I spent the last semester (since August) researching the claim that castor oil induces labor. Here are my findings. There were very close perimeters to which I had to succumb to in terms of content and length. Only “scholarly journals” (ie: standard medical literature) could be used, and I had to form an opinion on the validity of the claim. Overall, a very useful endeavor and I learned alot about how the medical communty comes to conclusions about things, how research is interpretted, and who to “listen” to in terms of credibility. Enjoy!
Microtheme Final Draft
I Ingestion of castor oil induces labor in term pregnancy (Zane, 2007).
II I conclude that this claim is accurate but should not be accepted and used indiscriminately or without medical supervision.
III The following information was used to reach my conclusions about this claim.
A. It has been reported that castor oil is used routinely by nurse-midwives who choose to induce labor without using pharmaceutical drugs.
1. One reason castor oil might work on the uterus to stimulate contractions, is it’s effect smooth muscle tissue, of which the uterus is composed of. (Burdock, 2006) B. A recent study of pregnant women was carried out for 20 weeks in which castor oil was found to increase the incidence of preterm labor.1. A drug was given to them in hopes of preventing miscarriage. The base for the drug was castor oil.2. Instead of reducing pre-term deliveries, the rate of women delivering early actually increased.
3. This was likely because of the castor oil, a known uterine tonic, being used as the base to carry the drug through injections. (Brancazio, 2003)
C. A single case study showed a direct correlation between ingestion of castor oil and uterine rupture.
1. A full-term woman ingested castor oil and within 45 minutes was in the hospital with severe contractions.
2. No other indications for labor were present. (Her water hadn’t broken, there were no changes to the position of the baby, etc.).
3. An emergency c-section was performed due to the baby’s heart rate reacting badly to the labor.
4. During the surgery the doctors attending noted a 2cm tear in her uterus. 5. The contractions caused by the castor oil were strong enough to be attributed to causing this tear. (Sicuranza, 2003)
IV The possible consequences of accepting this claim and self-medicating with castor oil to induce labor are as follows:
1. A uterine rupture can occur, leading to the possibility of the woman bleeding to death.
2. Should a uterine rupture occur, the viability of the fetus and life of the mother are severely compromised.
B. Should this claim be accepted and come into widespread use by untrained pregnant women, we could see a rise in deliveries prior to arriving at the hospital.
C. Artificially-stimulated contractions can cause a baby’s heart rate to become erratic.
Lane, B. (n.d.). Using castor oil is an effective way to induce labor. In Pregnancy and childbirth Suite 101. Retrieved February 2, 2007, fromhttp://pregnancychildbirth.suite101.com .
Burdock, G.A., Carabin, I.G., & Griffiths, J.C. (2006. Toxicology and pharmacology of sodium ricinoleate. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 44, 1689-1698.
Sicuranza, G., & Figueroa, R. (2003). Uterine rupture associated with castor oil ingestion. Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, 13, 133-134.
Brancazio, L. R., Murtha, A. P., MD., & Heine, R. P., MD. (2003, September). Prevention of Recurrent Preterm Delivery by 17 Alpha-Hydroxyprogesterone Caproate. New England Journal of Medicine, 349(11), 1087-1088.
Of course there are alot of things I couldn’t say here due to space constraints, but overall the medical literature supports the use of castor oil as a safe labor induction medication. HOWEVER… (and this is where I get really angry) the OCOG emphatically states that castor oil doesn’t work and shouldn’t be used. Hmm… even though the research THEY did shows an undeniable correlation between ingesting castor oil and the start of labor. Grrr….. no money to be made on castor oil administration and since it is used mostly by midwives of all kinds, they certainly couldn’t endorse it’s use. One opinion article actually called it an “old wives tale with no technical validity” then went on the state “castor oil ingestion does cause contractions. HUH!!?!?!?!?! Anyway. An interesting project. By the way, I got 96 out of 100 on the paper. 🙂