When you're in the late stages of pregnancy, using evening primrose oil for cervical dilation may seem like a good idea, but is it safe?
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil is an herbal oil that comes from the seeds of the evening primrose (or Oenothera biennis) plant.
This oil has been used for years in a number of applications - many having to do with female hormonal issues such as breast pain and the symptoms of menopause. It is also used as a form of alternative treatment for a number of other conditions such as skin conditions like eczema and as an anti-inflammatory.
Evening Primrose Oil for Cervical Dilation
Towards the end of any pregnancy, it can often feel as if you are going to be pregnant forever. This can lead many women to explore options for naturally inducing labor. Using evening primrose oil for cervical dilation is one commonly used herbal method for preparing the body for labor.
While evening primrose oil doesn't induce labor per se, when it is taken orally, it is believed to act as a prostaglandin that softens and ripens the cervix. As the cervix ripens, contractions are triggered which may lead to labor, or may simply be Braxton-Hicks contractions. Additionally, the softening of the cervix may help make labor and delivery quicker and easier.
Common wisdom and anecdotal evidence suggests that the mild prostaglandin effect of evening primrose oil will only trigger labor in women who are ready to deliver and cannot trigger premature labor. However, many OB doctors feel strongly there is a huge risk of premature labor and shouldn't be encouraged.
What Is Cervical Ripening?
Cervical ripening is a natural process that the cervix undergoes as it prepares for labor and delivery. During cervical ripening, the cervix becomes softer and thinner. The process occurs naturally during labor, but a number of agents and methods may be introduced to help the process along in order to speed up or ease labor and delivery. Some agents used for cervical ripening include:
- Prostaglandin gel
- Castor oil
- Homeopathic medications such as pulsatilla
- Nipple stimulation
- Sexual intercourse
The recommended dosage when using evening primrose oil to ripen the cervix is as follows:
- Starting at about 34 weeks, begin taking two 500 mg capsules of evening primrose oil daily .
- At 38 weeks, up the dosage of evening primrose oil to three to four 500 mg capsules daily.
- Oil can also be used for perineal massage to prevent episiotomy and further soften the cervix during labor.
Is Evening Primrose Oil Safe for Cervical Dilation?
There is no medical or scientific evidence that shows evening primrose oil to be either safe or unsafe to ripen your cervix during pregnancy. The best advice is to never attempt to induce labor on your own. Instead, use natural methods of cervical ripening and labor induction only under the close supervision of a qualified health care specialist such as your obstetrician or midwife.
Does It Work?
There have been no scientific studies done that show evening primrose oil serves as a cervical ripener. All of the evidence pointing to the efficacy of evening primrose oil as a cervical dilator is anecdotal in nature. Many midwives, however, use evening primrose oil to help prepare their patient's bodies for labor and delivery, and claim that the labor and delivery is easier and quicker as a result.
Side Effects and Cautions
Evening primrose oil does have a few side effects to note:
- Upset stomach
- Loose stools or diarrhea
- It may increase the number or severity of seizures in people with seizure disorders
Other cautions should be observed, as well.
- Evening primrose oil has not been evaluated by the FDA.
- Because evening primrose oil may cause uterine contractions, it shouldn't be taken during pregnancy before the 34th week.
- Women with a history of premature labor and delivery should avoid taking evening primrose oil.
- It is important that you check with your obstetrician or midwife before taking any medication or herbal supplement during pregnancy.
Where to Find Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil can be found in capsule form at most health food stores. The capsules can be taken orally or broken open and used for massage. Evening primrose oil can be absorbed through the skin.
If trying evening primrose oil to help ripen your cervix during pregnancy seems like a good idea, check with your obstetrician or midwife to see if this method might be right for you.