Castor oil, bath and/or enema for cervical priming and induction of labour

Sometimes it is necessary to bring on labour artificially. Castor oil has been widely used as a traditional method of inducing labour in midwifery practice. It can be taken by mouth or as an enema. The review of three trials, involving 233 women, found there has not been enough research done to show the effects of castor oil on ripening the cervix or inducing labour or compare it to other methods of induction. The review found that all women who took castor oil by mouth felt nauseous. More research is needed into the effects of castor oil to induce labour.

Authors' conclusions: 

The three trials included in the review contain small numbers of women. All three studies used single doses of castor oil. The results from these studies should be interpreted with caution due to the risk of bias introduced due to poor methodological quality. Further research is needed to attempt to quantify the efficacy of castor oil as an cervical priming and induction agent.

Read the full abstract...

Castor oil, a potent cathartic, is derived from the bean of the castor plant. Anecdotal reports, which date back to ancient Egypt have suggested the use of castor oil to stimulate labour. Castor oil has been widely used as a traditional method of initiating labour in midwifery practice. Its role in the initiation of labour is poorly understood and data examining its efficacy within a clinical trial are limited. This is one of a series of reviews of methods of cervical ripening and labour induction using standardised methodology.


To determine the effects of castor oil or enemas for third trimester cervical ripening or induction of labour in comparison with other methods of cervical ripening or induction of labour.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (30 April 2013) and bibliographies of relevant papers.

Selection criteria: 

Clinical trials comparing castor oil, bath or enemas used for third trimester cervical ripening or labour induction with placebo/no treatment or other methods listed above it on a predefined list of labour induction methods.

Data collection and analysis: 

A strategy was developed to deal with the large volume and complexity of trial data relating to labour induction. This involved a two-stage method of data extraction.

Main results: 

Three trials, involving 233 women, are included. There was no evidence of differences in caesarean section rates between the two interventions in the two trials reporting this outcome (risk ratio (RR) 2.04, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.92 to 4.55). There were no data presented on neonatal or maternal mortality or morbidity.

There was no evidence of a difference between castor oil and placebo/no treatment for the rate of instrumental delivery, meconium-stained liquor, or Apgar score less than seven at five minutes. The number of participants was too small to detect all but large differences in outcome. All women who ingested castor oil felt nauseous (RR 59.92, 95% CI 8.46 to 424.52).