Does Primrose Oil Induce Labor?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 19, 2023
3 min read

If you're nearing or past your due date, you've probably heard a lot about different ways to bring on labor. While some methods may work, others may be dangerous. One common home method for inducing labor is using evening primrose oil. Many people believe that primrose oil can induce labor, either by taking it orally or applying it vaginally. 

The science behind this is mixed — some studies showed that primrose oil applied vaginally was effective at ripening the cervix, which is when the cervix softens to get ready for labor and delivery. Another study showed that primrose oil taken by mouth did not affect labor. 

Primrose oil comes from the evening primrose plant, which is a yellow flower that's native to North and South America. It also grows in parts of Asia and throughout Europe. The oil comes from the seeds and contains omega-6 fatty acids, including gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Primrose plants were used by Native Americans for treating wounds and skin irritations. Today, people use primrose oil supplements for breast pain and other ailments.

In 2019, a study was done on 84 first-time mothers who were 38 weeks pregnant and not having contractions to compare the effects of primrose oil on ripening the cervix. The women were divided into two groups: one group received 1000 mg of primrose oil in the form of a vaginal capsule, and the other group received a placebo. The group that received the primrose oil showed significant signs that labor was about to begin, such as dilation and effacement, the thinning of the cervix. 

Another study was done in 2018 on women who were 40 weeks pregnant. They were given a 1000 mg capsule of primrose oil to be taken orally twice daily. One group of 40 women received the primrose oil capsules, while another group of 40 women received a placebo that looked and smelled similar but had no active ingredients. This study found no difference between the two groups of women in labor and delivery.

While the study on using primrose oil vaginally to induce labor sounds promising, all of the studies were done on women with no health problems and low-risk pregnancies. The studies were also small in size, so more research is necessary. You should always consult with your healthcare provider before using any method to try to induce labor. 

In addition to the studies on inducing labor, evening primrose oil has been studied for a variety of women's health issues, including:

  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Mastalgia, or breast pain
  • Hot flashes as part of menopause symptoms
  • Fibroadenomas, or noncancerous breast tumors
  • Gestational diabetes, or diabetes that occurs in pregnancy
  • Preeclampsia, a dangerous complication during pregnancy

The results of these studies have been mixed, with primrose oil showing the potential to benefit premenstrual syndrome, mastalgia, hot flashes, and gestational diabetes, but showing no effect on fribroadenomas. There isn't enough data to know if primrose oil helps with preeclampsia. 

Studies have also been done on primrose oil for:

Eczema. These studies had mixed results, but didn't show that primrose oil taken by mouth helped eczema.

Diabetic neuropathy. This is a type of nerve damage caused by diabetes. Studies on primrose oil to help with this condition have been inconclusive. 

The studies found no bad side effects for pregnant women. However, there's no conclusive evidence that it is safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding, either.

Some people have reported headaches and upset stomachs after taking primrose oil. It may also increase your risk of some pregnancy complications. You shouldn't take primrose oil if you have epilepsy or schizophrenia, as it can increase your risk of seizures. Also, it may interact with some medicines.

You should always check with your doctor before you try any method for inducing labor to make sure it is safe for you and your baby.