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Midwives’ Brew: The Recipe, How it Works, and If It’s Safe

Are you curious what the recipe is for the so-called “Midwives’ Brew”? Well, I’ve got it for you in this blog post. Plus, learn if Midwives’ Brew works (and how), if it’s safe, and alternatives to it.

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So you’re considering taking Midwives’ Brew. Or maybe you heard someone talk about it and want to know more.

Or maybe you just stumbled upon this blog post.

Wherever you’re coming from, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what Midwives’ Brew is.

Midwives’ Brew is a less-than-delicious concoction that people use as a “natural” form of induction. (I use quotes around induction because the only truly natural way of going about things is to let labor begin spontaneously.)

Though no studies have proven that Midwives’ Brew actually works, science isn’t the only way to find truth, right?

Does Midwives’ Brew Work?

Thousands of women have used Midwives’ Brew to induce labor and, according to their stories, it usually works! The number you’ll see floating around is an 85% success rate. I cannot for the life of me figure out where that number came from, though.

I’ll dig into the details and research later, but from what I can tell, the success rate according to official studies is somewhere between about 58% and 91%.

That’s a bit of a range, but hey, it’s more than half the time!

The Thing About Induction

The main thing I want to make sure you understand before you try Midwives’ Brew is that it is a form of induction. Call it natural, but it’s still induction.

Induction isn’t all bad, but it does have risks.

The biggest risk of any form of induction is the possibility of accidental prematurity—meaning the chance of labor and birth happening before your baby is ready for life outside the womb.

To learn more about the pros and cons of induction, check out Understanding Induction: Pros and Cons of Inducing Labor.

Midwives’ Brew Recipe

So what’s the recipe for Midwives’ Brew? It typically just has four ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp of castor oil
  • 8 oz of pure lemon verbena tea*
  • 2 Tbsp of almond butter
  • 10 oz of apricot juice

Some women add a few extra ingredients beyond the basic four. Spices like cinnamon and cloves are common. They give the brew more flavor and are said to have other helpful properties (which you can read about in this study).

Others add honey or ginger. What you add in is up to you.

Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, all you need to do is…

  1. Brew the tea. Boil your water then let the tea leaves steep for a good long time.
  2. Blend everything together. Just toss all the ingredients in the blender and get it smooth. You can leave the tea hot—some say the drink is more effective if it’s warm.
  3. Drink up! Rumor has it Midwives’ Brew is best on an empty stomach, so it may be best to make your brew first thing in the morning.

Now, a fair warning: don’t expect this drink to be yummy. As you can imagine from the ingredient list, it isn’t a pleasant one for your taste buds.

The juice, tea, and almond butter largely mask the taste of the castor oil, which people say tastes sort of like eating plain chapstick. But the mixture still isn’t great.

To further reduce the yuckiness, you can try sipping it through a straw (so less hits your tongue) or hold your nose as you drink, since smell is such a large percentage of taste.

*Note: Some people use red raspberry leaf tea in place of the lemon tea. Red raspberry leaf tea is a common recommendation for pregnant women as it may help ease nausea, strengthen the uterus, and help to prevent excessive bleeding after childbirth.

How Does Midwives’ Brew Work?

The key ingredient in the Midwives’ Brew recipe is castor oil, though the other ingredients do have a role to play.

Castor Oil

Castor oil is a vegetable oil derived from plants. The FDA has only approved it for use as a laxative (it’s most common use) but people still use it for other reasons—like inducing labor.

Castor oil is a “stimulant laxative,” meaning it doesn’t affect the poop itself but rather the intestine. Because of science (ha), it triggers contractions or spasms in the walls of the intestine and thus can help push everything out.

The point of taking castor oil at the end of pregnancy is that it does a similar thing to the uterus. That same science—part of which has to do with prostaglandins, one of the hormones of labor and birth—seems to trigger contractions of the uterus and thus may help to kickstart labor.

As I mentioned earlier, castor oil seems to work…generally. The honest truth, though, is that results have been mixed.

Some studies say that castor oil doesn’t work at all. Others say it works wonders—like 91% success rate wonders. Yet others say the benefits are less extreme—about a 58% success rate of inducing labor within 24 hours.

Importantly, the other thing I found in the research was that, according to one study, castor oil only worked for women who had given birth at least once before!

So is castor oil effective? Does Midwives’ Brew actually work?

The best I can really tell you is…sometimes.

Tea

When it comes to the tea, it isn’t doing much for you as far as induction goes. If you use red raspberry leaf tea it may have some positive effects, like I explained above, but it likely isn’t going to do much to get labor started. 

If you use lemon or another kind of tea, it’s pretty much just there to cover up the taste of the castor oil.

