Evening Primrose Oil to Induce Labor: 10 Things You Need to Know

When you’re in the final days of your pregnancy, you may be on edge, anxiously awaiting the arrival of your baby. One of the most frustrating aspects of being pregnant is that you have no control over when labor starts – or do you? Many women use evening primrose oil to help jumpstart the labor process.

Before you run out and buy a bottle, it’s important to talk to your doctor before you even think about using this oil to induce labor. Depending on your situation, it may not be a safe option for you and your baby.

If your doctor or health care provider gives you the okay to try evening primrose oil, here are 10 things you should know:

1.   Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) is an Herbal Remedy

In case you were unaware, evening primrose oil is an herbal oil that’s derived from primrose plant seeds. It’s been used for centuries to ease female hormonal issues, including symptoms of menopause and breast tenderness. Many people also use this oil to ease other medical issues, like eczema.

Native Americans used the seeds, roots and leaves of the primrose plant as food, but they also created poultices from the plant for a number of purposes. The poultices were used to heal bruises and create decoctions to treat hemorrhoids. The leaves were then used to ease gastrointestinal issues, treat wounds and heal sore throats.

Later in the 1930s, doctors found that the oil can also be used to treat brittle hair and nails and PMS symptoms.

Of course, this herbal oil is also used to ripen the cervix and hopefully, kick-start the labor process.

You can purchase evening primrose oil in just about any health food store.

2.   EPO May Ripen the Cervix

How exactly does EPO induce labor? It doesn’t technically induce labor, but it does get the body ready for it. It does this by ripening the cervix.

When you take the oil orally, the body converts certain substances in the oil into prostaglandins. Prostaglandins ripen the cervix, getting it ready for labor.

Once the cervix ripens, contractions follow and could lead to labor. But keep in mind that EPO only brings on Braxton-Hicks contractions for some women.

3.   There’s Conflicting Evidence on Safety in Early Pregnancy

Many women are advised not to use evening primrose oil during pregnancy. Many assert the prostaglandin effect of EPO is mild and will not induce premature labor. But a large percentage of medical professionals say that EPO can, in fact, raise the risk of premature labor and should be avoided completely until the final days of pregnancy.

It’s always better to err on the side of caution, especially when you’re pregnant. For this reason, you should never take EPO if you’re not at the end of your pregnancy or without your doctor’s consent.

4.   There Are Other Ways to Ripen the Cervix

The ripening of the cervix is a natural process that occurs when the body prepares the cervix for labor and delivery. When the cervix ripens, it becomes thinner and softer, which aids in the delivery of the baby.

While this process occurs naturally when you’re in labor, there are ways to jumpstart the process. EPO is one such method, but other common agents include:

  • Nipple stimulation
  • Castor oil
  • Pitocin
  • Prostaglandin gel
  • Sexual intercourse

5.   Dosage Instructions Should Be Followed Carefully

When taking evening primrose oil, it’s important to follow dosage recommendations carefully. Here’s what midwives typically recommend:

  • Starting at week 38, begin taking three to four 500mg capsules of EPO per day.

Some may recommend inserting the oil vaginally. Others may recommend using the oil for perineal massage, which further softens the cervix and prevents episiotomy.

Be sure to follow the advice of your doctor or midwife.

6.   EPO Can Cause Side Effects

Although EPO is a natural substance, it can still cause side effects. Remember, this is an herbal remedy, and herbs need to be taken with caution when you’re pregnant.

A few of the most common side effects of this oil include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache

If you have a seizure disorder, EPO may make seizures more frequent or severe.

If you experience any unpleasant side effects when taking EPO, stop use and consult with your midwife or physician. The dosage may need to be adjusted, or you may need to stop taking the supplement altogether.

7.   Evening Primrose Oil Isn’t For Everyone

While many women benefit from the effects of EPO, there are some who are advised to stay away from the oil.

  • If you have a history of premature delivery, avoid taking EPO.
  • EPO should not be taken before the 34th week of pregnancy.

Remember, EPO can cause contractions, so never take this oil before the 34th week of pregnancy. In fact, many medical professionals recommend waiting until the 38th week of pregnancy to start taking evening primrose oil. Taking the oil any earlier than this point can lead to premature delivery.

8.   EPO Can Also Be Used for Postpartum Healing

Many women incorporate evening primrose oil into their postpartum healing regimen. Daily application of the oil can be used to help heal scar tissue that sometimes remains after an episiotomy has healed. For this purpose, the oil should be used for perineum massages.

Evidence suggests that EPO can be quite effective at healing postpartum scar tissue.

Some midwives also recommend taking this oil orally during the last weeks of pregnancy and into postpartum. Why? Because it may help reduce the postpartum blues that many women experience.

9.   EPO is Generally Safe for Breastfeeding

Evening primrose oil is considered generally safe for breastfeeding moms, and may even be beneficial to alleviate breast tenderness and soreness, particularly during ovulation. Some women also find relief from plugged milk ducts and Raynaud’s Syndrome after taking this oil.

While there is no evidence to suggest that EPO is unsafe for breastfeeding, consult with your doctor or midwife to ensure that it’s safe for you to take.

10.  EPO Efficacy is Still Uncertain

Is evening primrose oil effective? That’s still up for debate. Unfortunately, there haven’t been too many formal studies performed on EPO and its effects on labor or ripening the cervix.

The few studies that have been performed offered mixed results. One showed that women who were taking the oil were in labor for longer than those who did not.

With that said, there are many women who use EPO with great success and a large number of midwives highly recommend this oil for ripening the cervix and boosting postpartum healing.

Should You Use EPO for Labor?

Evening primrose oil is a popular agent used to help ripen the cervix. While women should be cautious when using this oil and consult with their physician before taking it, this natural remedy has been shown to minimize labor pains and reduce delivery time. Of course, the effects vary according to the person (see the note above about longer delivery times), so don’t expect miracles if you do decide to use EPO.

Whether you use EPO or not is a personal decision and one that you should discuss with your doctor. If your doctor gives you the go-ahead to try the oil, make sure that you follow the dosage instructions carefully.