It is not known if it is safe to use castor oil to induce labor, even though women have been using it for centuries. The mechanism behind using castor oil to induce labor is that castor oil causes cramping and bowel stimulation. This stimulation can cause diarrhea, which can stimulate uterine contractions. The uterus contracts in response to the release of prostaglandins, a hormone that readies the uterus for labor.
Although taking castor oil to induce labor may be effective, using it can cause severe nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. In addition, severe vomiting and diarrhea can be dangerous because it can lead to dehydration, abnormal heart rhythms and kidney failure. Castor oil cause negative effects on an unborn baby as well, and should never be used prior to 37 weeks of the pregnancy.
It is not widely recommended to use castor oil to induce labor because the risks may outweigh the benefits. Only the physician should determine when to induce labor, and it should be done in the controlled setting of a hospital. When castor oil is used to induce labor, contractions usually occur within six to eight hours. In some women, castor oil will induce severe cramping and diarrhea, but not labor. This can lead to a very unpleasant experience and may cause additional stress to mother and baby.
Using castor oil to induce labor may cause the unborn baby to discharge meconium into the amniotic fluid. Meconium is a baby's first bowel movement and when released into the amniotic fluid, the baby may ingest it. This thick, sticky substance can get aspirated into the baby's lungs and cause respiratory distress. If not treated, the baby could develop pneumonia or other breathing difficulties. This is a rare occurrence, however, it is a possibility when castor oil is used to induce labor.
Castor oil has been used for hundreds of years as a laxative. In fact, it is still used in some households to promote regularity. Although considered safe for use in constipation, use in pregnancy has not been deemed safe by most medical experts. If a woman decides, however, that castor oil labor induction is right for her, she should only consider it when under the strict supervision of her medical practitioner. There are other alternatives for inducing labor, and they include a Pitocin® intravenous drip. Pitocin® is a medication that stimulates the uterus to contract, which initiates the labor process.