Evening Primrose Oil During Pregnancy: Safety, Benefits & Risks

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 hemorrhageiXA serious situation wherein a woman has severe vaginal bleeding after giving birth 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.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

In This Article

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 (GLA), essential fatty acids 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 with chronic inflammation, such as atopic dermatitisiXA form of eczema that results in dry, itchy, and inflamed skin , rheumatoid arthritisiXIt is a chronic condition that causes joint discomfort, swelling, and stiffness , and breast pain (mastalgiaiXCommonly referred to breast discomfort that can be described as tenderness, throbbing, burning, tightness and heaviness in the breast ) (5). An expecting mother with these conditions may consider using primrose supplements to treat/manage these conditions during her prenatal health care.

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 diabetesiXIt is a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy when blood glucose levels are elevated, typically between 24-28 weeks .

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 ripeningiXIt is the process by which the cervix is prepared for childbirth by softening and enlarging it (6).

Laila, a mother expecting her third child, shares her experience using evening primrose oil to prepare for labor during her previous pregnancies. She notes, “For my first daughter, I remained at about one to one and a half centimeters dilation. I didn’t even get to one and a half centimeters until I took evening primrose oil, and my doctor tried stretching my cervix down.

“With my second pregnancy, I got up to four centimeters by myself before I had to be induced. Instead of having a 19-hour labor, 14 hours without an epidural, my second pregnancy, with evening primrose oil, was a six-and-a-half-hour labor. I was already at four, my cervix was ripe, and I went straight into labor. Within six and a half hours, my baby girl was out (i).”

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 eczemaiXA condition of the skin that makes patches of skin red, itchy, dry, and irritated and atopic dermatitis (8). However, its safety and efficacy for skin health 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 syndromeiXIt refers to a combination of symptoms that begin one to two weeks before periods (PMS) and fibroadenomasiXIt is a common type of non-cancerous breast tumor 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 and preterm labor
  • 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, preeclampsia and epilepsy or seizuresiXThese are abrupt, uncontrollable physical movements and behavioral changes driven by irregular electrical activity in the brain disorders are advised against the use of EPO. People taking anticoagulantsiXThese are chemicals that prevent blood from clotting , 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 or fetal growth restrictions. 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.

3. Can EPO be combined with other supplements or medications during pregnancy?

It was studied whether consuming a combination of EPO and vitamin D supplements was helpful in managing insulin resistance and lipid concentration in women with gestational diabetes. However, the results were inconclusive, and more research is needed to determine their safety in pregnant women. Moreover, it is crucial to talk with a healthcare provider before using evening primrose oil (EPO) with any other supplements or drugs during pregnancy (9).

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

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

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.

Have you heard about Evening Primrose Oil having labor-inducing potential? Watch this video to get an idea about its benefits and risks. Learn about its efficacy also here.

Personal Experience: Source

i. Evening primrose oil labor preparation how to not tear! Tmi.


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  1. D. Dove; P Johnson; Oral evening primrose oil: its effect on length of pregnancy and selected intrapartum outcomes in low risk nulliparous women.
  2. Azra Riaz et al; (2009); Assessment of anticoagulant effect of evening primrose oil;
  3. Evening Primrose Oil.
  4. Gamma-linolenic acid.
  5. Evening Primrose Oil.
  6. Maryam Moradi et al.; (2021); The effect of evening primrose oil on labor induction and cervical ripening: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
  7. AfroozAzad et al.; (2022); Evening primrose oil for cervical ripening prior to labor induction in post-term pregnancies: A randomized controlled trial.
  8. 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.
  10. Mohaddese Mahboubi; 2019; Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) oil in management of female ailments.
  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.
  12. 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;
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