You’ve probably heard of castor oil being used in hair and beauty recipes, but what about pregnancy? Over the centuries, castor oil has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes, and some women even turned to this oil to help jumpstart the labor process.
Does it really work, and if it does, is it safe?
Let’s take a closer look at what castor oil is, what it’s used for, and how it may help you get the labor process going.
Table of Contents
- What Is Castor Oil?
- What Medicinal Uses Does Castor Oil Have?
- How Does Castor Oil Work to Induce Labor?
- How Fast Does Castor Oil Work to Induce Labor?
- Castor Oil Side Effects
- How to Use Castor Oil to Induce Labor
- What Other Uses Does Castor Oil Have?
What Is Castor Oil?
Castor oil is a type of vegetable oil that’s obtained by pressing the beans of the Ricinus communis plant. We call it “castor oil” because it was once used as a replacement for castoreum, the dried perineal glands of beavers, which were once used as perfume bases.
The oil has a pale yellow color and is incredibly thick. It has a mild odor, but supposedly has a rather distinct taste (I can’t personally say whether this is true or not).
What Medicinal Uses Does Castor Oil Have?
At one time, castor oil was used as a purgative, but it was also used to treat a variety of medical ailments in the elderly and children, including colds, fevers, coughs, indigestion, constipation, worms, skin diseases, and ingestion of poison.
At the time, it was believed that issues in the stomach were the root cause of most other issues, and castor oil would cleanse the digestive system this way. Even today, the FDA categorizes castor oil as generally safe and effective as a laxative.
How does castor oil affect the digestive system?
Once it reaches the small intestine, it’s digested into ricinoleic acid, which can cause diarrhea.
Castor oil has antibacterial and disinfectant properties, which is part of the reason why it was used often for medicinal purposes at one time.
The late Edgar Cayce, a mystic, recommended castor oil packs for a variety of ailments, from epilepsy to skin conditions. As it turns out, Cayce’s methods were confirmed to be effective by doctors – and are still recommended by some professionals in the medical field today for certain conditions.
But this oil also had a darker use in history. People would, at times, use the oil to poison and even kill other people. When the oil is taken in small doses, it causes vomiting, loose bowels and nausea. But when taken in large doses, it can be potentially deadly.
How Does Castor Oil Work to Induce Labor?
Castor oil and pregnancy? You may be scratching your head, wondering why an oil that causes diarrhea (and sometimes vomiting) can be helpful in inducing labor. But women have actually been using this oil for centuries as way to move the labor process along.
Research has shown that castor oil brings on contractions, which can speed up labor. But it can also have some uncomfortable side effects (more on that soon).
Studies in mice have shown that there are certain compounds in castor oil that force uterine contractions, which can help jumpstart labor. But these same compounds can also force contractions in the intestines as well, which can lead to some rather uncomfortable side effects.
How Fast Does Castor Oil Work to Induce Labor?
How quickly can you go into labor after taking castor oil? That depends on you and your pregnancy. For some women, the oil has no effect at all.
One small study had 100 women take castor oil, and more than half went into labor within 24 hours. Only 4% of the women from the placebo group went into labor within a day.
So if the oil does work for you, there’s a good chance that you’ll go into labor pretty quickly.
What’s one more day when you’ve been waiting nine months, right?
But it’s important to also remember that while the majority of women went into labor pretty quickly, at least 40% didn’t. That means you still have a pretty good chance that nothing will happen – and you may be battling with some messy side effects.
Castor Oil Side Effects
We’ve been hinting at the potentially yucky side effects that can happen when you ingest castor oil. What exactly are those side effects?
The main side effect is digestive distress. And you shouldn’t take that lightly.
It’s impossible to target where the castor oil goes because you’re ingesting it, which means your intestines will be affected by it. Many pregnant women who take castor oil wind up with:
- Vomiting or nausea
One study was performed in 2001, and every single woman who took castor oil felt nauseous afterward.
