Don't Retract Pack

Castor Oil Induction

By Anu Morgan and Danelle Day © 2018

Those last few weeks of pregnancy can be tough at times, especially with round ligament pain, difficulty breathing, pressure from family, friends and pushy practitioners, and so much more. At this time many women are tempted to get labor started on their own, as fast as we can, and look to any method that may allow us to meet our little ones sooner. Looking into 'natural induction methods,' castor oil is among one of the most commonly mentioned. However, this does not mean that it is safe, or without risk for both mom and baby.

Castor oil is a vegetable oil that comes from the castor plant and is best known as a laxative. As it enters the body, castor oil increases small intestinal secretions that stimulate the bowels, often causing intense diarrhea. Diarrhea results from the increase in prostaglandins from castor oil intake, that forces the small intestines to contract unnaturally. Extreme diarrhea is notorious for leading to dehydration, and in the case of a pregnant mother, dehydration can cause labor to occur when baby is not yet ready for the outside world -- leading to a host of other complications with baby's lungs, immune system, and increasing NICU stay needs.

Not only does excess diarrhea and intestinal contractions lead to dehydration for expecting mothers, but castor oil itself also decreases the body’s glucose absorption. This means that when a pregnant mother needs nourishment more than ever, her body is not able to absorb all the nutrients that she takes in, further complicating dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

The second side effect of castor oil that many are not informed of is that just as it causes contractions of the small intestines to be irregular and unnatural, castor oil similarly impacts the uterus -- causing contractions of the uterus to be more intense, irregular, and unnatural for both mom and her baby. Coupled with dehydration, this leaves a birthing mother drained of energy when she needs it most - to birth her baby, and does not give her a normally functioning uterus in top capacity spurred only by natural birth hormones.

A third risk factor of castor oil is that just as it causes intestinal contractions for mom, so it can with baby. This means that there is a much greater chance baby will pass meconium while inside the uterus, which can lead to fetal distress, or even death. A study published in the Journal of Biology, Agriculture and Healthcare in 2014 stated that 18% of the women who took castor oil had meconium stained waters, verses only 6% of women who did not ingest castor oil. APGAR scores of all newborn babies induced through castor oil were also impacted negatively and significantly.

While it can be hard to wait for our little one to get here, take heart in knowing that baby has a lot to gain from growing inside those last few weeks and days. Normal human gestation periods range from 38 to 43 weeks, with 42 being the most common for first time mothers, and some women birthing naturally into their 43rd and 44th weeks. At 40+ weeks a mother is not overdue. Lung development is critical during these final weeks. Just as we see in animal husbandry and veterinary science, each extra day that a mammal grows on the inside results in a stronger, smarter, more healthy baby, and so it is true for humans. In fact, research suggests that it is a lung protein that is released by baby that tells mom's body baby is ready for the outside world, and labor begins. In the absence of other health complications (including dehydration, malnourishment, drug use, extreme stress, abuse, etc.) mothers birth their babies when they are truly ready to arrive earthside, and this is a good thing!

Veteran midwife and contributing editor of Midwifery Today, Gloria LeMay, writes:
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 when I had lunch with a friend at about 8 months pregnancy. Her son had been born 6 months before. When she saw me walk into 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.

One final note begs attention here and that is the myth of the "aging placenta." This misconception is pushed upon mothers who reach 41+ weeks gestation, and it is completely bogus: your placenta will not all of a sudden stop working.  This myth is not based in science, and is used to coerce and push artificial labor induction and c-sections upon women in a broken birth world that does not trust birth, or the woman and baby whose bodies know just what to do when left alone. In a fantastic review of research on the "Aging of the Placenta" published in the British Medical Journal, authors conclude:
A review of the available evidence indicates that the placenta does not undergo a true aging change during pregnancy. There is, in fact, no logical reason for believing that the placenta, which is a fetal organ, should age while the other fetal organs do not: the situation in which an individual organ ages within an organism that is not aged is one which does not occur in any biological system. The persisting belief in placental aging has been based on a confusion between morphological maturation and differentiation and aging, a failure to appreciate the functional resources of the organ, and an uncritical acceptance of the overly facile concept of “placental insufficiency” as a cause of increased perinatal mortality.
Relish in your little one's movements on the inside. Savor these last weeks talking, singing, walking, dancing with your baby snuggled safe within. Take photos. Take videos. Take long, soothing baths. And know that your baby will be born in his or her own perfect time. ♥

Related Reading

Fetal Lungs Protein Release Triggers Labor to Begin:

Castor Oil Safety and Effectiveness on Labor Induction and Neonatal Outcome:

Castor Oil Inductions - Gloria LeMay:

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth:

Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First (Dr. Marsden Wagner):

Birth Reborn: What Childbirth Should Be (Dr. Michel Odent):

Birth and Breastfeeding: Rediscovering the Needs of Women During Pregnancy and Childbirth (Dr. Michel Odent):

Length of human pregnancy and contributors to its natural variation:

Length of human pregnancies can vary naturally by as much as five weeks:

Pregnant Pause: My Baby's Not 'Overdue':

Fox H Aging of the placenta Archives of Disease in Childhood - Fetal and Neonatal Edition 1997;77:F171-F175.

Why Pregnancy Due Dates are Inaccurate:

The Lie of the Estimated Due Date (EDD):

No Induction is 'Normal':

Trusting Birth: 43 Weeks of Faith:

Pregnant Moms Due [this year] Group: (more mainstream)

Birthing Group: (more holistic)

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