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You’ve been counting down the days for weeks now. You’ve got your due date circled on the calendar, but it seems so far away. (And it’s gotten to the point where the thought of labor is nothing compared to the thought of being pregnant for another few days.) You’re ready to have your baby in your arms — yesterday.

With the end of pregnancy in sight, the thought of triggering labor is very appealing. You may have heard of a special drink said to help induce labor: midwives brew. Your little one is your top priority, so it’s natural to want to know what’s in it and if it’s safe. We’ve got you covered — let’s take a look.

Talk to your provider

Never try any home remedies to induce labor without speaking with your medical provider first. It can be difficult to wait for baby’s much-anticipated arrival, but inducing labor too early or using questionable methods isn’t safe — for either of you.

There are different recipes for midwives brew, but most include some combination of:

  • castor oil
  • lemon verbena oil
  • almond butter
  • apricot juice

It’s important to use this midwives brew (or similar) only with the support of your medical provider (we can’t emphasize this enough), so before attempting to make and consume it, check with your OB or midwife. They can suggest or approve a specific recipe for you.

That said, though it’s popular in certain circles, not all midwives have heard of a “midwives brew” concoction specifically. You may be introducing the recipe to your healthcare provider!

Also, keep in mind that for many women, this drink doesn’t stay down — taste isn’t usually the selling point!

To consider the overall safety of midwives brew, let’s take a look at the individual ingredients. Of note, castor oil is likely the labor-inducing ingredient, while the others are there primarily to mask the taste of, well, the castor oil.

Castor oil

One of castor oil’s most common uses is as a laxative. This is because castor oil can cause little spasms in the intestines. Similarly, it can cause spasming of the uterine muscles, which can lead to contractions and induce labor.

But consuming castor oil can also lead to severe diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. In a word, it’s unpleasant.

It’s very important to watch out for dehydration if taking castor oil. Additionally, castor oil may cause contractions that stay irregular or become extremely painful. This can cause exhaustion or additional stress on mom and baby. This is one reason why castor oil shouldn’t be used during pregnancy without a medical provider’s guidance and supervision.

One more important note: Castor oil should never be consumed earlier than full term in pregnancy, as it can be dangerous for baby.

Lemon verbena oil

There isn’t a lot of research around the use of lemon verbena oil in pregnancy and labor. Speak with your doctor or midwife about their views on you ingesting it.

Almond butter

If you have a nut allergy, this is certainly an ingredient to be aware of. But for others, it’s generally safe.

If you have an almond allergy, it may be possible to substitute another type of nut butter. Speak to your doctor or midwife about another ingredient that can replace this.

Apricot juice

Apricot juice is a great source of vitamins and minerals. Unless you have a specific allergy to apricots, it’s probably safe to consume apricots throughout your pregnancy. (Though like everything, consumption in moderation is key!)

It’s important not to try to induce labor before a date when it would be safe to have your baby. You may be eager to see your little one (and get out of your pregnant bod, already!), but the longer they can stay safely in the womb, the better. It’s important to carry baby until at least 39 weeks if possible.

Additionally, an induction is more likely to be successful when the body is already ready to go into labor.

The combination of both of these facts means that for most women, midwives brew shouldn’t be consumed until at least full term (between 39 weeks and 40 weeks, 6 days).

There may be cases where you doctor would like to induce labor before your due date. This is a medical decision generally made with specific concerns for the safety of you and your baby in mind.

If your doctor is planning a medical induction before your due date and you’d like to try midwives brew, it’s important that you discuss it with them. Midwives brew may not be appropriate to use in these situations, and your doctor should be aware of any actions you’re taking to try to induce labor yourself.

Although there are a lot of anecdotal reports on the success of midwives brew, there’s a lack of research behind it. Looking at the scientific effectiveness of castor oil is equally confusing, since there aren’t a lot of studies on it — and the results vary.

In one older study of 103 women who were at least 40 weeks pregnant, half were given castor oil and half had no treatment. Of those given castor oil, nearly 60 percent were in active labor within 24 hours. (And for those who had castor oil–induced labor, more than 80 percent gave birth vaginally.)

But another study, published in 2009, gave a less enthusiastic finding for castor oil. It suggested the oil’s effects are neither particularly helpful nor harmful in inducing labors.

And a 2013 review of studies noted the effectiveness of castor oil for inducing labor, but cautioned that the quality of the studies may make results questionable. Also of note: Researchers found that all women who took castor oil felt nauseous.

So, for the time being, the formal scientific jury still appears to be out. Basically, more research is needed — especially when it comes to the ingredients other than castor oil, but for castor oil, too.

For people citing the effectiveness of both midwives brew and castor oil in inducing their labors, the results are quick — usually under 24 hours later. One 2012 study even suggested that post-term women were three times more likely to go into labor within 12 hours when they consumed castor oil. Talk about instant gratification.

If midwives brew isn’t for you, but you still want to get your labor going, here are some other alternatives you can try. (Keep in mind that none of these methods is guaranteed to start labor.)

  • Exercise. Anything that gets the heart rate up counts, and it may not take much to do that when you’re 40 weeks pregnant! (Think long walks, climbing stairs… that kind of thing.)
  • Membrane stripping. Not one to try at home, but you can talk to your doctor or midwife about this option.
  • Spicy foods. There aren’t scientific studies to support that this will actually induce labor, but plenty of people claim it does. This isn’t one to try if spicy foods aren’t already a part of your diet or if you’re not a fan of heat — or already dealing with pregnancy heartburn.
  • Red raspberry leaf tea. Even if this doesn’t jumpstart your labor, it will keep you hydrated and may tone/strengthen your uterus for labor. A win-win for many women — but still check with your doctor or midwife.
  • Acupressure. Like most methods to induce labor, acupressure is one way to get oxytocin levels rising. Acupuncture may also be used.
  • Sex. It’s usually safe, but it may not be if your water has already broken. Check with your provider if you have any questions or doubts.
  • Nipple stimulation. Hand stimulation or a pump can get the hormones flowing and your uterus contracting. Make sure to check with your provider first about how frequently and how long they’re comfortable with you doing this for.
  • Wait for labor to start naturally. We know it’s incredibly hard, but if you focus on another project, your body might just decide it’s time to kick into labor without any special tricks.

The last days of pregnancy may feel like the whole 9 months all over again! If you’re tempted to get the show on the road, midwives brew might be one trick to kickstart labor.

But make sure that your doctor or midwife is on board with this drink (or any of your plans to try to induce labor) before you decide it’s time to meet your baby. No matter what, take heart that although these last days may seem like long ones, your baby will be here in no time.