The final weeks of pregnancy can be difficult. Backaches, sleepless nights, exhaustion, and a desire to finally hold the baby can all inspire people to seek help from natural remedies.
Lots of people advocate the use of evening primrose oil as a natural remedy for inducing labor. As a result, it is difficult to spend time on pregnancy forums without seeing a recommendation for its use.
Though anecdotes from friends, internet forums, and natural health gurus may promise that evening primrose oil can start the process of labor, scientists and doctors are not so sure. According to a 2018 clinical trial, there is no clear evidence that evening primrose oil can induce labor.
In this article, we look at how people use evening primrose oil for inducing labor, what the research says, and other natural methods that may help.
What is evening primrose oil?
Many forums recommend evening primrose oil as a natural remedy to induce labor.
Evening primrose oil comes from the evening primrose plant, known as Oenothera biennis. It is native to North America and Europe, and the plant's yellow blossoms open at night.
Evening primrose oil is a popular folk remedy. Traditional societies and practitioners of herbal medicine have used this oil to help with many health concerns, including breast pain, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), eczema, and the symptoms of menopause.
Researchers have conducted some studies on the health benefits of evening primrose oil. So far, there is no high-quality evidence to support its use.
Can evening primrose oil help to induce labor?
In folk medicine, pregnancy support groups, and online chat rooms, many people claim that evening primrose oil can start labor, either by inducing contractions or helping to soften and thin the cervix.
Some people may find that this method works for them, but scientific research has not shown that evening primrose oil has any substantial effect on how quickly someone goes into labor. More research is needed to know for sure if evening primrose oil works.
Some research studies have looked at the effects of evening primrose oil during labor, with the following results:
- A 2012 literature review found no evidence that evening primrose oil helped to induce labor. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), evening primrose oil may even increase pregnancy complications.
- A 2018 randomized clinical trial followed 40 women who used evening primrose oil and 40 who used a placebo. The researchers found no differences between the groups in the length of labor, or in the number of complications.
- A 2016 study found that evening primrose oil, combined with vitamin D, might improve symptoms of gestational diabetes. It is unclear how this may work. More research that compares using evening primrose oil with standard treatments could help women decide which treatment option is right for them.
The current body of research suggests that more evidence is needed before people use evening primrose oil as a natural labor induction option.
Is evening primrose oil safe to use?
Evening primrose oil may be unsafe for birth via cesarean delivery.
The NIH state that evening primrose oil may increase the risk of bleeding in people who are taking a blood-thinning medication called warfarin. This could mean it also increases the risk of hemorrhage during birth. It could also endanger people who give birth via cesarean delivery.
No formal studies have assessed what dosage, if any, is safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding. This means that even if evening primrose oil does improve pregnancy or labor outcomes, there are no current guidelines about how much people should use for an effective dose.
Though evening primrose oil may be safe for most women, there is no evidence to suggest that anyone needs to use this natural remedy. There are other methods to induce labor, and those who have gestational diabetes may find greater relief from more mainstream treatments, such as dietary changes and insulin therapy.
Other natural ways to induce labor
It is important to speak with a doctor or midwife before trying to induce labor.
People can try various natural remedies in the last stages of pregnancy to help induce labor. Many traditional remedies have not yet been tested scientifically, so their effectiveness is not yet known.
However, any drug, food, or herbal remedy a woman uses to induce labor can affect the baby. It is therefore essential to look at a range of research and talk to a doctor or midwife before trying to induce labor.
Some natural strategies that may help induce labor include:
- Nipple stimulation: Nipple stimulation, either with the hands, as part of foreplay with a partner, or using a breast pump, may help to induce labor. Stimulating the nipples or breasts releases oxytocin, which plays a vital role in labor. A 2015 study suggests that nipple stimulation could reduce the length of each stage of labor.
- Having sex: Limited research suggests sex or orgasms may induce labor, or at least improve childbirth outcomes. The results of a small-scale 2014 study indicate that some Cameroonian women who had sex late in pregnancy had better birth outcomes.
Traditional remedies for which the evidence is limited or contradictory include:
- herbal remedies, such as red raspberry leaf tea
- specific foods, such as spicy food or sushi
- aromatherapy with specific herbal preparations
Castor oil, like evening primrose oil, may not be effective. A 2012 literature review suggests it may increase the risk of complications. According to the same report, blue cohosh may also be harmful.
Herbal remedies, such as evening primrose oil, can be a tempting option for women who want a safe and speedy labor, especially if they want to avoid surgical birth or medical interventions.
But natural remedies can be just as risky as taking medications. They are also less well-tested, and the government does not control quality or regulate herbal supplements. There is little reason for women to choose evening primrose oil, particularly when safer options are available.
Further research may shed more light on the safety and effectiveness of evening primrose oil. Until such research becomes available, people should be cautious.
Doctors and midwives will be able to help women decide which natural and medical remedies to try when aiming to induce labor.