Evening Primrose Oil During Pregnancy: Safety, Benefits & Risks

In This Article

Primrose oil has been anecdotally recommended for several uses during pregnancy. Some midwives commonly use this oil to help the cervix dilate and induce labor (1). However, not many studies are available that highlight the effects of using evening primrose oil during pregnancy.

Although primrose oil generally has no adverse effects, it might increase the risks of postpartum hemorrhage due to its anticoagulant effects (2). Therefore, it is essential to know the safety of using this oil during pregnancy. Keep reading to learn about the safety of primrose oil for labor, along with its benefits and possible side effects.

What Is Evening Primrose Oil?

Several women use evening primrose oil during pregnancy

Image: iStock

Evening primrose oil, also known as EPO, is an oil extracted from the evening primrose plant’s seeds. The evening primrose plant is a native of North and South America but also grows in Europe and some parts of Asia (3). The oil is rich in gamma-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid that the human body can’t produce. Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids perform several physiological functions, such as regulating metabolism and maintaining the reproductive system (4).

Why Do Pregnant Women Use Primrose Oil During Pregnancy?

Several expecting women use evening primrose supplements as a natural way to speed up labor or induce labor in post-term pregnancies (1). Traditional and alternative medicine often use EPO supplements to treat or manage conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and breast pain (mastalgia) (5). An expecting mother with these conditions may consider using primrose supplements to treat/manage these conditions during pregnancy.

Besides these, primrose oil is linked with improved insulin sensitivity. Thus, some mothers might consider using primrose oil supplements to improve insulin sensitivity and manage gestational diabetes.

Is Evening Primrose Oil Safe During Pregnancy?

According to the National Center for Complementary And Integrative Health, evening primrose oil use during pregnancy may be safe, but the evidence is inconclusive (3). Thus, pregnant women must not use evening primrose oil in any form or mode without consulting their healthcare provider or a licensed alternative medicine expert.

Purported Benefits Of Using Primrose Oil

The evening primrose oil (EPO) herbal supplements are available in capsule, soft gel, liquid, cream, and ointment forms. Several expectant mothers use these products for different purposes.

  1. Ripen cervix and induce labor: Oral intake of EPO to ripen the cervix and induce labor in post-term pregnancies is common in alternative medicine. However, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis show that oral intake of primrose oil has no significant effect on cervical ripening (6).
Evening primrose oil during pregnancy can help ripen cervix

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Speed up labor: Several midwives use primrose oil vaginal suppositories to speed up labor. According to a study, vaginal application of EPO reduced labor length in post-term pregnancies (7). However, more research is needed to validate the use of EPO during labor.
  1. Relieve itchiness: Ointments or creams containing primrose are often used to reduce itchiness caused by skin conditions, such as eczema and atopic dermatitis (8). However, its safety and efficacy aren’t well researched in pregnant women. You may use primrose oil for topical use only if directed by a medical practitioner.
  1. Improve insulin sensitivity: EPO with vitamin D supplement may help improve insulin sensitivity and manage gestational diabetes (GDM) (9). But more research is needed to determine their effectiveness and safety in pregnant women.
EPO may help improve insulin sensitivity

Image: iStock

It has also been found that oral primrose oil supplementation could help with postpartum blues and stress (10) (11). Besides these, primrose oil is also used to treat or manage premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and fibroadenomas in non-pregnant women. Despite its popularity, no conclusive evidence supports the effectiveness of evening primrose oil for any of the mentioned purposes.

Potential Risks Of Using Primrose Oil During Pregnancy

Generally, primrose oil is well tolerated in adults. However, it may have mild side effects, such as abdominal discomfort, stomach pain, a feeling of fullness, headaches, diarrhea, or nausea in sensitive individuals (3) (12).
According to experts, oral use of EPO during pregnancy may also be associated with adverse effects, such as (5):

  • extended labor duration
  • increased risk of premature rupture of membrane
  • the arrest of descent (the presence of fetal head is in the same position for a long)
  • Increased need for the use of Pitocin (oxytocin)
  • vacuum extraction

Individuals with high blood pressure and epilepsy or seizures disorders are advised against the use of EPO. People taking anticoagulants, such as warfarin, and antidepressants, such as Citalopram, should also avoid using primrose oil (8).

