If you’re near the end of your pregnancy, you might be wondering how to get labour going sooner rather than later.
Maybe you want to avoid a medical induction and you’ve searched various ‘natural’ options.
There are numerous online recommendations about ways to speed up the much-awaited arrival of your little one.
The use of evening primrose oil to induce labour is a common suggestion in midwifery folklore.
But does it actually work, and is it safe?
Here we discuss using evening primrose oil to induce labour, to guide you in deciding whether it’s right for you.
Evening primrose oil isn’t suitable for everyone, particularly those who have underlying health conditions.
Always consult with your midwife or doctor before using evening primrose oil to induce labour.
Evening primrose to induce labour
Evening primrose oil (EPO) is a herbal remedy that comes from the seeds of the primrose plant, whose yellow flowers open at sunset.
It contains up to 16% gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), over 65% linolenic acid and vitamin E.
The oil is readily available over the counter and is reasonably priced, making it a popular choice with mothers-to-be.
EPO is widely used to treat many women’s health conditions, such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause and endometriosis.
It’s also commonly used for breast health and inflammatory conditions such as eczema and arthritis.
Although it’s been used for many years, there are very few studies on the effects of evening primrose oil to induce labour.
How do I use evening primrose oil to induce labour?
Some midwives suggest the use of evening primrose oil to induce labour naturally.
Inserting it into the vagina is said to help ripen the cervix in preparation for labour and possibly induce contractions.
Some even suggest it might help to reduce the length of labour.
Evening primrose oil contains a fatty acid known as Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which creates a prostaglandin response in the body.
Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that encourage the cervix to soften and thin (efface) and kick start labour.
You might be thinking, ‘Isn’t oxytocin the key hormone for bringing on labour?’
This is true, but prostaglandins start the process of cervix changes that are needed before labour can start.
The cervix must soften and thin, and become shorter, in order for your baby to be born. Prostaglandins are essential for this change to take place.
Oxytocin needs special receptors that are only available during the last weeks of pregnancy.
Prostaglandins are different; their receptors are always present in the muscle tissue.
Synthetic prostaglandins are used in the medical induction of labour to perform the same action, to prepare for birth.
When to start inserting evening primrose oil?
Although there’s no set standard for taking EPO, it’s generally deemed safe to start taking evening primrose oil to induce labour from 36-38 weeks of pregnancy.
How to insert evening primrose oil into the cervix
To use evening primrose oil to induce labour, it can either be ingested orally, or inserted into the vagina directly towards the cervix. The same dose is used for both methods.
One BellyBelly fan helpfully suggests inserting the capsules at night before bed, so that it’s absorbed during the night while you are sleeping.
This helps reduce any unwanted sticky mess in the bed.
Another BellyBelly fan suggests wearing a pad overnight to help contain any leaks.
You can also (carefully) pierce a small hole in the gel capsules before inserting them. This helps the oil escape from the capsule and increases the likelihood of the oil being absorbed.
In the morning you might find some evidence of the outer gel capsule left behind if it hasn’t fully dissolved.
How many evening primrose capsules should I insert to induce labour?
There’s no recommended dose of evening primrose oil to induce labour.
The standard amount to use, however, seems to be 500-2000 milligrams per day. How many capsules you will need to use will vary, depending on the dose per capsule.
From a practical perspective, it makes sense to buy capsules with a higher dosage, meaning there will be fewer capsules to insert.
Can anything really induce labour?
There isn’t any one thing that triggers the start of labour.
Many factors come into play, beginning in the last weeks of pregnancy, as your body and your baby prepare for labour.
This makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly what, if anything, can help to induce labour.
It doesn’t matter how much pineapple or curry you eat, or how many times you bounce on your exercise ball.
If your body and your baby haven’t undergone those normal physiological changes then it’s not going to do anything other than give you some pretty serious heartburn.
To find out more check out BellyBelly’s article What Causes Labour To Start?
There’s a limited number of formal studies into the effects of evening primrose oil to induce labour, or about cervical ripening, and the available studies seem to differ in their findings.
An early study (1999) suggested EPO didn’t appear to shorten pregnancy gestation or the duration of labour, and didn’t aid the onset of labour.
There was, however, an association between its oral use and an increase in various labour complications, including:
- Prolonged rupture of membranes, meaning a gap of 18-24 hours between rupture of membranes and birth
- Labour augmentation, using a synthetic form of oxytocin to increase contractions
- Delayed fetal descent, leading to increased use of vacuum extraction.
This is the scoring system used by professionals to decide how likely a vaginal birth can be achieved if medical induction of labour is required and can reduce the need for medical induction.
A 2009 study by Bayles and Usatine concluded that, as the effects of evening primrose oil were unknown, it shouldn’t be recommended for use in pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
What’s the quickest way to go into labour?
As previously discussed, there’s very little evidence to prove any of the common suggestions listed below actually work.
If you go past your due date there’s no need to panic; it’s not the end of the world.
Only 5% of babies are actually born on their due date, so it’s no wonder many are a little ‘late’.
A due date is, at best, a guess date! Babies are born when they’re ready. That’s is why the 37-42 week window is considered ‘normal’.
Compared with spontaneous labours, inducing labour earlier than your body is ready, can lead to more complications for both mother and baby.
Complications include: admission to the neonatal unit; problems with feeding and low blood sugars in babies; respiratory problems; and a longer and potentially more difficult labour for mothers.
All these factors need to be carefully considered and weighed up, before making the decision to try to induce labour naturally.
How can I soften my cervix at home?
There are many old wives’ tales of ways to induce labour naturally at home; they have varying degrees of reported success.
If you choose to go down the natural induction route, here are some of the most common methods:
- Spicy foods
- Sex or orgasm
- Raspberry leaf tea
- Nipple stimulation
- Castor oil
- Keeping active
- Complementary therapies.
Click to read our article on How To Bring On Labour Naturally.
Any one of these methods can help to prime the body, and prepare it for labour. However, very little research has been done into any of them. The same applies to evening primrose oil to induce labour.
Although anecdotal evidence is easier to come by, many women who choose evening primrose oil to induce labour might also choose to use a number of other methods at the same time.
This makes it difficult to determine whether EPO has really made any difference.
Is evening primrose oil effective to induce labour?
Evening primrose oil’s effectiveness has been studied in relation to relieving symptoms of a number of medical conditions, such as PMS or menopause.
Its use in relation to ripening the cervix and childbirth hasn’t been well studied.
The available research studies have small sample sizes, or there have been other faults in the design of the studies.
The need to do much more research into labour induction and herbal remedies is recognised.
Research into this area is important; herbal remedies and complementary therapies could potentially be safe methods to reduce the number of medical inductions performed.
Evening primrose oil is generally considered safe with minimal side effects.
It is not, however, suitable for everyone.
People who have certain health conditions or take other medications need to be particularly cautious.
EPO is known to interfere with a number of medications and medical conditions. Just because EPO is a natural remedy doesn’t mean it’s safe for everyone.
Always consult with a doctor or midwife before starting any new medication or herbal remedy in pregnancy, as there might be risks you are unaware of.
It’s never advised to try to induce labour at home before you are 37 weeks, unless you are supported by your healthcare provider.