Almond Butter

The almond butter, like the tea, isn’t going to get your baby out. But it may help the castor oil go down a little easier. The taste of the almonds can mask the oil, and it also makes the whole concoction stickier.

Castor oil is a laxative—it likes to clear things out and move fast. Almond butter might just help it slow down, possibly leading to fewer negative effects (which we’ll talk about in a moment).

Apricot Juice

As far as I can tell, the sole purpose of the apricot juice is to make your brew sweeter and, hopefully, slightly more palatable. Because of that, it doesn’t matter much whether you use apricot, orange, mango, pineapple, or some other kind of juice.

In fact, it’s common for sufferers of constipation to just take castor oil and orange juice mixed together, rather than adding any extra stuff. So if that sounds a little less nasty to you, you could leave the almond butter and tea out completely.

Is It Safe?

Here’s the real question: is Midwives’ Brew safe for you and your baby? 

As I already mentioned, the biggest risk of Midwives’ Brew in my mind is the risk of triggering labor before your baby is actually ready to be born. Because of that, make sure you don’t take Midwives’ Brew until you’re past your due date.

Aside from premature labor, Midwives’ Brew does have a few other risks, mostly because its main ingredient is castor oil.

Risks of Castor Oil

Castor oil is a laxative, as we’ve already covered, and that means it’s likely to cause diarrhea. It also tends to cause nausea and, sometimes, vomiting.

All of those things can lead to dehydration, which is only going to make you more tired and put more physical stress on your body, neither of which you want when labor is pending. 

Castor oil—like any form of induction—is likely to cause contractions that are more painful and less regular than natural contractions. This can be uncomfortable and, if it goes on for hours or days, will wear you out before active labor even begins.

Your baby may also be negatively affected by castor oil. If castor oil does trigger irregularly strong contractions, it may increase physical stress on your baby. His or her rate might increase and blood and oxygen flow between the two of you would decrease.

Finally, some say that extra stress caused by these contractions may lead to your baby pooping before they are born. This first poop—called meconium—ideally happens after they are born. But even if it happens within the womb, it’s likely that your baby will be just fine.

Occasionally, a baby will experience “meconium aspiration”—breathing in the meconium and getting it stuck in their lungs.

Most of the time, suctioning out a baby’s airways or giving them a ventilation mask to help for a bit is enough to help them breathe and he or she will be better in a few days. Death from meconium aspiration is rare.

Alternatives to Midwives’ Brew

If you’re thinking maybe you don’t want to whip up this delicious Midwives’ Brew recipe but you still want to encourage labor to begin, here are a few things you can try:

  • Go on walks, climb stairs, etc. Exercise is always good for you and it may encourage your cervix to open up as well as help your baby move down and put pressure on your cervix.
  • Have sex. When you are sexually aroused, and especially when you reach an orgasm, your brain releases large amounts of oxytocin. Plus, semen contains prostaglandins. Oxytocin and prostaglandins play a role in starting and directing the process of labor.
  • Utilize acupressure or acupuncture. If you like natural remedies and techniques, you may want to consider scheduling an acupuncture appointment or using acupressure. Both are part of traditional Chinese medicine and have helped trigger labor for some women.
  • Try nipple stimulation. Whether you do it during sex or through using a breast pump, nipple stimulation releases oxytocin and thus may help labor get going.
  • Ask your care provider about membrane sweeping. While it’s not something I would generally recommend, you can consider getting a membrane sweep. The idea is that separating the amniotic sac from the wall of your uterus might release hormones that will help to trigger labor. Learn more in Membrane Sweeping: The Research and the Risks.

Of course, my recommendation would be to focus on other things and let your baby and your body do their thing when they’re ready. If you need some other things to focus on, go through my third trimester checklist to make sure you’ve done everything!

Conclusion: This is Your Choice

So, now you know the recipe for Midwives’ Brew—and more about it than you probably realized there was to know. To summarize…

  • Midwives’ Brew is a form of induction.
  • It’s easy to make but doesn’t taste good.
  • Castor oil is the key ingredient and it is generally safe but does have some side effects.
  • There are alternative “natural” means of induction.

Whether you want to use Midwives’ Brew or not, remember: this is your body and your baby, and it’s your choice. No care provider has the authority to force you into something you don’t want.

If you’re being pressured to get an induction you don’t want, switch to another care provider! If it’s a bit late for that, let them schedule the induction and just don’t show up! That IS an option. You know your body and your baby best.

And if that means you’re heading out to get the ingredients for Midwives’ Brew as soon as you finish reading this, happy shopping.

Until next time,

Allison

READ MORE:

The Cascade of Interventions [Explained]

How to Cope With Contractions: Natural Pain Relief During Labor

6 Exercises to Prepare Your Body for Labor

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