Castor Oil Packs & Pregnancy

Castor oil has traditionally been used as a laxative when taken internally. Its use dates back to ancient Egypt. The vegetable oil is a derivative of the castor seed and its active ingredient is ricinolenic acid. Differing opinions exist on the effectiveness of castor oil taken internally to induce labor in pregnant women. Castor oil packs as an external application near the end of pregnancy are generally considered safe. However, it is important to consult with your midwife or obstetrician before trying any application of castor oil.

Consult with your health care provider about alternative methods to induce labor. (Image: olesiabilkei/iStock/Getty Images)

Function

According to Earth Clinic Folk Remedies, castor oil, when applied externally, increases circulation and promotes elimination and healing to the organs and tissues under the skin. It is used to reduce inflammation, improve digestion, decrease pain, increase lymph circulation and detoxify the liver. In most cases, the use of castor oil is not recommended in pregnancy, menstruation or breastfeeding, so be sure to consult with your health care provider before trying this natural remedy.

Making the Castor Oil Pack

According to Earth Clinic Folk Remedies, making the castor oil pack requires a few items. You will need cold pressed castor oil, cotton or wool flannel, a plastic bag or disposable pocket and a hot water bottle or electric heating pad. Fold the flannel into a thickness of three. The fabric should be large enough to cover the desired treatment area. Soak flannel in castor oil to saturation, but not dripping. Put a towel or plastic sheet down to protect the surface you are laying on. Place the castor oil pack on your skin, cover with plastic bag or disposable pocket and place hot water bottle or heating pad on top.

Specifics

The castor oil pack may be placed differently to accomplish various tasks. The castor oil pack may be placed over the lower abdomen to improve circulation to the reproductive organs. The recommended amount of time to leave the pack on varies from 10 to 30 minutes daily to 30 to 90 minutes three to five days per week. Discussing your thoughts on natural remedies with your midwife or obstetrician is strongly recommended.

Theory

Controversy surrounds the use of castor oil during pregnancy to naturally induce labor. According to a 2010 study in the "American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology," the presence of castor oil increases the contractility of the uterine muscle tissue when used in conjunction with oxytocin. The use of castor oil to induce labor may cause meconium, and thus, respiratory problems for the baby. There is limited research on the use of castor oil, so it is important to consult with your health care provider.

Side effects

Castor oil when taken internally can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and weakness. These side effects are not welcomed during active labor. Consulting with your health care provider before taking a dose of castor oil is recommended.

Considerations

The use of castor oil internally during pregnancy is still controversial. Using castor oil packs externally at the end of pregnancy may induce labor without the severity of side effects during labor. Castor oil use might also cause complications with pregnancy if not used correctly. It is best to talk to your obstetrician or midwife regarding the use of castor oil packs to initiate labor.

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