How To Use Primrose Oil When Pregnant?

Seek your doctor's gudiance before using EPO

Image: Shutterstock

Primrose oil and products containing it can be used orally, topically, or in suppository form. Despite the multiple modes of usage, there is no standard dose of primrose oil that pregnant women may safely use. You must consult a doctor or an alternative medical expert before its usage.

Other Natural Ways Of Inducing Labor

Exercise, nipple stimulation, sexual intercourse, and eating spicy foods are some other purported natural labor induction methods that mothers may consider trying. However, the efficacy of these methods isn’t clinically proven. Additionally, some of them might be risky. Therefore, mothers should not induce labor without medical guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can evening primrose oil cause congenital disabilities?

Scientific evidence is not available to relate evening primrose oil to congenital disabilities. Nevertheless, the known risks of evening primrose oil supplementation include postpartum hemorrhage and stomach discomfort, which may lead to other complications (2) (13).

2. Can evening primrose oil cause a miscarriage?

No clinical studies or trials indicate evening primrose oil to be the definitive cause of miscarriage. Still, the unguided use of primrose oil should be avoided to minimize the risk of other potential problems.

Primrose oil during pregnancy is used in alternative and folk medicine to ripen the cervix and induce or speed up labor, especially in post-term pregnancies. However, the safety and efficacy of primrose oil for expecting mothers and their unborn babies are mainly unknown. The precise side effects of the primrose oil on the mother-baby duo are also unknown. Hence, pregnant women must not use primrose oil for pregnancy or non-pregnancy-related purposes without consulting a doctor.

Infographic: When To Not Consider Evening Primrose Oil?

Evening primrose oil (EPO) is suggested to treat a few conditions. However, this oil may not interact well with other medications or health issues. Take a look at this infographic, which lists the conditions and drugs with which EPO may have an unfavorable interaction.

when to not consider evening primrose oil [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Primrose oil is often used to ripen the cervix and induce labor in overdue pregnancies.
  • Its use during pregnancy may also speed up labor or alleviate itchiness caused by skin conditions, such as eczema.
  • Experts discourage using primrose oil during pregnancy as its safety and efficacy for expectant mothers and their unborn babies are unknown.
  • Its unguided use may cause several issues, from mild side effects to adverse complications, such as premature membrane rupture.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. D. Dove; P Johnson; Oral evening primrose oil: its effect on length of pregnancy and selected intrapartum outcomes in low risk nulliparous women.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10380450/
  2. Azra Riaz et al; (2009); Assessment of anticoagulant effect of evening primrose oil;
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19783511/
  3. Evening Primrose Oil.
    https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/evening-primrose-oil
  4. Gamma-linolenic acid.
    https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/gamma-linolenic-acid
  5. Evening Primrose Oil.
    https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2009/1215/p1405.html
  6. Maryam Moradi et al.; (2021); The effect of evening primrose oil on labor induction and cervical ripening: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.7147
  7. AfroozAzad et al.; (2022); Evening primrose oil for cervical ripening prior to labor induction in post-term pregnancies: A randomized controlled trial.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1876382022000257
  8. Evening primrose oil (EPO).
    https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/evening-primrose-oil-epo
  9. Mehri Jamilian et al.; (2016); Vitamin D and Evening Primrose Oil Administration Improve Glycemia and Lipid Profiles in Women with Gestational Diabetes.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26781763/
  10. Mohaddese Mahboubi; 2019; Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) oil in management of female ailments.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6718646/
  11. Soghra Nikoomazhab et al.; (2017); The effect of evening primrose oil on duration of postpartum blues among primiparous women: a double-blind randomized controlled clinical trial.
    https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-effect-of-evening-primrose-oil-on-duration-of-a-Nikoomazhab-Haghdoust/8c5a585469bd4e965c242bddc820802476f67b92
  12. Evening Primrose Oil.
    https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/evening-primrose-oil
  13. H Marieke Knol et al; (2012); The risk of postpartum hemorrhage in women using high dose of low-molecular-weight heparins during pregnancy;
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22475315/
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