinning Babies) to get her in a better position for labor. The fact is we can’t possibly know how things could have been different for us. All you can do is focus on the present and the future.

            I’m very sorry you didn’t have the wonderful birth you had hoped for. You gave it your best shot. Try not to let the guilt consume you. Enjoy your new, perfect baby!

          • Amber

            Thanks. Very encouraging. By the time he was born I was 40 weeks 6 days also.

    • pinkcupcake

      Were you dilated at all before this or had any contractions? I’m 40 +2, no contractions and I am 1cm dilated and 50% effaced …thinking of trying castor oil.

      • Jenna Foote

        I was 40 weeks exactly when I tried the castor oil. Dilated to a 3-4, 0 station, 70% effaced.

    • Anaceah Warren

      Hey jenna im 40 weeks and 3 days and yesterday I took two tbs of castor oil straight at 3:40pm and nothing happened I had two regular BMs but I feel fine is there anyway I could take more today if so how much ??

      • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

        Hi Anaceah! There are plenty of women who take a full bottle (although I think most of them end up miserable, so I don’t recommend it!), so I don’t see why you couldn’t take more. In the case of castor oil, it’s really the cramping that leads to the start of labor, but most people get it with even just a little bit of castor oil. That said, I am not a medical professional, so I would recommend putting in a call to your doctor or midwife to ask their opinion!

  • lorna

    Gonna try today the Dr doesn’t want me to go fullterm for better chances of having baby naturally. They tried their first sweep of membrains and my cervix she said was soft but I hadn’t dialated. It hurt a lot!! So not wanting to do that again. I do have sporadic contractions since she did her sweep and they do not hurt a lot just bug my back and lower abdomin . glad I stopped to read this blog. Will be back to tell the outcome