Diarrhea and vomiting can be a concern, too, because both can lead to dehydration. And if you have both at the same time, you can really put yourself and your baby at risk. This means that if you do decide to take castor oil (because it can work to put you into labor), make sure you consult with your doctor first and seriously boost your intake of water.
Another potentially dangerous side effect is that severe cramping can actually raise your baby’s heart rate, which can make you feel even more uncomfortable.
Ready for another potential risk? Castor oil can also cause irregular contractions. This isn’t as serious as some of the others, but irregular and extensive contractions can be exhausting – and you’re not even in real labor yet. Exhaustion is listed as a potential side effect of castor oil, which can make labor a little more difficult if you’re already tired.
There’s one last risk we have to talk about, but you may want to take it with a grain of salt. There is some anecdotal evidence that castor oil can actually pass through to the placenta, which can make your baby pass his first stool (known as meconium) before he’s out of the womb. Passing the meconium before birth can potentially cause some issues down the road.
With that said, there is other research out of Thailand that looked at over 600 women and found that castor oil made no difference in the timing of the meconium. They also found that the oil made no difference in the timing of labor either.
With all of these side effects in mind, you probably only have one question left: is it safe to use castor oil while pregnant?
And the answer is maybe. If you’re thinking about using castor oil, it’s important that you talk to your doctor first.
Typically, doctors recommend avoiding castor oil during pregnancy – before your due date – because it can potentially send you into pre-term labor. Many women are tempted to use this oil as a laxative when they get constipated during pregnancy. And while it’s extremely effective for this purpose, castor oil can trigger uterine contractions that can potentially send you into early labor.
And you may be at even greater risk if you already have a history of pre-term labor.
In short, please use castor oil with caution and under the advice of your doctor.
How to Use Castor Oil to Induce Labor
You’re past your due date, and your doctor gave you the okay to use castor oil to get the labor process going.
You just have one question: how much castor oil to induce labor?
We’ve read horror stories where women guzzle down an entire two-ounce bottle of castor oil because they desperately want to go into labor. And we understand why – you’re extremely uncomfortable, especially when you’re far past your due date.
But taking that much castor oil can lead to serious side effects – we’re talking extreme versions of the side effects above. The last thing you want is to add severe vomiting and diarrhea to your already uncomfortable feeling. And you really put yourself at risk for dehydration by doing this.
Instead, you want to take small doses.
We strongly recommend that you talk to your doctor and/or midwife about dosage recommendations. Every woman and every pregnancy is different.
If you want to get an idea of how much other women took to successfully bring on labor, here’s the most common dosage we found. Please note that this purely for informational purposes. We are not medical professionals, and this is not medical advice. Talk to your doctor or midwife before using castor oil.
- First, get a good night of sleep and drink plenty of water before you go to bed.
- Take multiple small doses of 1 tablespoon of castor oil every 3-4 hours.
- Try mixing the oil with orange juice to mask the taste.
- Hold your nose while drinking the mixture, so you don’t have to taste it (it’s unpleasant).
- Stay hydrated, and eat small snacks multiple times throughout the day.
The trick is to take small doses a little at a time. You may find yourself needing to use the bathroom shortly after taking the oil, but if you take a small dose, it shouldn’t be a severe episode. Just make sure that you drink plenty of water and eat those small snacks often.
Staying hydrated and fueling your body with nutrients will help you avoid exhaustion, which is a very common side effect of castor oil.
What Type of Castor Oil Is Best?
Your doctor may be able to recommend a brand or certain type of castor oil. But you do want to make sure that the oil is food grade, meaning it can be ingested.
Some companies mix other ingredients with their castor oil that are not safe for consumption.
Ideally, you want to use cold pressed and unrefined oil that’s hexane free.
What Other Uses Does Castor Oil Have?
We know what happens when you take castor oil internally, but did you know that external application can actually be extremely beneficial for your skin and hair?
And during pregnancy – when hormones can do some wonky things to your complexion and hair – castor oil can help you feel beautiful throughout those long nine months.
Even when using externally, we still recommend that you talk to your doctor before using castor oil.
