Last Updated on May 11, 2022
After a full 38-40 weeks of pregnancy, not to mention any length of time you had been trying to conceive beforehand, the anticipation of your baby’s arrival may seem to be more than you can handle! “Mommy blogs” and internet forums are brimming with do-it-yourself methods to get the actual labor party started.
One in particular- midwives’ brew is intriguing to many pregnant women, especially since it’s named after a profession dedicated to guiding women through labor! But can this concoction really be trusted, and if so, does it really work?
Despite the popularity of midwives’ brew, in-depth safety information can be hard to come by. We’ve gathered all of the scientific evidence available to give you this complete guide to midwives’ brew, with everything from safety to recipes.
The Midwives’ Brew Recipe (Including Without Castor Oil)
Using only 4 natural ingredients, midwives’ brew is a pretty simple recipe. The basic recipe calls for:
These ingredients are blended together until fully combined and then… drink away! (source: Gentle Midwife)
Many women wonder if ingredient swaps are ok and if the brew will still “work” as intended.
Castor oil is one of the most commonly questioned ingredient swaps. In midwives’ brew, castor oil is the main active ingredient, included to help stimulate contractions and thus labor (source: ANZJOG, Women and Birth).
If you’re looking for a midwives brew recipe without castor oil, in theory, any other contraction stimulating ingredient could work in castor oil’s place. A couple of options include anything spicy (like cayenne) and raspberry leaf tea (source: OBGYN North). For more on raspberry leaf tea for inducing labor, check out our guide here.
However, castor oil seems to be the ‘active’ ingredient – read more below as we break down the ingredients and their safety.
Apricot juice is another ingredient women are looking to exchange, as it can be somewhat difficult to find. Everything I have read suggests that the apricot juice is simply to mask the somewhat unpleasant taste of castor oil, so any strong-flavored juice should work. Mango, peach, and pineapple flavors also tend to taste quite strong.
Is Midwives Brew Safe? Are there side effects?
Naturally, one of the major concerns when it comes to midwives’ brew is safety, especially as you consider safely inducing labor. Luckily, the ingredients in midwives’ brew are straightforward, making it easier to discern their safety.
Midwives’ Brew Ingredient Safety
Apricot juice and almond butter are both fairly benign ingredients, not to mention more common in the kitchen than lemon verbena or castor oil. When it comes to apricot juice and almond butter, the only real risk here is if you are allergic to either one.
Lemon verbena can be found as both teas and as an essential oil. Lemon teas have long been used to settle the stomach, including during bouts of morning sickness and are safe to use. Due to castor oil’s gastrointestinal effects, it’s likely that the lemon verbena tea or oil is included in the recipe in order to minimize nausea.
Lemon essential oils (or any other essential oil), on the other hand, should not be ingested during pregnancy (source: Mayo Clinic). So, if you’re going to try your hand at making midwives’ brew, skip the lemon essential oil and opt for a lemon tea instead.
The Safety of Castor Oil in Midwives’Brew
Last, but most certainly not least, is castor oil. Castor oil is the main active ingredient in midwives’ brew and likewise comes with the most safety considerations. During pregnancy, castor oil may be best known for stimulating uterine contractions (source: OBGYN North).
A small study done in 2000 found that at 40-42 weeks gestation, 57.7% of the pregnant women who took castor oil labored within 24 hours, compared to only 4.2% of those who didn’t pursue any type of induction method or labor stimulation (source: Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine).
While this sounds exciting, castor oil causes other muscle contractions, such as intestinal and bowel contractions. It is very possible to experience nausea, vomiting, and even severe diarrhea as negative side effects of drinking castor oil. Not exactly the happiest way to start off delivery.
Castor oil’s risks to mom and baby are fairly low. While it can cause painful contractions that are too close together, potentially decreasing blood flow to the placenta, midwives’ brew contains a very small amount of the oil and is likely not enough to cause this negative effect (source: Intermountain Healthcare, Gentle Midwife).
It’s also been thought that castor oil also stimulates the baby’s intestines to contract, leading the baby to pass meconium while still in utero (or to put it another way, it’ll make your baby poop BEFORE natural delivery, which is enough to put some women off). However, none of the scientific studies have suggested that the risk of baby passing meconium before delivery was any higher in mothers who took castor oil compared to those who didn’t.
Another concern is for dehydration in the laboring mom, especially if those wind up with severe diarrhea as a negative side effect. Labor can be a long and difficult process, so it’s important that you go into labor with adequate hydration in order to ensure you stay healthy throughout the process.
Does Midwives’ Brew Actually Work?
Though midwives’ brew prepared with castor oil may be an effective way to stimulate contractions, there are far more gentle, and not to mention much more pleasant, methods to choose from.
Before trying midwives’ brew, or any other “natural” labor stimulator, be sure to discuss it with your medical provider first to ensure it’s the best option for you and your baby.
When Should I Take Midwives Brew? How Many Weeks Pregnant?