Here are 6 ways to incorporate castor oil into your beauty routine during your pregnancy.
1. To Prevent Stretch Marks
Women have been using castor oil to prevent stretch marks for centuries. Part of the reason why this oil is so good for your skin and is actually effective at preventing stretch marks is because it’s high in vitamin E. It’s also rich in proteins, minerals and omega 6 and 9 fatty acids.
The ricinoleic acid also makes it great for skin.
Not only can this oil prevent stretch marks, but it can also minimize the appearance of any stretch marks you already have.
- Apply a generous amount of the oil to your breasts, belly and thighs.
- Wrap the treated area in saran wrap.
- Apply heat to the treated area for 20 minutes.
Repeat the treatment several times a week.
When you get further along in your pregnancy, it may not be feasible to wrap your tummy in saran wrap. In this case, you may just apply the oil and some mild heat for 20 minutes.
2. To Strengthen Your Hair
Throughout your pregnancy, you’ll be dealing with a whirlwind of emotions and your hormones will be all over the place. All of these changes can take a toll on your hair. Some women deal with hair loss, while others find that their mane is suddenly dry and brittle.
Castor oil can help strengthen your hair and even encourage new growth.
Use this simple mask one to two times per week to improve the look and feel of your hair.
- 3 tablespoons of castor oil
- 1 tablespoon of jojoba oil or coconut oil
Apply the mixture to your scalp a little at a time, massaging the oil for 5-10 minutes to boost circulation.
If you want, you can apply the mixture to the ends of your hair as well, but if you have fine or thin hair, the oils may be too heavy and difficult to wash out.
Let the mixture sit overnight or for several hours. We recommend leaving it on all night, so your scalp and hair can absorb most of the oil. This makes it easier to clean your hair in the morning.
Note: You’ll need to wrap your hair in a towel to protect your furniture and pillows. Castor oil does stain.
3. To Cleanse Your Skin
Castor oil is an excellent cleanser for your skin. And it’s been used as a natural acne-fighter for decades. Packed with proteins, vitamins and beneficial fatty acids, this oil can help you achieve clear, radiant skin with consistent use.
In case you haven’t heard, you can use oils to cleanse your face, and they work very well without drying your skin out.
- Moisten your skin with warm water.
- Massage castor oil into your skin.
- Continue massaging all over the face for two minutes.
- Apply a hot, clean towel to your face, and allow the towel to sit until it feels cool to the touch.
- Rinse the cloth, and wipe away any remaining oil left on your face.
The heat from the cloth will create a steaming effect that will cleanse and open your pores. When the cloth cools off, the pores will close, and you can safely wash away the rest of the oil.
4. For Relaxing Massages
When mixed with other oils, like jojoba, castor oil is a great choice for use with massages. And this oil is known to help with joint pain and arthritis when applied topically.
During your pregnancy, you’ll be dealing with all kinds of aches and pains. Treating yourself to a massage with this oil will not only help you relax, but will also help alleviate the pain. Bonus points if you get your partner to do the massaging for you.
5. As a moisturizer
Just as you can use castor oil to cleanse the skin, you can also use it as a moisturizer. In fact, if you’re using this oil as a cleanser, you probably won’t even need any moisturizer because it’s so effective at hydrating the skin.
Castor oil is so effective because it’s rich in fatty acids that are easily absorbed by the skin.
Not only can this oil rehydrate your skin, but it can also help you get rid of under-eye circles and lighten any scars you may have on your face.
6. To Keep Your Nails Healthy
Earlier, we talked about how castor oil had potent antibacterial and disinfecting properties. And those same properties can help keep your nails healthy.
If you’re dealing with toenail fungus, try applying castor oil to your nails daily.
You can also apply it to your fingernails to help them grow quicker and stronger.
Castor oil can be used for more than just inducing labor. You can use this beneficial oil to improve your skin, hair and nails throughout your pregnancy. And if you’re past your due date, you can (carefully) use castor oil to help move the labor process along. Just be prepared for the potential side effects and get the okay from your doctor first.