If you’re expecting, then you’re probably all too familiar with the definition of “term pregnancy.”
Babies born any time 37-42 weeks gestation are considered to be “term,” however, “full term” doesn’t start until the baby is born at or after 39 weeks. Those two weeks of time between 37 and 39 weeks make a world of difference in baby’s growth and development.
The healthiest babies are typically born 39 weeks or later, making delivery at or after 39 weeks the goal (source: National Child and Maternal Health Education Program).
Because babies born at least 39 weeks tend to do best, it’s important to be patient in anticipation of your little one. As hard as it may be, avoid taking any natural labor stimulators, including midwives’ brew until your pregnancy has reached 39 weeks.
Especially if your birth plan now includes a medical induction, planned by your medical doctor or other medical provider, it’s best to discuss with them any “at-home” steps like midwives’ brew before taking them. They may want to monitor you and baby more closely during active labor.
Trust in your body and your baby- they will arrive in their own perfect time. But if you would like to give them a little assistance, how long should you expect to wait after the fact?
How Long does Midwives Brew Take to Work? (and Does it Work?)
You’ve mixed up the concoction, slurped it down, and now you wait. Unfortunately, there’s no hard-set amount of time that midwives’ brew will take to work.
Assuming you made the “original” recipe which calls for castor oil, it’s the oil that will likely stimulate contractions. Based on a previous trial of just castor oil, most women were laboring within 24 hours (source: Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine).
Castor oil encourages labor through stimulating muscles to contract. This is what causes uterine contractions to begin, but also the reason for any accompanying nausea and abdominal cramping (source: Intermountain Healthcare).
Much of the evidence surrounding midwives’ brew, and even castor oil, is anecdotal. In order to say for certain, more research needs to be done. However, the “original” recipe for midwives’ brew, due to the castor oil, seems promising based on the scientific studies I’ve mentioned above.
Can You Eat After Drinking Midwives Brew?
Midwives’ brew isn’t known to be particularly nice tasting and you might be itching to get the flavor out of your mouth after drinking a full glass of the brew.
I’ve found anecdotal reports from women who have tried the drink suggesting everything from drinking it on an empty stomach to drinking it after eating. There is no scientific reason for either method.
The almond butter in the drink likely acts as a bit of a “buffer” in the stomach, meaning taking the drink on an empty stomach probably won’t work any better than if you’ve just had a full meal.
Midwives’ Brew Success Rate Stories and Reviews
I did a quick internet search to see what women who drank midwives’ brew to help them induce labor at home thought of the drink.
Not only were there a TON of forums touting the brew’s contraction-stimulating effects, but also several video logs of women going through active labor after taking the drink. Overall, the consensus seemed to be that, while midwives’ brew tasted less than stellar, the drink did work!
What To Expect and BabyCenter have quite active chat forums discussing midwives’ brew. Do know, these forums are other mothers talking about their own experiences, not scientific research or medical advice.
The best scientific evidence available is actually for the ingredient castor oil, and not specifically for midwives’ brew itself. Based on the research on castor oil being an effective way to stimulate labor, midwives’ brew is likely to work the same.
Midwives’ Brew Didn’t Work – Now What?
If you’ve just tried midwives’ brew only to be disappointed when your baby didn’t make a prompt arrival, or worse, you’ve found yourself feeling ill, not to worry!
Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are all common side effects of drinking midwives’ brew, thanks to the addition of castor oil. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms for greater than 24 hours, the best thing to do is call your healthcare provider and seek medical attention.
Staying hydrated is also important. Gatorade or other rehydration drinks are a great option if you’ve been experiencing diarrhea or vomiting. To calm your stomach and keep nausea at bay, try a cup of mint tea, ginger chews, or crunching on a few crackers. For more nausea-fighting foods check out our nausea relief article.
If you’re getting antsy to meet your new bundle of joy, there are a litany of other options out there to help you encourage labor. While the evidence behind many of the “natural methods” to prompt labor is anecdotal at best, many options are also very low-risk and easy to do.
A few simple options include:
- Going for a walk
- Nipple stimulation
- Spicy foods
(source: OBGYN North).
And finally, patience. This might be the least exciting option, but almost always the safest choice. Your baby and your body are working together to help your little one make their debut. Savor those last few moments of your pregnancy and you’ll be holding your healthy baby in your arms before you know it.
In conclusion, it can be incredibly difficult to shake the anticipation of your new baby’s arrival. Midwives’ brew is just one of the many at-home, “natural” ways to encourage labor to start. Made with only four ingredients, the common recipe is simple, albeit not known for having a pleasant taste.
Castor oil appears to be the active ingredient, as it’s been shown to cause uterine contractions. Do be warned, in addition to a bad flavor and kickstarting contractions, castor oil/midwives’ brew can also lead to severe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
If you’d like to try the drink as a way to bring on labor, taking midwives’ brew should be reserved for 39 weeks or more gestation. And, as always, discuss any “natural” labor stimulation with your healthcare provider before trying.
This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.